In the early 1990s, shortly after the African Art Museum of Maryland opened at historic Oakland Manor in Columbia, Bette Dolan visited with her children to teach them about art.
“I thought this was amazing that they were bringing this African culture to this town that boasted diversity on the East Coast,” she says.
But only a few years later, Dolan, owner of The Outer Office printing company in Fulton, learned the museum could no longer afford its rent and might need to move.
“My first thought was, ‘That’s so sad,’” she says. “But over the days, it kept nagging at me and nagging at me. How does our community allow this to happen? This belongs in Howard County.”
Dolan contacted Doris Ligon, the museum’s director, and asked how much she needed to pay the increase in the museum’s rent. Then, Dolan paid it — for two years.
“I said to her, ‘I don’t want you to leave Howard County,’ “ Dolan says.
Dolan is one of five women the museum will honor this month at its first spring “Tea With a Twist.” The event, held at The Pearl Modern Spa in Maple Lawn, will also recognize former Del. Elizabeth “Liz” Bobo; local jazz vocalist Saisa Amenu-El; Carolyn Kelemen, an arts teacher at Howard Community College and freelancer for Baltimore Sun Media Group; and the Rev. Stacey Cole Wilson, lead pastor at Good Hope Union United Methodist Church in Silver Spring, for their support of the museum dedicated to traditional African art.
“These women have made an impact on us and have been with us for a long time,” Ligon says. “They gave to us, and this is our way of recognizing them and letting them know how much they mean to us.”
Bobo was a member of the Howard County Council when the museum got its start in the early 1980s.
“They couldn’t find space, and we let them use the common lobby of the George Howard Building,” Bobo says.
While county executive in the late 1980s, Bobo says she also selected Ligon to represent Howard County on a Baltimore Museum of Art board, giving Ligon and her museum more visibility.
“Liz has always been supportive of the arts,” Ligon says. “She opened doors for us.”
Wilson helped the museum find its current home in Fulton. Saisa has performed at several museum events, while Kelemen has supported the museum through donations and by sharing its artwork with her students, Ligon says.
“They have been supportive of the museum, each in their own way,” she says.