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Nevermore? Poe House in danger of closing

Baltimore’s Poe House and Museum may be in danger of closing if it doesn’t find a way to replace money that it has been receiving from the city.

The museum, which received $80,000 annually from the city until last year, will run out of money in July 2012 and must find a new source of operating funds. Because of budget cuts imposed last year, Baltimore stopped giving money to the museum on North Amity Street last July. While the museum’s curator and city officials are looking for a consultant to work with to create a new plan, they realize it may be difficult to come up with the money to keep the doors open.

“Raising money is at the heart of the success of the Poe House,” said Kathleen Kotarba, executive director of Baltimore’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. “Of course we’re concerned. It’s a possibility the museum could close.”

CHAP maintains the site as a historic house museum and sponsors tours and activities throughout the year. The house was built about 1830. The Edgar Allan Poe Society rescued it from demolition and opened it as a museum in 1949. Thirty years later, Baltimore City spent $90,000 to restore the house, and it has since been paying for its annual operation.

Jeff Jerome, curator of the museum, has worked there since 1979, and is the museum’s sole employee. He said the building’s budget, now $80,000 annually, has been whittled down over the years, and now includes only the alarm system, electricity, his salary, programming and minor upkeep.
The museum usually draws 5,000 visitors per year, but last year and 2009’s “Nevermore” campaign for the bicentennial of Edgar Allan Poe’s birth drew in the most traffic the museum had ever seen, Jerome said.

The Poe House received an award from the state for bringing in print media advertising and marketing for Baltimore worth more than $1.9 million, Kotarba said.

“My goodness, we’re like a shooting star,” Jerome said. “We keep going higher and higher. It would be very embarrassing if it came to the Poe House closing.”
But Jerome said he’s looked at the possibility and the steps needed to close the Poe House if the museum can’t come up with a plan before money runs out. So far, the museum has enough money to stay open this year from previous fundraising events. Officials from the Department of Planning have put out a Request for Proposals for a consultant to work with Jerome and CHAP. Once a consultant is hired, Jerome and city officials would then work to create a business plan, and ideally find a way to employ more workers at the museum, Kotarba said.

‘They obviously have had a huge impact here,” said Tom Noonan, CEO of the city’s tourism agency, Visit Baltimore.

He said the museum has been responsible for the equivalent of $4.5 million in public relations stories for the city and has created tourism buzz for the celebrations of Poe’s funeral in 2009. Noonan said an upcoming film based on Poe, “The Raven,” is expected to draw more attention to the history of Poe and bring an infusion of visitors.

“If this movie is successful and the message gets out, that would be disappointing if we closed all this a year later,” Noonan said. “We want to make sure it stays active so there will hopefully be a lingering Poe message forever.”