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Read original articles written by MANY's staff about Resources, Community, and Exhibits/Collections. Check out the Letters From Erika to learn about what is going on here at MANY!

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  • October 28, 2020 1:00 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Early voting has begun across New York State and in the weeks leading up to the 2020 Election, museums are providing resources about voter registration, how to mail in an absentee ballot, voting early, and leading conversations about the current state of American democracy. Museums are using their platforms to contribute to civic engagement and to encourage voter participation. 

    Museums As Voter Resource Guides

    The American Alliance of Museums encourages museums to engage in nonpartisan voter activities. In response, many museums are using their resources to educate their visitors and online followers in voter education and providing information about voting registration, polling locations, and more. While museums cannot support or oppose a candidate or a political party, museums are providing critical information to encourage new voters and educate existing voters about how, where, and when to vote. 

    Voter Information

    The New-York Historical Society has a link in their Instagram bio that directs visitors to voteearlyny.org— a website to help people make a plan to either vote early, vote by mail, or on election day. The Everson Museum of Art has a button visible on each page of their website linking to planyourvote.org. The clear goal is to ensure that people know how to vote, where to vote, and when to vote. The Corning Museum of Glass (CMoG) held a voter registration event on National Voter Registration Day on Tuesday, September 22. From 9 to 5, anyone could stop by the museum to either register to vote or to check their voter registration. Across social media, museums are tagging #EveryVoteCounts that asks their followers to share voting plans, tag a friend to make sure they have a voting plan, and to make sure others are registered.

    Voting Exhibitions

    In conjunction with the event, CMoG opened an exhibition dedicated to the voting process, Transparent: Voting in America that explores issues surrounding a core value of democracy—that the voting process is fair and open to scrutiny. It also highlights the invention of the glass ballot box from the 1880s alongside a series of historical cartoons to demonstrate how glass ballot boxes were symbols of a free and fair election.” 

    Corning Museum of Glass’ temporary exhibition Transparent: Voting in America

    Other museums are also using their collections to create exhibitions about voting and its history. The Chemung County Historical Society’s virtual exhibition, Vote! Chemung County. The Historical Society create a new website devoted to the history of who got to vote (which discusses voter disenfranchisement and voting rights), how people voted from the earliest voting in the United State–voice voting to paper ballots, absentee ballots, the first voting machines in the late 1800s, and electronic voting of today, and a virtual catalog of election memorabilia that features local and national election items from the mid-1800s through 2016. This virtual exhibition’s goal is to share the history of voting while reminding people that when you vote you are part of history. 

    Leading the Conversation

    Museums are hosting dialogues to exchange thoughts and about the current state of American democracy. The Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) created “Women’s Suffrage and Voting Rights Now”, designed for kids but open for all, about how voting rights have evolved in NYC and for participants to discover diverse leaders within the women's suffrage movement and the tactics they used to expand voting rights. MCNY’s Curators from the Couch program also hosted a live-steam discussion between Puffin Foundation Curator Sarah Seidman with Dr. Peniel Joseph, the Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at the University of Texas at Austin and organizer Brea Baker to discuss voting rights connected to the museums’ Activist New York exhibition. 

    OUR FLAG, 2017. Acrylic on canvas. Ed Ruscha. Brooklyn Museum

    The Brooklyn Museum is leading a conversation about how the arts can play a role within the current state of American Democracy. On November 2, visual artists Ed Ruscha and producer Swizz Beatz will discuss how artists are using their platforms to contribute to civic engagement in electoral politics and beyond. The Brooklyn Museum has a page dedicated on their website, Make Your Vote Count, that encourages those eligible to get informed and to vote. The museum has offered public programming throughout the month of October leading up to the election to “bring us all together in strengthening democracy.” The Brooklyn Museum is also serving as a polling site for both early voting and on Election Day. 

    Leading up to Election Day

    According to AAM’s Museum Facts Data, 97% of Americans believe that museums are education assets for their communities and that the American public considers museums the most trustworthy source of information in America. As Election Day approaches, museums are continuing to serve their communities and be a reliable source of information for voters. Museums are sharing accurate and nonpartisan voting resources and are helping to strengthen voting awareness. 

    Further Reading / Resources

    AAM’s Nonprofit Voter Resources Guide—Yes You Can!

    AAM Nonprofit Voter Resource Guide PDF

    Nonprofit Vote

    Resetting the Table: PURPLE

    Election Trust Project

    NYU to Host Early Voting for 2020 Election

    Vote Early NY

    Plan Your Vote

    Early Voting in New York: 5 Takeaways

    Engaging New Voters

    Can I Vote

    League of Women Voters

  • October 28, 2020 12:41 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    FANTASTIC FOUR# 52 Jul 1966, First Appearance Black Panther, Collection of John A. Vasquez

    Dear Members of MANY’s Museum Community, 

    In my junior year of college, I took my first art history class. When we arrived at Chapter 8 of Janson’s History of Art “Early Christian and Byzantine Art,” I was completely lost. Christian art had not been included in my life experience. In multiple visits to museums I learned the characters, the setting, the plot, the conflict, and the resolution of the story. In the process of learning how to decode the narrative art, I also learned that good storytellers shape their message to the medium in which it is carried.

    From the origin of human language to oral traditions, from the walls of cathedrals to highway billboards, from the written word to the printed page, and from comic books to Hollywood films, storytelling has evolved and adapted in tandem with our tools of communication. The twin pandemics of Racism and COVID-19 are driving the need to change the ways museums tell stories as well as the stories that are told. We could all use some remedial study time to learn and share stories about the people of our state and our nation that weren’t told to us when we were young.

    Museums are creating and maintaining exhibitions displayed in physical galleries and in virtual spaces. If museums were not working in digital media before the pandemic, they are now telling stories with the technology at hand whether their audience is in their buildings or at home. It may soon become less important how we tell our story as long as we leverage the power of narrative to engage our audiences with the familiar and the unfamiliar.

    I’d like everyone who reads this letter to think about how their museum could tell a unique, authentic story in a digital or virtual media that reveals cultural and racial diversity within their communities. We are accepting applications to participate in Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility through October 30th. If you are interested, but need more information, or perhaps a bit more time to submit the paperwork, please reach out to us imlscares@nysmuseums.org

    We also need you to tell the story of your museum and how it has been impacted by COVID-19. The NY State Senate’s Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation Committee is accepting written testimony through November 11. Please let committee know how your museum has been affected by the pandemic. Send your testimony to serrano@nysenate.gov. My testimony that was delivered live on October 21 is included in our October newsletter and can be watched here; I start at 1 hour and 12 minutes into the roundtable, after the Bronx Zookeeper talks about the Sloth.


    With thanks for your support,

  • October 28, 2020 11:47 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Lavada Nahon

    Interpreter of African American History

    NYS Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

    Long before Black Lives Matters took to the streets, there was a move to bring the under-told stories of enslaved and free Africans and their descendants to the forefront at museums in New York. Although the desire remains, the present reality reflects a greater silence. Docents and interpretative staff have pushed back, citing ‘it’s not our story’ as the reason. But it is. In fact, it is all of our stories, it is American history, New York’s history. 

    As I approach the one-year anniversary of my position as the Interpreter of African American history for NYS OPRHP, my awareness of how we approach sharing the presence of the enslaved has shifted. We long for names or ‘hard evidence’ of their presence. Without it, we skip over them. All of us trip on the absence of material culture. 

    When we do have something to show the public, it generally falls into the range of what we’ve all been bombarded with, the chains, whips, and other instruments of torture. But what if there was more? What if lurking in the collection, forgotten, was a different type of evidence? 

    One of the thrills I’ve had in this new position is working with curatorial and archeological staffs at Peebles Island, NY State Museum, and other locations as they re-examine artifacts collected years ago that were discounted because they didn’t fit into the European narratives most museums wanted to share. They also were forgotten because those conducting the archaeological digs and parallel areas of research didn’t understand the cultural placement, purpose, or value of the sites and the objects unearthed. Re-examining collections across the region with fresh eyes and a broader understanding has revealed a treasure trove of items linking directly to African cultural and spiritual traditions. Many of these objects have lingered in their neat storage plastic bags since they were first discovered. 

    Collections I have seen in my brief time at OPRHP include cowrie and other shells (pictured below) not from our region; seed beads (often blue) and other beads; items marked with ‘X’s’ with and without circles, including spoons, pottery and on architectural remains like mantels and doorjambs; pieces of quartz crystals and mica; buried cookware or small barrels that held marked spoons, sharps-bent nails, pins, broken pottery and knives; ax heads that had been buried outside a doorway; a Brazilian coin (pictured left) , buttons, and ‘Sankofa’ marks; and even peanuts buried under hearth stones. The range is amazing. Things that obviously are not from North America, or items that have been purposefully placed together. Things that can’t be completely linked to Indigenous or European cultures may speak to third leg of the stool, that of Africa.

    These items generally would have been found during archeological digs or when spaces were being renovated. They show up on the exterior corners of houses or within the structures around hearths, windows, cellars, garrets or places where the enslaved would have lived. I’m on a search to increase the number of locations where these objects and architectural evidence can be found extending across the entire state. Any assistance you can give would be greatly appreciated. I ask you to please go back into your collections with fresh eyes. Africans were here, let’s finally see them, learn to speak of them, with or without names.


    Lavada Nahon is the Interpreter of African American History for the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. Nahon has interpreted the lives of free and enslaved African Americans across the mid-Atlantic region, with an emphasis on the work of enslaved cooks in the homes of the elite class. Her expertise around cooking and dining spans the 17th to 19th centuries and cuts across cultures, encompassing Dutch, British, French and African traditions. 

  • October 28, 2020 11:40 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    On October 21, 2020, MANY’s Executive Director, Erika Sanger testified at a roundtable presented by the New York State Senator José M. Serrano about the Impact on COVID-19 on our state’s arts and cultural institutions. The roundtable gave the arts and cultural community the opportunity to highlight the important contributions that cultural organizations make to New York’s economy and how those contributions have been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The committee is accepting written testimony through November 11. Please take a moment to let the NY State Senate’s Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation committee know how your museum has been affected by the pandemic. Send your testimony to serrano@nysenate.gov

    If you missed the Roundtable you can watch it here: https://www.nysenate.gov/calendar/events/cultural-affairs-tourism-parks-and-recreation/october-21-2020/arts-culture

    Erika’s comments and slides appear below. On the recording, her remarks start at 1 hour/12 minutes, after the Bronx Zookeeper talks about the Sloth. 

    I am Erika Sanger, Executive Director of the Museum Association of New York. We help train museum professionals and offer museums a platform to amplify their messages, exchange information, and learn from one another across disciplines, budget sizes, and geographic locations. We conduct research and issue reports that paint accurate pictures of our sector and advocate for museums on the state and national level. 

    I am going to be sharing information we have been gathering over the past year that is available as downloadable pdfs from our website. These are the most visited pages on the site as we have become a “go to” resource for information about museums and Covid-19. 

    One of the first questions that is important for us to consider is “Why were museums in such a vulnerable position when Governor Cuomo declared NY on Pause by Executive Order on March 20, 2020?”

    A third of the museums that responded to our 2019 State of NY State Museums survey ended 2018 in a deficit position. Most museums earn two thirds of their income from admissions, special events, and retail sales. When museums closed their doors, that income was lost overnight with no way to compensate. 

    The deficit positions in which many museums operate created situations in which part-time staff salaries were tied to earned income. Before COVID–19, in museums with budget sizes under $499,999, part time staff outnumbered full time staff by almost 2:1. At museums with budget sizes over $500,00 there was an almost equal ratio of part time to full time employees. 

    There will be more about staff impact later in this testimony. The next survey we conduct in early 2021 will help reveal how the pandemic has altered staff compositions structurally. 

    Historically, and pre-pandemic, museums were heavily dependent on private funding. Less than half were getting funding from the state and only one in five received federal funding. Corporate support is quickly approaching state support as a keystone of a museum’s financial profile. 

    The American Alliance of Museums estimates that museums are losing $33M a day because of closures in response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, New York’s museums were losing $3.5M a day. New York’s loss is 10% of the total loss of our nation’s museum community. This chart represents weekly loss by average amount lost. The Southern Tier region most closely parallels the statewide data, where NYC data shows the greatest losses. Note that we needed to change the scale on the “y” axis to accommodate scope of loss in NYC. 

    We know that some museums quickly responded to the pandemic with staff lay-offs and reductions in hours. Education and Visitor Services staff were particularly hard hit by furloughs and lay-offs. As a field, we have lost the most racially and culturally diverse, digitally knowledgeable generation to enter the museum sector. 

    We also know that many museums worked very hard to find solutions to keep staff employed by changing tasks and ensuring their safety by finding ways for them to work from home. Museums also took the necessary steps to help protect our vulnerable elders by suspending volunteer programs.

    Despite the best efforts of New York State’s Congressional Delegation, the Federal response for funding opportunities available to New York’s museums was disproportionate and inadequate. Federal funds allocated in the CARES Act went to states and museums that never “closed.” To speed the distribution process, the NEA and NYSCA restricted funding to museums who were successful in obtaining grants in prior years. $30M of the $50M of Institute Museum and Library Services funds were immediately set aside for libraries. In April, $1.75M was allocated to the NYS library who announced just last week that they will soon share an application and distribution plan. 

    Despite those obstacles, more than two thirds of the museums who responded to the survey held out hope for government support.

    We are all grateful for assistance from all of our funders, but we know that some emergency funding programs were more successful than others in meeting the immediate needs of the field. The Payroll Protection Program was confusing, difficult to access, and did not serve the field beyond mid-July, before many of NY’s Museums were even allowed to open to the public.

    The largest amount of funding was sought to cover staff salaries to keep museum professionals employed and serving their communities. NY State has generously funded Capital Improvement Grants across the state investing millions of dollars in the restoration and improvement of museum facilities in the past ten years. However, state funding for programs and general operating support has never recovered from the 2008-09 reduction levels, leaving museum staff in a precarious position when the pandemic struck.

    Actual distribution of relief funding was disproportionate to the tremendous need of the arts and cultural community and museums in NY. 

    $165 M of CARES ACT funding was distributed through the NEH, NEA, and the IMLS. $6 M or 3.5% of that funding went to NY’s museums who experienced 10% of the negative economic impact of the pandemic on our nation’s museum community. 

    • NEH assisted 23 museums

    • NEA assisted 8 museums

    • NYSCA assisted 4 museums

    • Humanities NY assisted 106 museums 

    The chart does not include second round of IMLS Cares Act funding which hadn’t announced at time we published this report.

    The PPP served largest number of museums, the EIDL reached one in five, and private foundations reached one in four museums. 

    A deeper dive into the PPP reveals further inequities in relief funding distribution. 81,075 loans were made to businesses in NY. 142 of those went to museums; 76 were $150,000 or more and 66 were under $150,000. 7,062 Museum Jobs in New York were protected, 5338 of those were in NYC. 

    We collected data for the estimated reopening timeline in August and at that time, no one anticipated delaying their opening past September. As we know, reopening guidelines shifted and now many of our state’s museums are not scheduled to reopen until the spring of 2021. 

    Many of you who are following these issues closely have heard of the American Alliance of Museum’s recent national survey. One of the questions they asked was if museums believed they were at risk of closure in the next 16 months absent additional financial relief. The national response was 16% felt they are at risk of closure; in NY we are at 23%. 

    How can NY State help museums?

    Extend attendance capacity beyond 25% as soon as it is safe to do so.  Museums were already one of the cleanest indoor public building environments to maintain the safety of our collections. With COVID-19 compliant safety measures in place, such as increased cleaning, upgrades to air filtration systems, hand sanitizer stations, temperature checks, mask requirements, and contact tracing, museums are now among the safest indoor spaces. 

    New York could also provide critically needed additional funding to support museums that pre-pandemic employed 60,000 New Yorkers and had a $5.4B impact on our state’s economy. 

    What is MANY doing to help?

    We are honored to receive $498,407 IMLS CARES Act Grant that will help us support 100 museums across NY State with hardware, software, and training to develop virtual programs. Thank you for listening.

  • October 28, 2020 11:38 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame (NMRHoF) was uniquely situated when the COVID-19 pandemic forced museums across New York State to close their doors to the public back in March. The Museum had already closed to the public on December 29, 2019 to undertake a massive, multimillion dollar construction project to transform the Hall of Fame visitor experience. Despite a two month delay and the challenges of working remotely because of the pandemic, the Museum kept its audience engaged and utilized the entire staff to work on projects that reimagined the museum.

    Most visitors to the museum are horse racing enthusiasts, drawn to the trophy exhibits. There are also sporting arts aficionados who flock to the Martin Stainforth exhibit. Stainforth is a British-born artist who began his career as a wood engraver before turning to illustration. He moved to the United States in the mid-1920s and continued to capture the likenesses of some of the top racehorses of the era, including Hall of Fame legend Man o’ War and Triple Crown winner Omaha. Other visitors enjoy the interactive exhibitions and the racing footage. 

    The Museum’s last major renovation to its permanent collection was twenty years ago and the Hall of Fame had remained untouched since 1988. Back in August 2018, museum staff planned a $20 million renovation project for the Hall of Fame that would incorporate new technologies that would allow the museum to highlight its 459 inductees through a multimedia experience. An internal team of staff members from the development, curatorial, and Hall of Fame departments worked with the Board of Trustees on all aspects of the project. “When you undergo a closure and renovation, you want to make sure that everyone is on board with the changes being made and that it will benefit the institution for generations to come,” said Victoria Reisman, Museum Curator. That conversation started with a Sunday morning walk through the museum with Museum President John Hendrickson, Collections & Exhibits Committee Chair Sally Jeffords, and Director Cate Masterson. The Hall of Fame was quickly running out of space for plaques and the museum looked to switching to digital plaques. 

    “Our Hall of Fame is unique in that we sometimes have inductees (trainers, jockeys) that remain active in the sport after the time of their induction,” said Reisman. The Hall of Fame switched from physical plaques to digital screens. The digital plaques offer an in-depth multimedia look at the lives and careers of each member in the hall of fame. “By switching to digital plaques, it allows the Museum to update immediately the recent statistics and career milestones of our active Hall of Fame members and to upload photographs, artwork, and video footage to celebrate their achievements.”

    Just outside the Hall of Fame is the new Race Day Gallery. “Our goal was to build excitement for the Hall of Fame theatrical experience and celebrate the sport of Thoroughbred Racing from coast to coast,” said Reisman. New exhibition cases provide more room for the Museum to display the25,000 objects in its collection, including many artifacts that had never been exhibited to the public before. The gallery space is an immersive experience with sights and sounds that mimic a race day experience, from the paddock to the track in the winner’s circle. 

    Inside the new Race Day Gallery

    In addition to the Hall of Fame renovation project, staff also looked at other areas throughout the museum that could be renovated and improved while the museum was closed to the public. This laid the groundwork for the museum’s “Permanent Collection Galleries Refresh” project. “Many of my colleagues are avid museum-goers, so we brought all of our own experiences to the table when discussing how to transform the Hall of Fame and refresh the entire Museum for our reopening this year.” 

    The theatrical experience at the Kentucky Derby Museum, a 360-degree film, was a source of inspiration for the NMRHOF presentation, “What It Takes: Journey to the Hall of Fame.” The Museum worked with Donna Lawrence Productions, the same producers who made the Derby Museum’s film to create a unique, immersive movie experience. “The Baseball Hall of Fame and other Halls of Fame also provided inspiration on how to best document the history of the sport and celebrate those who achieve the pinnacle of success using technology and exhibit design strategies,” said Reisman. She also took time during closure to rewrite exhibit labels throughout the permanent collection galleries and repainted gallery spaces. “Personally, I’ve been a big fan of the recent museum trend of reintroducing color into exhibit galleries and moving away from the ‘white cube’ aesthetic and used this opportunities to embrace bold colors for our permanent collection galleries and make our art and artifacts stand out.” The colors also help define each gallery space. “Our goal was to improve wayfinding through increased signage and the addition of color to these exhibit spaces,” said Reisman. “Most of of the artwork and artifacts on display remained the same, but we used our temporary closure to add title signage and a bold wall color to make each galley space stand out from the next.” The Museum rebranded these spaces from “Colonial Through Twentieth Century galleries” to “Racing Through History” to emphasize the connection between the United States’ history and the history of Thoroughbred Racing. 

    Jockey uniforms on display in the new Race Day Gallery

    Working in a Pandemic

    While some projects were unaffected by the pandemic, like HVAC system upgrades, the temporary work shutdown delayed the construction project by two months. Travel restrictions impacted vendors, but the Museum was able to adjust the work schedule and switched to local vendors when out-of-state contractors were unable to return to New York.  Working with vendors remotely during construction wasn’t that much different than if staff had been on-site. “We had a team of professionals from across the country—from film producers to lighting specialists to exhibit fabricators and media designers—working on the Hall of Fame Education Experience, so we were already used to Zoom meetings and conference calls before our work-from-home period began,” said Reisman. “The necessity of working remotely due to the pandemic increased the importance of documentation and meeting minutes to make sure that everything was being addressed and that nothing was missed. Once we could get back on track and return to the Museum, our entire staff worked together to make sure we were ready to open on this year’s Kentucky Derby Day, September 5th.” The biggest challenge was adjusting the installation timeline in order to complete all of the exhibit projects safely and on time, while following COVID-19 protocols. 

    Keeping Public Engagement

    Throughout closure, the Museum embraced the #MuseumFromHome initiative across their social media channels. Reisman also started a new social media campaign, #HistoryThroughArt. “It highlights one work from the collection and pairs it with additional online resources to encourage our followers to learn more about the subject featured.” Collections Manager Stephanie Luce created a coloring book based on objects from the collection. Museum Educator Lindsay Doyle transitioned the annual student art show to a digital format and released downloadable educational resources, including a new STEM education kit for 3rd grade students. Membership and Development Officer Maureen Mahoney kept members and supporters updated throughout construction with a digital newsletter.”

    Staff returned to the Museum in late June and started hosting virtual programming on Zoom and Facebook including a behind the scenes sneak peek of the new exhibits and renovations. “Our virtual programming also included children’s educational activities, farm tours, racing previews, and more… we hope to expand these offerings to include virtual tours of the museum in the future, starting with a Secretariat-themed tour this month.”

    After Reopening

    Since reopening to the public, visitors have enjoyed the museum’s new signature film in the Hall of Fame as well as all of the new interactive experiences. Of course there is social distancing signage throughout the space as well as strategically placed hand sanitizers and small styluses on keychains with the Museum’s logo provided to guests free of charge to help safely interact with the new exhibitions.

    “People have enjoyed exploring the new Hall of Fame interactives and the artifacts relating to racetracks from across the country in our new Race Day Gallery, while our ‘Women in Racing’ exhibition remains a favorite amongst new and returning visitors,” said Reisman. 

    Reflecting on the Process

    “Don’t underestimate the time it takes to prepare your digital image and video assets for a new interactive exhibit,” said Reisman reflecting back on the last nine months. “One of the best things about our new Hall of Fame interactive plaques is that we can showcase more resources from our collection to illustrate the Hall of Fame careers of our inductees. However, the scanning, editing, formatting, and caption writing process to prepare these digital assets takes an incredible amount of time.” The museum’s curatorial team was able to scan most of the photographic prints before staff began working from home in March. Staff was also able to format the photos and captions while working remotely using their new Hall of Fame Content Management System. “It was a huge undertaking, but also a much-needed project that will increase the usability of collection resources for future exhibits.”

    Learn more about the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame: https://www.racingmuseum.org/

  • September 29, 2020 12:32 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Dear Members, Friends, and Colleagues,

    MANY is pleased to open the call for participation in “Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility” and extend our thanks to our congressional representatives for their support for the IMLS with CARES Act funding for Museums. 

    This project will support 100 museums in high needs locations in the state to help them respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by giving staff the tools and training to reach their communities virtually and raise their profiles with audiences beyond their physical locations. The project will provide museum professionals with hardware, software, and training to develop virtual programs focused on stories from their collections revealing cultural and racial diversity within their communities. Each museum selected to participate will partner with a local library to develop and implement programs that build on the assets of both organizations resulting in access to 200 new virtual programs for audiences - no matter their geographical location.

    No prior experience delivering virtual programs is required. A museum of any budget size is eligible to apply. Museum staff travel costs will be kept to a minimum by holding in-person trainings at hotels centrally located in each region that can offer a safe, socially distanced meeting room and food service. In addition to the training, museums will receive hardware and software equivalent to a $5,000 in-kind donation.

    To comply with the CARES act rapid implementation criteria, the application and notification process will be conducted as swiftly as possible. We will select ten museums in each region who will commit two staff members to 60 hours of training time (24 in-person/36 virtually) and 250 hours of program planning, development, and delivery over two years. MANY will use New York State Department of Education criteria to determine if a museum meets the high need location requirement. At the end of the project, New York will have a cohort of 200 highly trained museum professionals who can share their expertise and support the work of museum professionals across the state.

    The application deadline is Friday, October 16 at 5 PM. Notifications will be made on November 2.

    Please share this letter widely with colleagues.

    With thanks for your support,

  • September 29, 2020 11:47 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Museum Association of New York Awarded an IMLS CARES Act Grant

    $498,407 will be used to support 100 museums across New York State

    Troy, NY—The Museum Association of New York is thrilled to announce that it was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services CARES Act Grant to fund “Building Capacity, Creating Sustainability, Growing Accessibility.” This $498,407 award is the second highest in the nation out of 68 grants. This project will enable one hundred museums in high needs locations across New York State impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to share their collections beyond the walls of their museums. Two hundred staff will be trained to use new hardware and software to develop programs that will engage their communities and reach new audiences. 

    “As pillars of our communities, libraries, and museums bring people together by providing important programs, services, and collections. These institutions are trusted spaces where people can learn, explore and grow,” said IMLS Director Crosby Kemper. “IMLS is proud to support their initiatives through our grants as they educate and enhance their communities.”

    MANY is grateful to our congressional representatives for their support of the CARES Act and the work of our museums. 

    “Like so many small businesses and other community institutions across our nation, our museums are facing the threat of permanent closure as a result of this prolonged COVID-19 crisis, including right here in our Capital Region,” Congressman Paul Tonko (NY-20) said. “These educational, historical, and cultural pillars contribute directly to our economy and employ tens of thousands of workers in New York State alone. My congratulations to the Museum Association of New York for earning this well-deserved grant. My team and I work hard to make sure funding awards like this one come through for our region, but we must do more. Our House-passed Heroes Act provides direct and indirect support for our treasured museums and delivers the broader community rescue that we need right now. I will keep fighting for our museums and all of our Main Street institutions to ensure they can continue to educate and inspire students, scholars and all of us in the Capital Region and beyond.”

    “This is an amazing accomplishment for the Museum Association of New York to be one of the 68 projects funded,” said MANY Board President and President of the Long Island Children’s Museum, Suzanne LeBlanc. “What we are about to do for a hundred museums across the state, with this support from IMLS, is far reaching and will make a huge impact on museums and museum professionals in New York State. This will also take us to a new level both regionally and nationally with the museum field.”

    The project will provide partners with hardware, software, and training to develop virtual programs focused on stories from their collections revealing cultural and racial diversity within their communities. Each museum will develop, implement, assess, and revise at least two new programs, resulting in access to two hundred new virtual programs for museums—no matter their geographical location.

    The application for program participation can be found on the MANY website nysmuseums.org. To comply with the need for a rapid response and implementation, the deadline for museums to apply is 5 PM Friday, October 16, 2020.

    # # #

    About MANY

    The Museum Association of New York inspires, connects, and strengthens New York’s cultural community statewide by advocating, educating, collaborating, and supporting professional standards and organizational development. MANY ensures that New York State museums operate at their full potential as economic drivers and essential components of their communities. To learn more, visit www.nysmuseums.org and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

    About IMLS

    The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's approximately 120,000 libraries and 35,000 museums and related organizations. The agency’s mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Its grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us onFacebook and Twitter.

  • September 28, 2020 3:45 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Everson Museum of Art, designed by I.M. Pei in 1968

    In April of 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of Art Museum Directors relaxed their guidelines for a two year period that will allow museums to deaccession works of art in their collections as long as the proceeds directly support the care of their collections. The Everson Museum of Art relies on funds from its general operating budget to pay for acquisitions, collection care, and rent for two off-site storage facilities. Faced with an estimated 30% decrease in its general operating budget in 2020 due to cuts in funding, lost revenue, and deferred membership renewals, the Everson announced on September 3 that it would put up for auction Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition (1946, oil on Masonite). Funds from the auction of Pollock’s painting (which is estimated to generate between $12M and $18M) will support conservation and restoration of objects in the museum’s current collection and allow the museum to acquire works created by artists of color, women artists, and other underrepresented creators. Elizabeth Dunbar, Executive Director of the Everson Museum of Art stated that “by deaccessioning a single artwork, we can make enormous strides in building a collection that reflects the amazing diversity of our community and ensure that it remains accessible to all for generations to come.”

    The Collection 

    Permanent collection exhibition

    The most valuable and most visited piece of art is the museum building itself, I.M. Pei’s first museum design. Inside, the Everson has roughly 10,000 items in its collection including paintings, video, sculptures, and ceramics. The museum has one of the largest holdings of international ceramics in the nation. About half of the collection is dedicated to ceramics including Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s Scarab Vase, a visitor favorite and widely known as the “Mona Lisa” of ceramics. “In the history of ceramics...she [Robineau] was a pioneering figure and is in every textbook and looms large in the ceramic world,” said Dunbar. 

    Adelaide Alsop Robineau’s Scarab Vase

    The Everson also has nearly 700 American paintings that span two centuries in its collection. Barbara Kruger’s “Who Speaks? Who is Silent” is a monumental work in the Everson's collection that addresses the implication of silence and representation for women. It is highly requested for loans and recently traveled to the LA County Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Tate in London. The sculpture collection is comprised of over 200 works, primarily from the 20th century including Harmony Hammond’s Kong. “It has been in onsite storage and not shown for decades and was in very poor condition because it is so large, has a unique shape, and it hangs on the wall,” said Dunbar. The sculpture is made from cloth, wood, foam rubber, acrylic, gesso, glitter, wax, and charcoal powder. Hammond was a leading figure in the development of the feminist art movement in the early 1970s.

    “We had to send it off for conservation, it needed special mounting, a special crate, and climate control.” In total, the sculpture needed $10,000 of conservation work. The sculpture was recently included in a traveling exhibition organized by the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Connecticut. “Had we not invested in bringing this piece back to life, it would have never been included in this major traveling exhibition.”

    Harmony Hammond’s Kong

    Conservation Costs

    Historically, the Everson has had a very small endowment devoted to the conservation of its collection. “It takes years and years for us to save enough funds in order to do substantial work,” said Dunbar. Grants from Greater Hudson Heritage Network help cover some of the costs, like the conservation for Harmony Hammond’s sculpture, but a majority of the funds come out of the museum’s general operating budget. “We’ve paid for all the conservation, collections care materials, our off site storage...it all comes out of our general operating budget...and when general operating budgets are under pressure, especially now during COVID, being able to alleviate some of that pressure and have some funds available for direct care of the collection is huge.” 

    Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition

    Jackson Pollock's Red Composition (1946, oil on Masonite) is offered for sale for between $12 million and $18 million. Photo Courtesy of Christie's

    The decision to deaccession Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition was the result of a much longer process. In 2017, the museum began selecting items from the collection that do not fit the mission and are clearly outside the scope of the museum. “We’ve been looking at the collection holistically and we established our collections priorities plan,” said Dunbar. “Since then we have hired curators who are looking at our collection as a whole and are helping to identify strengths and weaknesses...areas that the museum can strengthen and areas that we are never going to have the capacity to fill or strengthen.” 

    While the museum has been developing this collection priorities plan and working on their exhibition plan, Elizabeth Dunbar had a conversation with Robert Falter, one of the trustees of the Reisman Foundation, a local Syracuse foundation (the Reismans donated the two Pollock’s to the Everson collection). “Bob [Robert] was doing some work on the Pollock paintings that are still in the Reisman Foundation and it got me thinking about doing a new appraisal on our pieces. I started thinking about the Pollock that we barely show because it is a bit of an outlier in terms of the art historical continuum that we have in our collection. We looked at the painting, had it appraised and it turned out to be much more valuable that we initially realized.” Dunbar and Falter began talking about what the Everson could do by deaccessioning this piece. Jackson Pollock’s Red Composition was last loaned for the “Pollock Matters” exhibition at the McMullen Museum of Art at Boston College and at the Everson in the mid-2000’s. Prior to that, the painting was at the Nassau County Museum of Art as part of a group show in 2000 and was also at the Pollock-Krasner House on Long Island. “We have so little funds for acquisitions and building a collection for our future,” said Dunbar. “This [the sale] would enable us to put some real momentum into collecting and establishing a legacy for the future. It would enable us to offset some of the costs that we were spending on caring for the collection. There have been years and years of delayed maintenance on certain objects in the collection just because the funds have not been available.”

    One of the objects in need of attention is the Henry Moore sculpture that is outside the Everson Museum and was part of I.M. Pei’s original design of the building. “It hasn’t been really cared for in 52 years and it will cost between $25,000 and $30,000 to conserve….if you don’t have deaccession funds available you either use general operating funds or do you want to keep someone employed?” said Dunbar.

    Two Piece Reclining Figure No. 3 by Henry Moore, outside the Everson Museum of Art

    Red Composition is an important painting, but the museum recognized the other factors that led to their decision to deaccession it. “One of which was the financial component to help keep the museum sustainable for the future, but also recognizing our value to the community in terms of equity, diversity, inclusivity, and access,” said Dunbar. “We have been thinking about how these funds could be used to diversify our collection.”

    Building a More Diverse Collection

    In addition to using the funds from the selling of Pollock’s painting, the proceeds will be used to establish a fund for acquiring works created by artists of color, women artists, and other under-represented contemporary and mid-career artists. In the press release to the public on September 3, the Everson stated that the sale of the Pollock will enable the museum to significantly intensify these efforts at a critical time in the nation’s history and when the museum is actively working to address inequality within the institution itself and the community it serves. 

    “When George Floyd was killed, there was outrage in our community. Marches were going by the museum. We’re located in the 15th Ward which is the historically Black neighborhood of Syrcause and over half of our city is non-white and for us not to take a stand seemed unconscionable,” said Dunbar. In June the museum created an Equity Task Force and developed an action statement with a list of goals and shared them publicly with the community to be held accountable. “It was a public way to show our commitment to making change.” Since 2014, the Everson has presented solo exhibitions that feature artists that are 60% white, 26% Black, and 14% people of color and has made acquisitions from 64% white artists, 28% people of color, and 9% Black. The museum curators are already making plans specific to their particular disciplines on works they plan to acquire with the proceeds from the sale. 

    Public Response 

    “There has been criticism in our own community but largely it’s come from a couple of critics on either coast who are not terribly familiar with Syracuse, our community, our museum or our collection and the kinds of programs and activities that we engage in,” said Dunbar reflecting on the national response to the selling of the Pollock painting. Some of the biggest pushback from outside critics is that the community should be funding and supporting diversity initiatives rather than deaccessioning and auctioning off collection items. “First and foremost it’s our community that comes to our museum,” said Dunbar. “They make up 80 to 90% of our audience and when you live in a community that is one of the poorest in New York State and is still recovering from an economic downturn, that’s really hard. That said, 35% of gifts made to the museum in 2019 came from our board of trustees. Our community is supporting the museum and they are stretching to support the museum.”

    Elizabeth Dunbar’s “Ask Elizabeth” email to members answers questions about the deaccessioning process

    Investing in the Future

    None of the funds generated from the sale will support general operations including salary, exhibitions, programming. The goal is to create two endowments for future preservation and for future sustainability of the museum. “To other museums that are contemplating these kinds of difficult decisions, it’s important to look at what is in the best interest in the people that you serve, the best interest of the collection that you maintain, and what’s the best for your staff...and if deaccessioning this painting can be used for the betterment of the museum and ensure that the museum collections were cared for into the future and allow us to continue to evolve and become more reflective of the community, then yes,” said Dunbar.

    To illustrate the importance of having funds designated for new acquisitions, Dunbar went back to the early 1970s to read board minutes following American painter Joan Mitchell’s first solo exhibition at the Everson. “She [Mitchell] offered the museum her painting at a very steep discount to the museum from that show, but the museum did not have the acquisition funds to acquire the piece. So we have no Joan Mitchell in our collection even though we organized her first solo show and we will never be able to buy one of her paintings because now they’re millions of dollars. We want to be able to buy the next Joan Mitchell when we host that exhibition and build our collection for the future. I think that is a testament to where we are today and if we have a little money in our pocket back then, what kind of collection would we have? We are looking forward.”

  • September 28, 2020 3:42 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Since the COVID-19 pandemic, 69% of museums who responded to MANY’s COVID-19 impact surveys located in the Southern Tier reported a loss in public funding and that they were reconsidering their visitor experience (MANY COVID-19 Impact Report Part 1). Facing staff layoffs and significant cuts to earned revenue, the Discovery Center and the Roberson Museum and Science Center in Binghamton are discussing affiliating to create a more sustainable organization and to better serve their community.

    The Roberson Museum and Science Center was founded in 1934 and focuses on art, local history, science and natural history. Contemporary exhibition space was added in the 1960s and 1980s to include a planetarium. 

    Inside the Roberson’s NatureTrek exhibition which opened in February 2018

    The Discovery Center is a 36 year old 22,500 square foot children’s museum with forty interactive exhibits inside and outside, including its award-winning Story Garden.

    The Approach

    Roberson and Discovery Center Board Presidents initially spoke with each other over Zoom to learn more about their  museum’s finances, and share their thoughts about nonprofits in the current landscape. “Despite a tight knit community, our boards did not know each other,” said Discovery Center Executive Director Jessie Stone He. “They had to learn about the inner workings of each organization...financial positions, staffing, and programming.” The New York Council on Nonprofits was contracted by the museums to facilitate the discussions that will include affiliation models, governance, financials, human resources, real estate, insurances, and strategic communication. The museums then created a volunteer task force. “We have four trustees from each organization and each Executive Director that is meeting weekly and reviewing an agenda that has been set up by NYCON,” said Michael Grasso, Executive Director of the Roberson Museum and Science Center. “Each week the task force does the due diligence on behalf of each board on finances, personnel, governance, and what that would like when we reach a final decision.” Representatives from the task force will make final recommendations to both boards and then the boards will vote on whether to move forward with that recommendation. 

    Affiliation Discussion Timeline

    Weighing the Benefits

    The opportunity to expand current audience demographics is an important benefit for both museums. “The Discovery Center has a maximum age and if we can keep families engaged essentially for their entire lives...from toddler to senior citizen, that significantly benefits the community,” said Grasso. The Discovery Center’s key demographics are toddler up to 12 year olds and Roberson has school programming for pre-k through grade 12, but most of their admissions outside of school groups are 3rd and 4th grade and older. “Part of these affiliation discussions is how can we create a bridge between these two institutions so there’s a continuum of museum lovers,” said Grasso. 

    The consolidation of services to reduce operational costs would be another benefit. This would require the Discovery Center to move to Roberson’s campus. The push for the consolidation of services would help make the vision of a multi-generational, sustainable, and accessible museum a reality. 

    “Roberson has a very long history in terms of museums in Upstate NY,” said Grasso. “We were founded in 1954 as a historic house and since then we’ve grown by tens of thousands of square feet in order to incorporate classrooms, large galleries, performance spaces, and more. Roberson is accustomed to evolution. It’s just part of what we have done for the last sixty years in order to meet the needs of the community.” 

    For the Discovery Center, this potential move could provide greater visibility and increased access for visitors who rely on public transportation. Roberson Museum is located on Front Street, on the main bus routes, and within walking distance to downtown Binghamton. “The Discovery Center is maybe a seven minute drive from the Roberson,” said Stone He. “But it is that much further from the downtown and we are not on a frequent bus route which limits access to our site. It’s one of the things we have received consistent feedback about from local funders on our grant proposals. Funders tell us that we have a great proposal that focuses on providing access to low income families but ask how we are going to get them here.” 

    The Discovery Center would transfer some of its existing exhibitions and also create new ones to meet the current needs of the community. “It’s an opportunity to have a fully updated space but honoring the traditional exhibitions that the community knows,” said Stone He.

    Community Input

    Binghamton’s four major foundations and the local United Way are supporting the study by NYCON regarding the possibility of an affiliation between these two museums.  “We’ve been in conversations with our local foundations from the start,” said Grasso. “NYCON is fully funded to support this conversation.” Grasso commented there has been a growing commitment across the community, especially the foundations, for any of the nonprofits to explore affiliations. “They’re looking at their role in ensuring the longevity of this community and ensuring a healthy community that has cultural resources...and nonprofits that are supporting the needs of the community.” Foundations are in strong support for more of these affiliation explorations to help strengthen nonprofits so that they can better serve the community. 

    “Many of these foundations have a uniform grant application and they always ask about duplication of services indicating that organizations should be striving to collaborate and support each other,” said Stone He. 

    Binghamton’s foundations support affiliation discussions because it will allow more funding to a single organization to create a greater impact. “Private foundations are feeling the pressure,” said Grasso. “They want to support everyone but funding is limited.” In a statement to the Binghamton Homepage on September 14, The Community Foundation for South Central New York Executive Director Diane Brown commented that nonprofits need to think differently in an era of shrinking population and fewer large corporate givers. “If you’ve got a thoughtful, careful board of directors, and I think both [Discovery Center and Roberson] do, and you’re sitting down with a similar organization as yours to discuss the possibility of some sort of affiliation, I think they’re doing exactly the right thing given the current atmosphere,” said Brown.

    The task force is also meeting with elective representatives. “The Discovery Center is located in a city park, so one of the first stakeholders we contacted was the city,” said Stone He. “We are working to make sure our local government is fully aware of what we’re doing as we move forward.”

    “It isn’t a small group of people that are involved in this process,” said Grasso. “We are making sure that we are reaching out to the community and that the community has the opportunity to give feedback and understands why these discussions are happening. These discussions will continue on until we get to a point where we are absolutely certain that an affiliation is the right thing or not the right thing to do.” The museums launched a website for the public that includes a discussion timeline. The website provides more transparency on what exactly is happening, the methods being used, why these talks began, and how an affiliation can meet current community needs. 

    Sustainability for the Future

    “The big overarching word that we keep coming back to is sustainability,” said Stone He. “We want to make sure that both of these organizations are in good shape in twenty years and that they can provide a real benefit to the community.” Stone He and Grasso commented that Binghamton’s population has decreased, private foundations have limited funding sources, and both museums are trying to be reflective of their community as it changes. “We don’t want to be struggling with some of the issues that many nonprofits unfortunately struggle with including staff turnover and cuts to programming,” said Stone He. “The reality is that one larger organization can have a broader impact on the community and economic development.”

    Looking Towards the Future

    Grasso and Stone He agree that the ideal outcome for both organizations is that both of their museums missions are able to continue into the future and become a destination in the region. “One of the vision statements for Roberson has a desire to be internationally recognized for the quality of our exhibits and I think that incorporating the Discovery Center’s skills and exhibitions is a phenomenal way to realize that vision,” said Grasso. 

    “We’re excited to hear feedback from the community. We’re excited to start putting together a proposal for what this could look like and what the benefits are, not just to our organizations but to the community as a whole,” said Grasso. “We’re excited to show the community what we think is going to be a game changer for this region and we look forward to their response to that.”

    Update: On September 25, MANY received an email informing us that Jessie Stone He will be leaving the Discovery Center and weekly affiliation discussions have been temporarily put on hold.

  • September 17, 2020 1:34 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    The Museum Association of New York (MANY) will have open seats on its Board of Directors and invites nominations for those interested in serving a three-year term beginning in April of 2021 and ending in April of 2024.

    MANY Board members engage with the New York museum community and work with colleagues to address the challenges and opportunities for museums in the state. MANY is committed to diversifying its Board by geographic region, museum discipline and budget size, disabilities, skills, race, gender, sexual identity, ethnicity, and age.

    MANY staff and board members meet at various locations around the state at least five times a year with one mandatory meeting during the annual conference. Terms are renewable for a second three years and the length of service may change if nominated to serve in an executive committee capacity. The governance of MANY is vested in a duly-elected Board of Directors with responsibilities and obligations for the custody, control, and direction of MANY property and assets under the auspices of New York State statutes, organizational bylaws, and appropriate federal rules and regulations.

    Members of the Board of Directors

    • Embrace MANY’s mission and advocate for the work of the field and for the organization
    • Promote diversity in programming, membership, staffing, and board representation.
    • Contribute financially to the organization and/or secure donations through a variety of fund development efforts.
    • Join MANY as Organizational Members

    MANY welcomes applications from people who can bring a range of skills and expertise to our statewide association, especially in advocacy, facilities, finance, marketing, and strategic planning. MANY is committed to recruiting and developing board members to sustain a dynamic, innovative, and responsive organization that serves nearly 1,700 museums and heritage organizations in the state’s 62 counties.

    Applicants must be:

    • passionate about MANY’s mission
    • comfortable in leadership positions
    • known for innovation and creativity
    • constructive problem solvers
    • happy to share their expertise with their peers

    Organizational membership, familiarity with MANY programs, and the ways in which the organization serves the field will strengthen a nominee’s application, but are not required.

    To nominate a colleague or yourself, send an application to the Chair of the Nominating Committee, Dr. Georgette Grier-Key via hdesmeules@nysmuseums.org by November 1, 2020

    Click here to access the nomination form as a PDF

    Click here to access the nomination form as a Word Doc

    Applications will be reviewed by the Nominating Committee.

    Selected candidates should expect to participate in an informational discussion with the committee as part of the application review. It is expected that applicants will be familiar with board roles and responsibilities by the time of this discussion.

    The committee will bring nominations for a full board vote at the December 2, 2020 meeting of the Board of Directors and applicants will be notified soon after.

    Nominees approved by the board will put to a vote by the membership in February 2021 in accordance with MANY by-laws.

    We look forward to welcoming new members to MANY's Board of Directors.

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