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.
“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.