After failing to find a new executive director, Baltimore’s revered and roving art nonprofit The Contemporary is going on an indefinite hiatus. Its only two remaining staff members, Artistic Director Ginevra Shay and Education Director Lee Heinemann, ceased working for the organization on December 9, and its board “will spend the next several months to determine the best path forward,” according to a statement sent to Hyperallergic.
This is not the first hiatus for The Contemporary, as Cara Ober of BmoreArt noted. Founded in 1989 by curator George Ciscle, The Contemporary began as a mobile, non-collecting organization partnering with other Baltimore art institutions for site-specific exhibitions, before establishing its own brick-and-mortar space in 1999. It vacated that space, near the Walters Art Museum, in 2011, and went on a hiatus in May of 2012.
The following year, The Contemporary relaunched with a model more similar to its original program, putting on one major exhibition every year in partnership with other spaces and institutions in the city. In 2016, for instance, it mounted the site-specific Abigail DeVille show Only When It’s Dark Enough Can You See The Stars in the former Peale Museum building, said to be the first purpose-built museum building in the Western hemisphere. Earlier this year, The Contemporary organized a solo show by Michael Jones McKean in the historic Hutzler Brothers Palace Building in downtown Baltimore that, for now, will stand as the organization’s final exhibition.
“From its inception, The Contemporary has been an ever-evolving institution that has gone through many different transformations and iterations,” Jessica Lanzillotti, the chair of The Contemporary’s board, told Hyperallergic. “That is what makes it one of the most vital institutions in the City and in the world of art.”
In its statement, the board says it was unable to find a new executive director, thus precipitating the current hiatus, but also notes that “The Contemporary is not closing,” adding:
This past spring and summer, The Contemporary convened a search committee comprised of Board members, staff and community influencers to conduct a national search for an executive director. The search did not yield a candidate to lead The Contemporary into the future.
How long the institution’s hiatus will last and in what form it will emerge from it remains to be seen.