City Gallery drawing to a close?


`Etchings' could be one of last exhibits for notable venue

October 14, 2003|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

The etchings and drawings exhibition on view at the Maryland Federation of Art's City Gallery on Charles Street may be one of the loveliest shows in town this month, which makes the imminent prospect of losing such a sparkling venue all the more troubling.

City Gallery director Pam Wilson said last week that the MFA, which has long supported a distinguished exhibition venue in Annapolis, is seriously considering giving up its Baltimore space because of financial pressures.

If that were to happen, the current show, which runs through Nov. 15, could be among the gallery's last. (Its lease expires in March.) "We've found that financially it has become more of a struggle than we anticipated," Wilson said. "What we're facing are some very tough decisions in terms of what is fiscally responsible and whether we can keep this gallery open."

The City Gallery opened in June 2001, and has an annual budget of $195,000, most of which comes from the application fees artists pay to enter its juried exhibitions.

The gallery also receives a $2,500 grant from the state and another $7,000 from the county, in addition to $2,500 in grants from private foundations. Other exhibition fees come from artists in the gallery's group shows, who pay a $600 fee to display their work in the space.

The current show, Etchings and Drawings 2003, is an example of the gallery's national juried exhibitions. The gallery received hundreds of applications from artists across the country and asked Library of Congress fine print curator Katherine Blood to select about 50 pieces for display.

Her choices range from sophisticated abstraction, such as Lynn Keffer's Here and There, a five-plate, three-color etching with masking etching and aquatint, to realistic drawing, such as Grant Arnold Anderson's masterful portrait heads of African-American men in graphite and encaustic.

Wilson said that if the gallery does remain open, it will need a new long-term strategy.

"That requires more than simply identifying funding sources," she said. "It involves a re-allocation of our very limited human resources - who we can get to write grants, seek sponsors, prepare exhibitions - to ensure that we have funding for each show and we can keep the doors open and the lights on."

Wilson also said the gallery can't afford to rely solely on public and private grants in the current economic climate. "Essentially, we need to secure more local business sponsorship in Baltimore. If we could get them to sponsor individual exhibitions, that would give us the margin of security we need in order to make the decision to remain open."

Wilson also said the gallery will have to sponsor more exhibitions based on national competitions, like the Etchings show, which generate significant revenue through artists' applications fees.

"We would seek artists from all over the United States, which in turn would give us more entry fees. That not only would fund exhibitions but help us operationally," Wilson said.

"Sales alone make up a very small percentage of our operating budget annually. Our main goal is the promotion of artists and being involved in the community, bringing them together. This is what makes us different from commercial galleries, but also adds to our struggle."

The City Gallery is at 330 N. Charles St. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Call 410-685-0300.

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