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Thread: More Museums, Despite Poor Economy

  1. #1

    Default More Museums, Despite Poor Economy


    December 11, 2002

    More Museums for New York, Despite Poor Economy


    Two new museums with a combined construction cost of nearly $100 million — one devoted to contemporary art and one to art of the Himalayas — are in the works for Manhattan, despite a tight economy that has forced cutbacks at other cultural organizations.

    The Rubin Museum of Art, devoted primarily to Himalayan and Tibetan painting, is currently being developed in the former Barneys store at Seventh Avenue and West 17th Street in Chelsea. Its $60 million, 70,000-square-foot space, designed by Beyer Blinder Belle, is to open in 2004.

    The New Museum of Contemporary Art in SoHo, the quarter-century-old bastion of cutting-edge art, is planning to build a new $35-million, 60,000-square-foot home along a motley stretch of the Bowery, at Prince Street, by 2005.

    In addition the Jewish Children's Museum is planned for the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, and the Brooklyn Children's Museum, also in Crown Heights, has begun a $39-million expansion that will double its size.

    These projects come at a time when cultural organizations like the Guggenheim Museum are retrenching, and others are paring their operations to weather New York City's budget cuts.

    "It's very exciting that we have this crop under way, given how tough the climate is," said Kate D. Levin, the city's commissioner of cultural affairs. "You've got a bunch of organizations that have reached a level of curatorial maturity."

    Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, said it was important for cultural institutions to press ahead with building or expansion even when the economic picture was bleak. "If you go back and look at the great public works in our nation's history, they often happened in very difficult times," she said. "Franklin Delano Roosevelt built the National Gallery in the Depression. You've got to have more of a vision."

    The New Museum's new location, a parking lot at 235 Bowery, is only a few blocks from its current 30,000-square-foot home, but in neighborhood terms, it is a world away. Now surrounded by upscale stores like A/X Armani Exchange and Dean & Deluca, the museum in its new location will be surrounded by restaurant-supply stores and be two doors from the Bowery Mission, which serves 500 meals daily to the homeless.

    "It would be disingenuous if I said I was not nervous," said Saul Dennison, president of the museum's board. "But based on a number of things, I feel pretty confident."

    That confidence is based largely on the expected sale (still being negotiated) of the current site, which has increased in value over the museum's 20 years there, and by the rapidly shifting fortunes of the Bowery. Although the New Museum, which will sit between Rivington and Stanton Streets, would be the first major arts organization on the city's historic Skid Row, several new bars have recently opened along the wide boulevard, and Prince Street, which begins at the Bowery where the museum will be, is part of the chic neighborhood known as NoLIta (North of Little Italy), which has several restaurants and shops. Many artists have settled in lofts on or near the Bowery.

    "We recognize the potential of the area," said Lisa Phillips, the museum's director. "It could be a bridge instead of a barrier between everything that goes on in SoHo and the Lower East Side."

    The two museums in Brooklyn have already received funds from the city, Ms. Levin said: the Brooklyn Children's Museum, $25 million, and the Jewish Children's Museum, $9.3 million.

    The Rubin Museum is being supported largely by the Rubin Cultural Trust, set up by Donald Rubin, who owns a managed-care company, and his wife, Shelley. Organizers say they hope the museum, which will include art from the Rubins' personal collection, as well as pieces donated and lent by other collectors and institutions, will become one of the major centers of Asian art in the West.

    The Brooklyn Children's Museum expansion, which will add 50,000 square feet to the building's current 51,000 by 2006, was designed by Rafael Viñoly, who also designed the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia and the forthcoming Frederick P. Rose Hall for Jazz in the AOL Time Warner Building at Lincoln Center.

    Carol Enseki, president of the Brooklyn Children's Museum, at 145 Brooklyn Avenue, said the expansion, which will use solar energy and be painted daffodil yellow, would allow for expanded cultural and educational programs. "Families with limited leisure time were looking for high-quality activities to do with their kids," she said.

    The Jewish Children's Museum, to open in September at 332 Kingston Avenue, is a multimedia institution that will serve both as a museum and as a community center. It was designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects, known for their work on the additions to the original Guggenheim Museum and the Fogg Museum at Harvard University.

    Created by Tzivos Hashem, an international nonprofit children's organization, this 50,000-square-foot project seeks to promote Jewish culture and history through hands-on instruction and interaction.

    "I hope it will give people a better appreciation of what Jewish culture is about," said Rabbi Sholom Ber Baumgarten, the museum's director.

    Alan J. Gerson, a councilman who represents parts of Lower Manhattan, said the New Museum plan was particularly significant in the aftermath of last year's terrorist attacks. "This is one of the first significant steps in the cultural revitalization of Lower Manhattan," he said.

    Ms. Phillips, the New Museum's director, said that the institution was committed to remaining downtown, particularly after the attacks, and that she hoped to create a high-profile destination for contemporary art.

    "The most important thing is that the building itself announces that it is a museum, has a strong identity as a museum and serves as a beacon for contemporary art," she said.

    An architect is expected to be named within a year. The New Museum, which has an annual operating budget of more than $5 million, plans to raise additional money for the project through a $12-million capital campaign and a bond offering.

    Museum officials also hope to get some government funds. In addition to critically acclaimed shows like its current Carroll Dunham retrospective, the museum has a popular bookstore that includes volumes on photography, design and architecture.

    When the New Museum first moved to Lower Broadway in 1983 from a small gallery at the New School for Social Research (now the New School University), the neighborhood was one that people tended to avoid. "It was really desolate, all sweatshops," Ms. Phillips said. "The museum's presence helped change what Broadway is."

    Ed Morgan, president of the 93-year-old Bowery Mission, predicted the museum would make a significant impact on the Bowery as well. "I think it will start to bring 24-hour vitality to the district," he said. "It will put it more on the map as a destination."

  2. #2


    Gotham Gazette -

    Another Museum Boom

    by Martha Hostetter
    April 04, 2004

    Over the next few months, museums across the city will complete major construction projects, planned when the economic picture was sunnier and sustained in spite of the difficult fundraising environment of the past few years. The weak economy has caused some donors to reconsider their commitments, and museums such as the Guggenheim have had to put their plans on hold. But, remarkably, most projects appear to be on schedule, including expansions of established institutions like the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Morgan Library, New Museum of Contemporary Art, and Brooklyn Children’s Museum and openings at the new Rubin Museum of Art and Skyscraper Museum.

    Many of these projects were planned during the 1990s, when museums in New York and across the country rode a wave of unprecedented popularity. Visitors flocked to big-name shows, to extended hours and added programming like movies, concerts, and dance parties, and to retail stores and cafes. More than just temples to art, museums became social destinations and community centers, places to hang out with the kids or meet a date. With the help of upgraded, visitor-friendly facilities and innovative designs, museums are hoping to build on this legacy well into the 21st century.

    Brooklyn’s Front Stoop

    Though the Brooklyn Museum of Art never shut its doors during its multi-phase renovation, it has planned a celebration this month to inaugurate what its director, Arnold Lehman, refers to as “Brooklyn’s greatest front stoop”--the museum’s new entrance and public plaza.

    The museum has long had an image problem. The 1893 building was intended to face Washington Avenue, where the architecture team of McKim, Mead, and White had envisioned a hemispherical entrance. This plan was never realized, and the Washington Avenue side is now the museum’s parking lot and rear entrance. Along Eastern Parkway, the museum’s main entrance, there was once a massive staircase--twice the height of the stairs in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- that took visitors to the third floor. The staircase was removed in 1934 to provide easier access to the building, leaving behind an unwelcoming Beaux Arts façade.

    The new entrance is designed to lend the building a sense of openness and transparency--its glass and steel design providing a window into the artwork and the people inside. A sheer-glass pavilion leads to the main lobby, and an elevated promenade provides views into the museum and around the neighborhood. The modern design won unanimous support from the city’s Landmarks Commission, Lehman says, because it builds on the original plan: the stepped-glass pavilion recalls the old stairway, and the hemispherical entrance echoes the architects’ unrealized design.

    The 80,000-square-foot plaza in front of the museum, once bisected by a driveway, has been reclaimed as public space. Five hundred people can sit on the curved, wooden steps--the “front stoop”--to watch outdoor performances or enjoy the new fountains, designed by the same showmen that created the spectacular water show outside the Bellagio Casino, in Las Vegas.

    The museum is using the reopening to show off its rich artistic community. In Open House: Working in Brooklyn -- the first comprehensive survey of the borough’s arts scene -- emerging and established artists will show painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, film, and installations, and accompanying performances will feature local dance, music, and poetry.

    New Museums Open Downtown

    Also this month, the Skyscraper Museum will open in its first permanent location, on the ground floor of a 38-story tower in Battery Park City. Designed by Roger Duffy of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the museum is one of the first signs of downtown’s cultural renaissance. The museum has held temporary exhibits since 1996 (its curators helped to create the viewing walls around Ground Zero, which depict the towers’ history). But it now has a chance to take on an important role as interpreter of New York’s history as a “vertical metropolis,” and as a participant in the ongoing debate among architects, engineers, builders, and the public about the safety and ethics of skyscrapers.

    Later this year, the Rubin Museum of Art will open its doors in Chelsea, on the site of an old Barney’s department store. This new museum is the product of one couple’s passion for a culture that will be unfamiliar to most art lovers. Donald Rubin, who made a fortune in managed care, and his wife, Shelley, collected art from the Himalayan region (Tibet, Bhutan, and Nepal) for 25 years. When they couldn’t find the right museum for their collection, they decided to create their own.

    Public Works in Tough Times

    How did these institutions sustain major capital campaigns during one of the toughest fundraising climates in decades? Part of the answer may be that buildings have inherent populist appeal. Public buildings -- particularly architecturally notable ones -- can be a source of pride for individuals, corporations, and cities. To raise spirits and generate jobs great public works are often built during tough financial times; the National Gallery of Art was built during the Depression. “It’s easier to raise money for a building than a show,” Thomas Krens, director of the Guggenheim, told a New York Times reporter in 2002. “A building is permanent.”

    Another reason is that City Hall, and perhaps corporate and individual donors as well, have come to accept what reams of research has shown: culture fuels the local economy. According to a study by the advocacy group Alliance for the Arts, capital spending on construction by nonprofits from 1992 to 2002 totaled $2.4 billion. One-quarter of the funding for capital construction came from the city, and this investment helped to leverage private and other government funds by a ratio of three to one. In 1997, thanks to a change in policy, the Department of Cultural Affairs was able to make donations for capital projects to any nonprofit organization--not just the 33 city-owned cultural institutions that had been its longtime beneficiaries.

    The city recoups its investment in culture in the form of income and sales tax, and down the road in tourist dollars. Another Alliance for the Arts study looked at the 1992-93 winter season, when just three museums (the Guggenheim, the Met, and MoMA) attracted an estimated 1.3 million tourists to blockbuster shows, with half of the tourists saying they came to New York specifically to see them. All together, out-of-town visitors brought an estimated $617 million in tourist dollars to New York, reaping $60 million in tax benefits for the city and state.

    It’s up to museum directors and curators to capitalize on their donors’ confidence and widespread popularity. During the 1990s, critics argued that museums were becoming too populist, that dazzling architecture, visitor-friendly facilities, and extra-curricular programming were delegating art to a back seat. But it’s not such a radical notion to make visitors feel comfortable and welcome, to allow them to enjoy just being in a museum. For a least a couple of centuries, people have been drawn to culture’s reflected glamour--to plush opera halls and tony theaters--and, so far, culture has survived.

  3. #3

  4. #4

    Default Rubin

    The Rubin is a nice new museum that
    I visited in January. It's in chelsea.

    I am going next week to

    anyone been there?

    Alice Austen House Museum is nice also....


  5. #5


    When you're out of work, what better thing is there to do than go to an art gallery or museum. Plus tourists like museums and as long as nyc is an attraction for tourists, museums will do boffo business.

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