Thinking ahead

What's happening at the Baltimore Museum of Art these days? More than you might think

These are busy days for Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art since 1988.

Bolger is leading the BMA into a centennial celebration that will culminate in a black-tie gala Nov. 15. She is also winding down a $28 million renovation of the renowned Charles Village institution and its infrastructure, which began in 2012 with the reopening of the Contemporary Wing and continues this fall with the reopening of the historic Merrick entrance, the Zamoiski east entrance, the redesigned East Wing Lobby, and the Dorothy McIlvain Scott American Wing.

Also reopening is a larger, open-space version of the gift shop, without the old back room.

Next year, the museum will reinstall its African and Asian art collections and open a center for learning and creativity.

The museum embarked on the ambitious upgrades because, "It was clear to me that a number of things at the museum needed to be refreshed," said Bolger, who worked for 13 years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, including as curator of American painting and sculpture, before coming to the BMA.

She said the museum has the space to expand, "but our priority is being good stewards and taking care of what we have."

The renovation projects and new openings are a lot to juggle on top of running a museum that draws visitors from around the world to its 90,000 works of art in a 200,000-square-foot complex with a restaurant, Gertrude's, and a nearly 3-acre sculpture garden.

"We can't keep it all straight," Bolger joked.

In the neighborhood

As busy as she is, chances are, you will find the Charles Village resident shopping at Eddie's or eating at Donna's.

"I don't exactly hide out," said Bolger, 65.

Deciding "to put my money where my mouth is," she moved to Charles Village from Roland Park in 2003. "I wanted to be in the neighborhood of the museum," she said.

Bolger was active in helping to plan the Charles Street Reconstruction project, and has reached out to the community with field trips for schoolchildren and public programming forums for artists.

At the Big Table — billed as a place to gather, learn, make and share in the Contemporary Wing — it's not unusual to find a calligrapher and a graffiti artist discussing words as an art form, or a cellist and an artist discussing the impact of prisons on America, on the first Saturday of each month.

"I think people who come to these programs come back," Bolger said. "I think the museum is very connected."

It is also increasingly connected digitally, as Bolger pushes to keep the museum relevant. The BMA has gomobileartbma.org, a mobile-optimized website with video, audio and text content. All renovated galleries have wi-fi.

The museum's main website, artbma.org, features 9,000 works of art from its collections. Bolger said the museum "really raised its game," with the help of staff members like new digital content manager Suse Cairns, who came to the BMA earlier this year from Australia.

"I leapt across the ocean by myself," said the 34-year-old. "It was time for a big adventure."

She had just finished her Ph.D. dissertation in creative arts for the University of Newcastle in South Wales, Australia.

"It's with the examiners now," she said. "I'm waiting with bated breath."

As the museum's social media curator, Cairns is editing BMA Voices, a daily video, text and audio blog by curators showing and commenting on various works of art. She said the blog is educational as well as promotional.

"Showing people what they can see in the museum gets them excited," Cairns said. "It actually drives visitation."

Cairns is excited about "the opportunity to work for the museum at such an interesting time in its life."

As the most of the renovations are coming to an end this year and next, life at the BMA is slowing down, but Bolger is not.

"I'm not sure I want it to," she said. "I'm having fun."

And she said there will always be upgrades to do in the complex of 10 contiguous buildings built between 1914 and 1994.

"I've been here long enough that we've had to replace the roof," she said, adding that the air-condition system is "a work in progress."

"It's like a car," she said. "You're constantly changing the oil. You get a flat tire. Do you need a new transmission? There is never an end to an old building. There's always scheduled maintenance and another roof."

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