The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announced today that it has received $150,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a multi-year research and planning project.
The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) announced today that it has received $150,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to support a multi-year research and planning project. Referred to as the Mellon Initiative, the project aims to reimagine the structure and function of a museum, considering what form a museum would take if an institution was reconceived from scratch. The Mellon Initiative furthers the vision adopted by the BMA in its 2018 strategic plan, which placed at its core a reevaluation of the museum’s exhibitions, acquisitions, public programing, staff and board, and other operations through the lens of equity and diversity.
To support the implementation of the initiative, the BMA has hired Keondra Prier as its Mellon Initiative Project Manager. Prier, who has previously held senior positions in education at the Brooklyn Museum and Walters Art Museum, will work with Gamynne Guillotte, the BMA’s Chief Education Officer, along with other senior leadership at the museum. The BMA has also established an eight-member steering committee of local and regional leaders and stakeholders who work across art and culture, civic services, education, community organizing, and the law to advise BMA staff, review their progress, and help shape the initiative. The group includes Zoë Charlton, George Ciscle, Omar Eaton-Martínez, Adam Holofcener, Kennedy McDaniel, Antoinette Peele, Jessica Solomon, and Lu Zhang. Additional biographic information on Prier and the committee members follows below.
The Baltimore Museum of Art
In the coming months, the BMA will engage artists, community leaders, program partners, and its many constituents in a series of surveys and small group sessions to foster dialogue about both the BMA as an institution—the ways in which it is succeeding and the ways in which it can better serve and reflect its community—and more broadly about the role of a museum and the requirements it needs to fulfill to truly be situated within the cultural and social fabric of its city. These conversations will help the BMA to plan a multi-day public convening in spring 2022 to collectively imagine new institutional models. In its first phase, the Mellon Initiative will result in the articulation of new museum structures and approaches. Additional phases of the project will be announced once the research phase is completed.
“Through the Mellon Initiative, we’re seeking to engage the critical conversations, debates, and creative imaginings about the future that are happening in museums. Many art museums are grappling with issues both inherited and novel to their place and time, and often those debates happen within the walls of the institution, out of the view of the many publics that museums serve,” said Gamynne Guillotte, the BMA’s Chief Education Officer. “We hope that the organizations with whom we collaborate, the audiences we engage, the artists we exhibit and collect, and interested stakeholders can explore the challenges that face art museums and help us collectively envision new ways of being together with people, ideas, and art.”
The concept for the Mellon Initiative emerged through ongoing conversations within the BMA’s senior leadership team about evolving museum practices across programs and operations. The group frequently returned to questions about the contrast in repairing existing systems and creating the museum model anew. The initiative is grounded in and expands upon core questions about defining real and meaningful change within the museum context and whether it can be achieved by fully recreating the structures and priorities that underpin museum work.
“The entrenched systems upon which museums were built and continue to exist today are not suited to actualizing change, in part because they are not designed to listen to, connect with, and engage communities. As a result, museums are failing to embrace, reflect, and serve a diverse public,” said Christopher Bedford, the BMA’s Dorothy Wagner Wallis Director. “In 2018, the BMA committed to an honest evaluation of its own practices and, over the course of the past several years, we have made strides in shifting our presenting and collecting strategies, as well as the makeup of and investment in our staff, board, and audiences. We recognize, though, we have not achieved the radical change that we know to be necessary. The Mellon Initiative is an exciting opportunity to further our vision by asking and exploring challenging questions in service to creating a better, equitable, and more thoughtful museum. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation in supporting us in this effort and very much look forward to what will result.”
The Mellon Initiative builds on prior community-focused projects and launches, including the 2019 opening of the BMA’s branch location at Lexington Market, a longstanding and active gathering place in Baltimore. The branch location offers a wide range of public programs and participatory art activities, increasing access to museum events by operating at a cultural and social crossroads. In May 2020, the museum launched BMA Salon and BMA Screening Room, two digital platforms through which a selection of local artists, collectives, and galleries could present work and engage new audiences. In addition to supporting visibility, the BMA provided stipends for all who participated.
Other equity-driven initiatives at the BMA include 2020 Vision, through which the museum acquired 65 works by women artists and presented 25 exhibitions on the achievements of women artists and leaders, as well as the museum’s ongoing emphasis on diversifying its collection with works by women and artists of color and offering a more expansive narration of art history through exhibitions and programs. In 2020, the BMA also committed to the Endowment for the Future, an ambitious financial plan that emphasizes investments in staff, DEAI initiatives, and further increases in access to the museum.
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