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DEAI Initiatives, Evening Hours, and Pay Increases—Without Selling Any Art

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It’s not the quick $70 million the BMA intended to raise through selling off three significant works of art last October, but the museum’s announcement today of three major gifts is a huge step in the right direction. Amid the disastrous domino effect of museum deaccessioning plans occurring across the country during the current economic and health crisis, it’s encouraging to see the museum switch its strategy to raise funds for much-needed change through philanthropic means.

The three gifts include $1 million from philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton to be used toward diversity, equity, accessibility, and inclusion (DEAI) initiatives, $350,000 from The Rouse Company Foundation to be used to establish evening hours, and $110,000 from philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Legum for immediate pay increases for hourly workers. All three are essential aspects in the DEAI initiatives the BMA originally described in its Endowment for the Future plan last October, designed to “enact structural change within the institution and to increase community access to exhibitions and programs.”

Philanthropist and multimillionaire Eileen Harris Norton gave the lead gift in the BMA’s $3 million fundraising campaign to establish and endow new DEAI initiatives. Harris Norton is the ex-wife of Peter Norton, described in the LA Times as a “computer software king” and the creator of the Norton Anti-virus software. Eileen Harris Norton is President of The Eileen Harris Norton Foundation, which she founded in 2009, focusing on education, family, and the environment, with an emphasis on low-income children of color, and she previously co-founded the Peter Norton Family Foundation in 1989, just before Norton sold his PC software business, although the couple later divorced in 2000. 

Eileen Harris Norton in Architectural Digest with her Alma Thomas

“I am pleased to support such a transformative initiative at the BMA, and it’s particularly meaningful to me that this announcement is taking place during Black History Month,” said Harris Norton. “I grew up in Watts, in South L.A., where museums and other cultural institutions were not easily accessible. We had to leave our community to see plays and experience art. Today my philanthropy is influenced by those childhood memories. The BMA is a gem of a museum within the predominantly African American city of Baltimore, and I can see that as the museum moves ahead with its expansive plans to diversify its audiences and staff, it will surely become more reflective of that vibrant community. I have always considered it important to make art and education as accessible as possible, and this initiative will help open those doors to everyone.”

Harris Norton is known for being a prolific art collector, and has an amazing art collection (check it out in Architectural Digest) with works by close friend Mark Bradford, Lorna Simpson, and Kerry James Marshall. Her collection is an enviable who’s-who list of Black American artists, with a focus on women, artists from the African diaspora, and art made in Southern California. Harris Norton co-founded Art + Practice in Los Angeles with artist Mark Bradford and activist Allan DiCastro in 2014, a Los Angeles exhibition space that also supports foster youth. Harris Norton has also served on the boards of the Hammer Museum at UCLA, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York.

Mark Bradford, Allan DiCastro, and Eileen Harris Norton, co-founders of Art + Practice (Garage Magazine)

According to the BMA, Harris Norton’s gift will allow the museum to begin “immediately enacting its DEAI activities, with half committed as a spend down fund to be used over the course of three years and the other half serving as the foundation of an endowment to ensure that DEAI efforts can continue into the future and evolve as necessary.” The BMA announced they will bring in consultants from The Empathetic Museum to conduct a “diagnostic survey of the institution, establish an internal cross-departmental task force, and conduct virtual and in-person staff training, as part of an effort to create an institution-wide equity roadmap.”

With the $350,000 gift from the Rouse Company, the BMA will extend public hours to 9 p.m. one weekday per week when it is able to fully reopen. In Mount Vernon, the Walters Art Museum has had a similar practice since 2012 and it has proven to be a successful way to incorporate evening events, workshops, performances, and visits to the museum for those with busy work schedules. The funds are just a start-up, but will cover evening access for 16 months. The museum said it plans to continue to fundraise towards this as an ongoing practice in the future.  

From the BMA’s press release: “The Rouse Company Foundation was founded in 1963 to invest in the community in ways that will help sustain the best among Greater Baltimore and Howard County institutions that focus on human services and education, affordable housing, and fine and performing arts, as well as supporting promising new programs that address community issues. The Baltimore Museum of Art, Columbia Festival of the Arts, Hippodrome Foundation, Howard Community College, Johns Hopkins University, and Maryland Film Festival are among the many recipients of the foundation’s generous support. The Rouse Company’s former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Anthony Deering led the Foundation, and concurrently served as a BMA Trustee for many years, including a tenure as BMA Board Chair from 1997 to 2000 and Honorary Vice Chair of the Campaign Committee.”

Jeffrey A. Legum and President Barack Obama

The much-needed pay increases for BMA workers comes from a $110,000 gift from philanthropists Mr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Legum, which increases the base wages of all its hourly workers from $13.50 to $15. The change went into effect on February 1, 2021, and will function as a new baseline wage for all hourly employees. This gift impacts around 50 employees at the museum and is similar to a change announced in January 2021 by The Walters Art Museum, which raised its minimum wage for full-time employees to $15 an hour and $13 an hour for part-time employees.

According to the BMA, “Jeffrey Legum is a former BMA Trustee and former treasurer as well as a philanthropist, investor, and former automobile dealer. He is in the third generation of his family to be involved with the BMA, has served as a Trustee for 23 years, and is currently an Honorary Trustee. He has been a keen steward of the museum’s financial resources while serving as the treasurer, as well as on the Executive Committee and Finance Committee, and chairing the Investment Committee. Legum currently serves on the board’s Investment Committee and Marketing & Audience Development Committees and previously chaired the Pre-Modern Fine Arts Committee. He and his wife have also given generously to a range of other organizations and causes, including several major gifts to Johns Hopkins University, John Hopkins Hospital, the Kennedy Krieger Institute, and Park School.”

The BMA’s Endowment for the Future plan is focused around four main areas: salary increases for staff throughout the museum, funding for DEAI programs, the elimination of admission fees for special exhibitions, and evening hours one night a week. The museum says it plans to fundraise and enact the plan incrementally over the course of the next three years. 

The BMA also announced that the artworks slated for deaccession in the fall of 2020 have been re-entered into the BMA’s collection and will not be offered for sale in the foreseeable future—all great news for the museum’s legacy and for Baltimore.

 

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