The Municipal Art Society of Baltimore was founded in 1899 by a group of prominent citizens including architects, artists, businessmen and educators to provide sculptural and pictoral [sic] decoration and ornaments for the public buildings, streets and open spaces in the City of Baltimore, and to help generally beautify the City.
One example of the Society's early visions is the Baltimore Museum of Art. So far as it is known, the first suggestion for a museum was made at the Society's initial meeting when General Felix Angus proposed that the organization be empowered to receive gifts of art objects or of real estate, with a view to the possible formation of an Art Museum.
During the first year of its existence, the Municipal Art Society undertook the commissioning of the first of many murals to decorate the new courthouse, then under construction.
In 1900, the Municipal Art Society proposed the height limit in Mt. Vernon Square and, later, defended it against efforts to build taller buildings along the square.
By the winter of 1900, the Municipal Art Society had gotten together $30,000 with which to begin to enrich Baltimore's public art possessions. The Society began to commission statues to men who had played an important role in Maryland History. The John Eager Howard sculpture (1904) and the Severn Trackle Wallis sculpture (1905) began a tradition of public art projects by the Municipal Art Society.
In 1902, the Society began negotiations with the Olmstead Brothers to prepare a comprehensive plan for the development of Public Grounds for Greater Baltimore. This report, submitted in 1903 and published in 1904, is responsible for the enlargements of Patterson, Wyman, Patapsco Valley and Gunpowder State Parks. The creation of Leakin Park, Gwynn Falls Park and Herring Run Park can all be attributed to the Olmstead recommendations and the efforts of the Municipal Art Society.
In 1910, the Society published a Partial Report on City Plan prepared by John M. Carrere, Arnold Brunner and Frederick Law Olmstead. The results of that report were the creation of the City Hall Plaza and the site for the War Memorial Building.
Though Baltimore was a pioneer in establishing a City Plan Commission in 1898, this body had become inactive by 1929. In that year, the Municipal Art Society sought the attention and support of the Baltimore Association of Commerce, the Real Estate Board and the newly created Commission of Governmental Efficiency and Economy, to revive this very important body. The Society's persistent efforts resulted in success when in 1932, the Commission on City Planning was reestablished by Mayor [Howard Wilkinson] Jackson.
In 1956, the Municipal Art Society supported the plans of the Committee for Downtown Baltimore in their efforts to revive the economic vitality of our City. The Committee became the Greater Baltimore Committee and their plans became the redevelopment of Charles Center and the Inner Harbor.
During the 1980s through the end of the Century, the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore continued its role as a granting institution for deserving projects addressing environmental art, city beautification and public awareness of these issues. Efforts during that period include support for Maryland Art Place, Artscape and contributions to several public art installations including the “Birth of Venus” by Jonathan Silver, the “Painted Bridges” over the Jones Falls Expressway by Stan Edmister, Redwood Street Gate by Linda DePalma and others. During this period the Society sponsored the competition to select the team for the design of the Gwynn Falls Trail. In 2001, in celebration of its centennial, the Municipal Art Society gifted “Male Female” by Jonathan Borofsky to the City of Baltimore. The Society continued their work through support of the Frederick Douglas Sculpture at the Maritime Museum Park by Marc Andre Robinson and of the outdoor sculpture programs at Evergreen.
The Society currently sponsors the Municipal Art Society Artist Travel Award and the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore Art Prize.