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Contemporary Museum takes art to new heights

Baltimore museum goes out of its way to bring art to the community

In the heart of Mount Vernon's Historic Cultural District lies a small museum with an innovative new approach to art. Not only does the staff at the Contemporary Museum present new art, but they also take the time to educate and encourage creativity among the community as well. Through a number of programs and collaborations the museum reaches out to the community.

The Contemporary Museum sits at 100 W. Centre Street between the Maryland Historical Society and the Walters Art Museum. The museum offers up 1,600 square feet of gallery space in the former Mutual Home Life Building.

Founded in 1989 as a traveling presenter of contemporary art, the museum finally established a permanent home in 1999 and has continuously worked to bring art to the community in a radical and unconventional way.

"We were working to challenge our traditional ideas," says Interim Director Leslie Shaffer about the move.

Schaffer says the permanent site allows the museum to be more accessible to the people, and makes its goal of "bringing art to diverse and under-served communities" much more attainable.

The museum features artists with a wide range of artistic expressions and ideas.

While the museum has exhibited all the traditional forms of art, it also has featured some interesting displays of art using multimedia. In the most recent collection Anna Gaskell, an artists from Des Moines, Iowa, presents "Floater," a video lasting only a a few minutes. Shaffer says she likes to incorporate technology into the exhibits.

The Museum seeks to educate and bring contemporary art to the community with the introduction of nationally and internationally renowned artists. Shaffer says that the museum rarely exhibits the work of local artists. However, according to reports at The Johns Hopkins Peabody News Online Web site, Baltimore's own John Waters contributed art to the museum in 2000.

From Marina Abramovic to Bettina Von Zwehl, hundreds of contemporary artists have been featured at the museum since its opening, and the staff works diligently to bring in more with three to four exhibititions per year.

A new home brings new approach to art

With a new home, Shaffer says the museum now takes a "hybrid approach" to presenting art. Art lovers can now enjoy art through two different types of exhibitions-"x-site" and "in-site."

"In-site" locations allow the hard-core art enthusiasts or those just passing by to view contemporary art at their convenience and at a central location.

Furthermore, there is the additional benefit of helpful staff members who can explain the concept behind work such as, Zhang Huan's photograph of an Asian man covered in an animal carcass and traditional Chinese writing. Huan's art is one of many artists featured at the museum's most recent exhibit- "The Debra and Dennis Scholl Collection."

On the other hand, "x-site" locations go back to the roots of the museum by taking art to the people and presenting it in a innovative manner.

The museum has placed "x-site" exhibits everywhere from the Internet to the Greyhound Service Terminal in Baltimore.

From 1989 to 1999 the Contemporary Museum scoured the Baltimore area presenting avant-garde art in unexpected places, and past exhibitions have proven that the site can be as important to the art as the art itself.

In 1991 the museum exhibited a collection entitled "Ignisfatuus" at the Druid Hill Park Conservatory. The exhibit examined the relationship "between man, nature, and art symbolized by their mutual connection to the lunar cycle," and needed moonlight in order to work properly, according to works from the former Executive Director Gary Sangster.

There have also been exhibits at the Walters Art Museum, BT Alex. Brown Building in Baltimore's Financial District, and the Canton National Bank.

The museum does not have a permanent exhibition instead staff members hand-pick three to four major collections per year from curators around the world says Shaffer.

Through collaborations with some of the 10 other cultural institutions in Mount Vernon, and a number of community-based programs, the museum is attempting to bring art to the masses. It operates as a non-profit organization and is supported by members, government organizations and over 30 private and corporate companies in the region.

For more information visit the museum's Web site or call (410) 783-5720.

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