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RIP Baltimore Contemporary Museum by Cara Ober

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Last Saturday I went downtown to see the Baltimore Liste on display at 1 East Baltimore Street. I had heard great things from other visitors and had high expectations for the artists involved. Sure, there were grumblings about the event’s disorganization and last minute location, but we heard the same complaints last year and it came together beautifully.

When I attempted to visit, I found the door locked with a hand-written sign that said, “The Baltimore List has been de-listed until further notice.” I thought it might be a prank, but the doors were locked and I couldn’t get in. A day later the announcement was made: The Contemporary Museum is closing. Or is already closed.

I am sure the Contemporary’s Board Members who made this difficult decision have had a lot of stress to deal with, but it doesn’t get any more abrupt than closing a museum right in the middle of an exhibit, especially an exhibit that involved young, local artists and a number of fledgling galleries. I guess this speaks to the desperation of the situation, and it’s just sad all around.

I could say lots of things about funding for the arts here, the economy, and the difficult and disappointing choices made in such times, but it seems way too obvious. In a funding crisis, what’s a Contemporary Museum to do? Get Baltimore City to fund it and kill its independent eye or harass some local benefactor into keeping it open for a few more months or years? I have read the hang-wringing and gnashing of teeth on facebook — ‘Other cities fund THEIR Contemporary Museums. What’s wrong with Baltimore?’ You can ask these questions, but Baltimore is clearly not other cities and this is one reason for living here. There’s no easy solution.

One thing which is clear to me is the loss of something special. Baltimore’s artists need high caliber, contemporary exhibition opportunities right here in town. Baltimore’s art community needs high-minded exhibitions to challenge us, raise the bar, and confuse us at times. In past years, The Contemporary Museum has not been the most inclusive or engaging space, but let’s be honest – even a quick visit was a taste of a larger art world, a place that keeps on ticking without even a smidgen of local input or approval. This was the place that occasionally, very occasionally, saw fit to include some of us in a bigger picture, which was always a big effing deal. This is what I will miss the most – the excitement and challenge this organization provided.

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