Museum closing not final; Banneker-Douglass shut down last week to prepare next exhibit; Move caused alarm


Visitors to Annapolis' Banneker-Douglass Museum last week may have been confused by a sign posted on the museum door. It announced that the institution would be closed through Nov. 12, and gave no explanation.

The sign should have specified the museum is temporarily closed while staff members are putting up the next exhibit, said Carroll Hynson Jr., chairman of the state-appointed commission that oversees the museum on Franklin Street in the city's historic district.

The exhibit -- "In His Words: The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass" -- will run from Saturday through March 11, said Hynson, who heads the Commission on African-American History and Culture.

"I've asked them to change the sign," Hynson said.

The museum's closure alarmed the president of a volunteer fund-raising group who has clashed frequently with the commission in the past two years over personnel changes and the future of the 15-year-old museum, which holds artifacts and items that belonged to scientist Benjamin Banneker, writer-abolitionist Frederick Douglass and other famous African-Americans.

Erroll E. Brown Sr., president of the Banneker-Douglass Museum Foundation, said he arrived at the museum Thursday morning and was told by a maintenance man that the museum had been closed since Tuesday. Brown said no sign was on the door.

The foundation has repeatedly accused the commission of trying to close the museum, housed in the former Mount Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church.

"Whatever they say right now, it's just another story," said Brown.

Now, as before, Hynson adamantly denies Brown's assertions.

"Absolutely, unequivocally no," Hynson said, when asked whether there were plans to close the museum.

Hynson said the museum is moving forward with a state-financed, 10,000-square-foot expansion, planned for 2001, that will provide room for permanent exhibits.

He noted that the museum appointed a curator last month, and an education administrator came on board last week. The commission expects to name a director by the end of the year, he said.

The commission will vote on a candidate by the end of the month, and will forward the recommendation to the state Department of Housing and Community Development, which finances the museum, Hynson said.

The Banneker-Douglass Museum has been without leadership since its director, Rosalind D. Savage, was fired six months ago after less than a year on the job. Two years earlier, the commission fired her predecessor, Ronald L. Sharps, who had run the museum for 4 1/2 years.

Commission members and state officials said disagreements over management issues led to the dismissals of the two directors.

In September, the museum's program and events coordinator resigned, saying the museum had lost its focus.

Hynson dismisses the criticism.

"This is the best we've ever been," he said, noting that the museum's most recent exhibit, "Why Jazz?" -- which ran from July 14 to Oct. 30 -- was particularly successful, with an attendance of 2,150.

Hynson said 3,350 people visited the museum from June to October, compared with 2,800 during the same period last year.

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