Embattled Contemporary Museum to return this year

The embattled Contemporary Museum will reopen this fall and winter, roughly 18 months after the institution abruptly shut its doors and laid off its five-member staff.

The rejuvenated institution, now called The Contemporary, will return to its nomadic roots by mounting exhibitions at several as-yet-undetermined locations throughout Baltimore, instead of staging them in just one building that viewers have to deliberately decide to visit.


"The Contemporary is back!" reads an announcement at

"After suspending operations in May 2012, the Board of Trustees has spent the past year reimagining the organization's mission, vision and operating structure," according to the statement. "We are now The Contemporary, shedding the word "museum" from our title and redefining our capacity in which we are able to present the most innovative art of our time."


A more formal announcement, including a mission statement, a date for the museum's first exhibition and a list of temporary locations, will be made in coming months, according to Deana Haggag, 26, the museum's director and, for the moment, its entire staff. She said Tuesday that she hopes to put on the institution's first exhibit this year.

"For a long time, the Contemporary was questioning whether it really needed to be here," Haggag said.

"The landscape of the city has changed drastically in the 20 years since the museum was started. We have many more arts institutions than we had then, and it's a really scary time for the arts to try to raise money and survive.

"But we created a database of all the cultural organizations in Baltimore that listed what they did for the city, and then we asked what wasn't there. We decided it would really be beneficial to have an arts organization that can be more nimble and respond to whatever is happening in the art world and locally."

Haggag graduated in May from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a master's degree in curatorial studies. As part of her studies, she spent the spring semester working with the Contemporary's board on a research project to determine whether the museum had a viable future.

The Contemporary gave just 10 days' notice before it shut its doors on May 31, 2012, in the middle of an exhibition. The former director, Sue Spaid, lost her job, as did four part-time staff members. Plans to relocate the museum to a new home on Charles Street — plans that were in their final stages — were scrapped.

At the time, trustees cited low attendance and a lack of donations as reasons to suspend operations.

Haggag said the new budget will be in the middle five figures — or a fraction of the previous annual budget of around $400,000.


She said that the museum will not have a permanent home in the future, more for philosophical reasons than financial ones. As part of her research, Haggag talked to the leaders of successful nomadic organizations around the country.

"One of the things that we learned is that if we can't get audiences, it's kind of easy to bring art to them," she said.

"That model works for a lot of people. If you put art where they live or work, they'll see it. If you're nomadic, you have the flexibility to see where your audience is. We can decide what audience or part of the city an exhibit is likely to speak to, and put it in that neighborhood."