Walters completes $30 million fundraising campaign

Terrible Timing Award: starting a fundraising campaign days before the 2008 stock market crash

The Walters Art Museum announced Tuesday that it has achieved an important financial milestone by wrapping up a $30 million fundraising campaign that began just two weeks before the 2008 stock market collapse.

When the campaign began just before Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, the museum's endowment was $88 million. At the worst of the recession, it plummeted as low as $55 million. After six years of steady efforts to bolster the endowment, the fund has climbed to $118.5 million, according to Ellen Bernard, president of the Walters' board of trustees.

Among other things, a bigger endowment will allow the museum to hire two new educators. They'll work with at-risk preschoolers and will devise new ways to integrate art from the Walters into the classroom.

In addition, the money will create two new departments — the first, dedicated to the Arts of the Ancient Americas, and the second, to the science and technology of repairing and preserving the museum's artifacts. The campaign also creates a $3 million exhibition fund named in honor of former director Gary Vikan.

Museum director Julia Marciari-Alexander pointed out that endowment revenue now makes up a third of the museum's $14.5 million annual operating budget, which stabilizes the organization and helps it to withstand future economic downturns.

"It's not easy to raise money for an endowment campaign," Marciari-Alexander said. "It's especially not easy when the economy is in dire shape. When I came to Baltimore and saw that the Walters not only had an endowment campaign but that it was almost finished, it said a lot to me about the importance of this museum to Baltimore and about the community's commitment to ensuring its future."

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