Museum of the City of New York: Reduced but Reopening – The New York Times

Near the top of New York’s Museum Mile, north of the Cooper Hewitt, a gem from the Gilded Age, and the Guggenheim, itself a Frank-Lloyd-Wright-work-of-art, and the classical majesty of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sits the Museum of the City of New York.

It, too, occupies a building of architectural distinction, a five-story, red brick and marble Georgian Colonial-Revival completed in 1932 and the home of the museum ever since.

But it can be overlooked amid the star power of its cultural neighbors, even when it punches above its weight with expansive exhibitions like “New York at Its Core,” which examines the city’s history since 1609 or “Activist New York,” which reviews the city through the prism of social justice and political agitation.

“If you had to pick one place to learn about New York City, it would probably be the Museum of the City of New York,” said Kenneth T. Jackson, a former president of the New-York Historical Society and editor of the Encyclopedia of the City of New York.

Though many museums are struggling financially since the pandemic forced them to close, the city museum is among medium or smaller ones that are facing a particularly difficult path forward. Like other institutions its size, it has a modest but growing endowment — $27 million — and does not boast a board of extremely wealthy donors who can be called on to shore up its revenue with immediate gifts.

Since closing in March, the museum has laid off 20 percent of its 100 full-time and full-time-equivalent employees. Others have been furloughed or are working fewer hours.

Executive salaries were cut by 25 percent, said Whitney Donhauser, the museum’s director. Ms. Donhauser, who makes $371,000 in salary, said she and the museum’s deputy director had both taken pay cuts of 35 percent.

Ms. Donhauser summed up the financial situation in an email last month to the staff.

“With the closing of the Museum,” she wrote, “came the loss of all of our major streams of income, including admissions, venue rentals, and important fund-raising events.” To address this, she continued, costs were cut in “all areas of the Museum — staff, exhibition and education programming, collections and building operations.”

Museum officials said it incurred a deficit of $1.9 million this year and faces a possible deficit next year as well. A museum spokeswoman, Meryl Cooper, said this year’s deficit was addressed by part of a $1.7 million federal Paycheck Protection Program loan that the museum hopes to turn into a grant and by about $850,000 from the endowment. The museum has also received additional financial help from the New York Community Trust and Terra Foundation for American Art.

Though the museum has often operated with tight margins, Ms. Donhauser said she believed it would emerge from the pandemic in good shape.

“I do feel confident,” she said. “I do believe that the museum is in a solid place.”

When the city museum was founded in 1923, its mission overlapped in some ways with that of the older New-York Historical Society. At points there was talk about merging the two institutions, but they have remained independent and on opposite sides of Central Park, with the City museum, on Fifth Avenue between 103rd and 104th Streets, concentrating exclusively on history within the five boroughs.

Although the museum’s name makes it sound a bit like a municipal entity, it is run by a private nonprofit. It does receive some funding from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and is housed in a city-owned building

The City Museum, panned years ago by some as too staid in its programming, was widely seen as having become more energetic in the 2000s. Exhibitions, including one that detailed the physical transformation of New York by Robert Moses and another that featured tens of thousands of vintage photographs of the city, drew international attention.

In 2011 the museum was secure enough to take over the operations of the beleaguered South Street Seaport Museum, using a $2 million grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. But that arrangement dissolved two years later after Hurricane Sandy caused serious damage to the Seaport Museum and the City Museum’s board decided to concentrate on its own affairs.

Ms. Donhauser was named the director in 2015 and in 2017 the Thompson Family Foundation donated $10 million to the museum, its biggest gift ever. The museum’s endowment is now at $27 million, she said, up from about $9 million a few years ago.

The museum’s annual budget has hovered around $15 million for most of the last several years, but Ms. Donhauser said that it was projected to be about $11.5 million for the fiscal year beginning in July.

  • Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

But there were also bright spots. While the museum has been closed it has drawn large audiences for its online programming, which includes a series called “Curators From the Couch,” featuring talks with artists and others, and “Covid Stories,” which has collected more than 4,000 photographs and accounts documenting a socially distanced city.

Among the possibilities being discussed at the museum, she said, are online adult education courses on New York topics that could cost around $20 for a series. Those might be accompanied by a reading list, Ms. Donhauser said, as well as online conversations moderated by curators.

Meanwhile, she and others were starting to think about the museum’s reopening, which is planned for July 23 if the city continues to progress in stemming the coronavirus. Curators are now preparing a fall exhibition to be called “New York Responds: Beyond Covid.”

A model for that sort of exhibition could be the 2018 show “Germ City,” which examined epidemics in the city including the 1918 flu epidemic that killed more than 20,000 people.

“There are a lot of challenges ahead of us but there is also a great opportunity to present the complexities of New York,” Ms. Donhauser said. “We have the curatorial expertise and knowledge to present a very nuanced discussion about what the city is going through.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *