African Art Museum to stay in Historic Oakland for now

Museum extends lease by a year but is still searching for larger quarters

May 14, 2010|By Janene Holzberg, Special to The Baltimore Sun

The African Art Museum of Maryland will continue to operate in Historic Oakland for another year, heading off an impending relocation at the end of the month that operators say would have proved a real hardship for the not-for-profit organization.

But while the museum will not have to move, the search for more spacious quarters, with improved accessibility and visibility, is continuing, Doris Ligon, the museum's director, stressed.

A new lease with the Town Center Village Association that would begin June 1 is being reviewed by the museum's attorney, and Ligon said she expects it to be signed and delivered by Monday.

"Many people intervened on our behalf since the first newspaper article [on April 23] alerted them to our plight," she said. "But we're not going to let ourselves get that close to being without a home again."

The museum had given two months' notice in August that it would not renew its lease with the village association, which operates the 19th-century manor home off Vantage Point Road on behalf of the Columbia Association. Ligon founded the museum in 1980 with her husband, Claude, and it has been housed at Historic Oakland since 1989.

That five-year contract was due to expire Nov. 30, 2009, but was extended by six months to May 31, 2010, at the request of the museum's board of trustees.

But as the end of May approached, the museum had not managed to secure new quarters and the village association had begun its search for a replacement tenant. Now the museum has 12 more months to continue the hunt.

A year was the minimum term offered by the village association, Ligon said, and the museum's monthly rent was raised by nearly $200, to $1,400.

"As a nonprofit organization we'd rather not pay more, of course, but we didn't haggle over the increase; we believe it to be fair," she said.

Joel Abramson, attorney for the village association, said the village board should be commended for it decision to work with the museum's board.

"This is the best deal in town," said Abramson. "The board is not making any money on this and could have rented the space at a profit to someone else. But to their credit they made the decision to keep the museum in there, and we're happy to have them back for another year."

The museum is displaying 3,000 artifacts in 1,200 square feet of space on the second floor of Oakland, which can only be reached by stairs. Ligon estimated that 3,000 square feet is needed for optimum exhibition of the museum's holdings, noting that some items are in storage.

Housed in the galleries are a wall-sized mural, sculptures, wood carvings, musical instruments, masks, jewelry, baskets and textiles, all of which were donated.

"We need this year and we're very glad that we have it," Ligon said. "It's a relief to know we can continue to serve the public without interruption."

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