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Baltimore Museum of Industry

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BC: I dreaded my first visit to the Baltimore Museum of Industry. In 2008, I accompanied my daughter to the museum for a program on robotics. I expected the museum to be of little personal interest. I couldn't have been more wrong. The BMI is my favorite museum in Baltimore. Every one of its exhibits tells a story. Baltimore played a prominent role in America's industrial past. From original working machines to displays of former commercial products, this museum provides its visitors education and entertainment regarding commercial history. It's nice to know that Bromo Seltzer and Noxcema still have a home. The museum is just a stone's throw from Baltimore's landmark Domino Sugar factory and overlooks Fell's Point, America's oldest working seaport. Visitors would find like interest in the BMI can spend countless hours on the museum's many outdoor benches. The late William Donald Schaefer, a former Baltimore mayor, deserves credit for having the foresight to revitalize the city's waterfront and support and develop this unique institution. My only regret with this essay is that the staff positions at the BMI are not clearly defined. I believe that that might be the case with many of America's smaller museums. | REFERENCES Baltimore Museum of Industry website: http://thebmi.org/page BMI Staff Directory http://thebmi.org/page/contact_us Jack Dawson, "Museum Reflects a Gritty Past," Baltimore Sun, September 6, 1981. Glaser, J.R., & Zenetou, A.A. (1996). Museums: A place to work, planning museum careers. New York: Routledge. Tim Horton, "Museum Looks Inside Machinery," Baltimore Sun, November 23, 1981. Schlatter, N.E. (2008). Museum Careers: A practical guide for students and novices. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. "Uniquely Baltimore", Baltimore Museum of Industry promotional brochure, 2012.

FC: THE BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY A Photographic Essay | Michael Lisicky March 2013

1: The Baltimore Museum of Industry is located on Baltimore's Inner Harbor, just minutes from Fort McHenry, Federal Hill, and the city's Harborplace tourism district. Its waterfront location combines a wonderful educational experience with a beautiful setting, suitable for special events and private parties, both indoors and outdoors. The museum's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the industrial ad technological heritage of the Baltimore region." The museum's website lists the names of its staff members and their duties but does not list their titles. There is no specifically designated curator, archivist, or exhibitions manager listed on the BMI website, but the staff titles can be interpreted by their job descriptions.

2: Founded in 1981, the BMI was home to the former Platt Corporation on Key Highway. http://thebmi.org/page/about_us The Platt Corporation originated as an oyster and produce cannery but switched to paper tube construction in 1940. An active Facilities Manager would be responsible for maintaining the museum's building and grounds (Schlatter, p. 100) and overseeing any necessary maintenance and improvements to the 4500 square foot structure. This could pose some unique challenges as portions of the building date from 1865.

3: The BMI offers free parking at its downtown museum, which is a very unique and attractive amenity for its visitors. The sidewalk that leads into the building incorporates the museum's dedication plaque along with bricks funded by donors. In November 1981, the BMI started with a modest annual budget of $100,000. Aside from the initial start-up costs, the BMI's 28-member Board of Director's first goal was to hold a $250,000 capital campaign, which was successfully achieved. (Horton, Baltimore Sun, 11/23/81) Today, the museum's annual budget exceeds $2 million. The BMI identifies two staff members who are responsible for the museum's unearned income needs. One person is charge of individual contributions, corporate giving, and foundation gifts, while the other person covers grant applications and membership.

4: Upon entering the museum, visitors are greeted by two staff members stationed at the Admission Desk. The Visitor Services department is responsible for opening and closing the museum, staffing the admission desk, running the cash register, and gift shop transactions. http://thebmi.org/page/employment Large signs colorfully display the museum's mission and inform visitors of current and permanent exhibits. | The BMI's shop serves as an extension of the Admission Desk. Most of the merchandise is geared towards the museum's area of interest. According to Schlatter's book (p. 91), a Marketing Department staff person must oversee the store's operation. One staff member at the museum is in charge of marketing and facility rentals. Part-time workers and/or volunteers staff the Admission Desk. A Deputy Director is responsible for public programs and volunteer coordination.

5: When the museum opened its doors in 1981, Ann Steele was the BMI's sole curator. In an interview in the Baltimore Sun, Steele commented that the problem with being a curator at the BMI is that everything is "room size". (11/23/81) The museum only has enough storage space to display 1/5 of its 2,000 items at one time. Most of its collection is stored in a former streetcar barn in West Baltimore. The unique layout of the former cannery features many small rooms that serve as early storefront reproductions and industrial workshops. Ann Steele is no longer the curator of the BMI. The current curator, Catherine Scott Dunkes, is in charge of collections, archives, exhibits, and photo and research requests. Dunkes is also responsible for handling the museum's extensive photographic archive collection that was generously donated by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company. These historical images can be viewed on the museum's website and are available for private or commercial use. http://baltmusindustry.pastperfect-online.com/ The display shown above replicates an early Baltimore delicatessen.It features original machines, labels, and scales. Numerous local Esskay-brand products are featured.

6: The BMI has a strong educational component and hosts many programs for school children and adults. One staff member is assigned to organizing school programs, group tours, scout programs, and birthday parties. A membership brochure states that the BMI grants special member events such as bull and oyster roasts, summer concerts, wine and beer tastings, haunted factory tours, and engineering challenges. In addition to the basic membership, the BMI has additional contributing levels called Anchors, Generators, Propellers, and the Circle of Gears. The staff member in charge of museum rentals and membership must work in concert with the education department.

7: The BMI tries to appeal to visitors of all ages. For younger visitors, "work buckets" are located throughout the facility. This particular bucket, as shown above, educates children on moving machines and metals. Baltimore played a prominent role in America's steel industry and areas of the museum address this contribution. These work buckets are located on the floor and give easy access to small children. Back in 1900, the Smithsonian Institution was the first museum to cater to young visitors by placing activities low to the ground. (Glaser, Zenetou, p. 18) The BMI's director of school programs must oversee these buckets.

8: An actual working printing press is one of the exhibits at the BMI. The press is only active during special demonstrations but the room is accessible to the public at all times. The BMI's curator must play an important role with this exhibit. She would be responsible for any of the room's acquisitions, have knowledge of the working parts, and find competent repairmen and workmen to maintain, repair, and work the exhibit. These massive responsibilities prove the curator is one of the most valuable and influential staff members at the BMI. An organizational chart, which is not displayed on its website, must show that she only answers to the Executive Director.

9: The Baltimore Museum of Industry contains two viewing rooms for audio and video exhibitions. One room, the Meyerhoff Theatre, provides auditorium seating along with a continuous video feed about Baltimore's past industries. The Communications Gallery, shown above, is used for special events. It is unclear which staff member would be responsible for all of the technological components at the museum? There is no specific person mentioned in the staff directory. But there must be some person, either permanently hired or outsourced, that serves this need.

10: One of the museum's current exhibits celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Maryland Lottery. The exhibit, titled '40 years, 40 stories', showcases the history of the lottery, from the first drawing, to large payouts, to the advent of casino gambling in Maryland. Items such as photographs and actual winning tickets accompany each of the 40 stories.

11: The Maryland Lottery exhibit initially comes off as an advertisement for the state lottery program. Posters, advertising ephemera, and sample scratch tickets are displayed throughout the hallways. However, this exhibit teaches many unknown facts about how the drawing works. Each 60-second drawing takes two hours to produce, as each ball must be weighed to the one hundredth of an ounce. This insures that each drawing is fair and legal. The drawing machines must be checked and certified daily in order to guarantee proper function of the air blowing system. Several actual drawing machines are on display throughout the exhibit, as seen above with my daughter, Jordan.

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  • By: Michael L.
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  • Title: Baltimore Museum of Industry
  • A Photographic Essay Michael Lisicky March 2013
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