BMA announces fundraising campaign

5-year, $65 million effort is largest in museum's history

June 18, 2008|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,Sun reporter

The Baltimore Museum of Art unveiled its largest-ever fundraising campaign yesterday, a five-year, $65 million effort to continue its popular free-admission policy and better showcase its collections.

The campaign also includes funding to reopen a front entrance that's been locked for more than a quarter-century, once again allowing visitors to climb the 27 stone steps famed architect John Russell Pope included in his 1929 design.

"This is really a campaign that, I hope, will make this institution financially secure and will transform it into a much more meaningful place for the citizens of Maryland to visit," said campaign co-chair Charles W. Newhall III, a former head of the museum's board of directors. "This money will be going into things that will make this institution truly something to be excited to be involved in."

The fund drive, the most ambitious in the museum's 95-year history, comes as museums nationwide are facing lean times thanks to the faltering U.S. economy. But Doreen Bolger, the BMA's director since 1997, said the drive is not so much a reaction to any perceived danger, but rather a plan to ensure the museum remains both viable and vital.

"The BMA has a good track record," said Bolger. "We're really taking a long view here of what can be made possible for the BMA and for Baltimore, long-term."

The museum has already raised $40 million, with more than 80 percent of that coming from members of the BMA board of trustees. That included a 2005 gift of $2 million from former board chair Suzanne F. Cohen, with half earmarked for the free-admission program, the other half for exhibitions of contemporary art. Last year, longtime BMA supporter Dorothy McIlvain Scott handed the museum $10 million to endow its American Wing.

Announced at yesterday's annual meeting of the museum's board of directors, the campaign's largest component aims to increase the BMA's endowment by some $30 million, from $70 million to $100 million. Museum officials have been working quietly toward that goal for some two years and have already raised $29.1 million.

"The endowment is so important," Bolger said. "It's the endowment that gives us security to take risks, and it sustains us in difficult financial times."

The plan also calls for $5 million in "immediate impact" funds. Some of that money would be used to develop a first-ever audio tour of the BMA and its collections, planned for January.

A total of $15 million, or $3 million a year, would be raised through corporate and individual sponsorships.

A $15 million capital campaign would help pay for renovations and expansions throughout the museum, including reinstallations of its African, American and contemporary art collections.

Some of the money would be used to reopen the original front entrance, two giant bronze doors off Art Museum Drive, locked since the BMA's East Wing was opened in 1982. Bolger declined to put a price tag on the work but said it would include weather-proofing the entrance. Any renovations, she said, would be true to the original design.

"Once again, people will be able to ascend those incredible steps and walk into that remarkable building," Bolger said.

Ford Bell, president of the American Association of Museums, said reopening the original front entrance would send a "very strong, a very powerful message."

"Museums are considered a very important part of the local and civic infrastructure," he said. "Give them a front door that's closed, that doesn't send a very good message at all."

The BMA has an operating budget of $13.3 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Some 275,000 people visited the museum for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007, the most recent figures available.

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