Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Edification value 3/5
Entertainment value 4/5
Should you go? 3/5
Time spent 79 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Yuken Teruya’s complex, captivating, thought-provoking constructions made from and contained within shopping bags. My very favorite were “Constellation,” a series of intricate night skies — a universe in a discarded Barney’s bag.

Even before you get to it, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling makes a strong and unexpected impression. It occupies an airy, light-filled, below-ground space in a distinctive building — an utterly modern, 2014 low-income apartment house that looks like anything but low-income housing. The building was designed by Sir David Adjaye, who also designed Washington, DC’s National Museum of African American History.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling

The Sugar Hill Museum, which refreshingly does not have a “SHCMo…” acronym, was a key programmatic element of the building, along with a preschool and a community art gallery.

The place knows its audience. I appreciated its kid’s-eye-level sign that explains not a list of “don’ts,” but “rules for being cool” while visiting.  I don’t know if that works, but I appreciate the gesture.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling

 

Art To Make

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and StorytellingThe Sugar Hill Museum, knowing its audience, splits its programming very evenly between art to look at (in several gallery spaces and a studio) and art to make in a main multipurpose space and what I’ll call a sort of art lab.  There’s blocks to stack, a wall you can paint (with water — it’s kind of fun to watch your graffiti disappear slowly as it dries), leaves to color and other things to make.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling

The museum also has an artist-in-residence program.  Currently the artist is Damian Davis, who makes layered collages bolted together out of shapes cut from plastic. Playing off his work, a group activity during my visit involved letting young visitors assemble their own layered creations with a variety of precut shapes, in soft foam. It was clever, and when we visited Mr. Davis in the studio the kids I was with were excited to talk with him about their creations.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling

Art to See

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Fernando Tamburini, “The Flying Town,” 2016

The first piece of art a visitor sees at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling is a charming array of floating houses that animates the light well that makes the subterranean space feel, well, above ground.

In addition to the artist-in-residence’s studio, two rooms hold temporary exhibitions. The museum curates those to reflect themes of the neighborhood, as well as subject matter suited to the target audience. When I visited one gallery hosted the works of Faith Ringgold, an activist, but also a children’s book author and illustrator. Her work does a great job of raising issues of cultural and political history in a kid-friendly way. 

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Faith Ringgold at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum

The other gallery, a narrow space well suited to small shows and short attention spans, is where the museum showed Yuken Teruya’s work. Obsessively, beautifully cut and folded trees made from paper bags comment eloquently on consumerism and the environment, while being beautiful at the same time. The kids I was with were as fascinated by these pieces as I was.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Yuken Teruya at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum

Should You Visit the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art and Storytelling?

The Sugar Hill Museum designs its programming primarily for children ages 3-8. But I think even a slightly older kid, if they like art, would enjoy it, at least for a while. It’s not overwhelming, which is great. You can go, spend an hour or two, make something neat, see some art, talk to an artist, hear a fortuitous jazz concert, and be done.

It’s an unexpected space, in a noteworthy building. And the curators do a good job keeping grown-ups engaged along with the young ones.

Most importantly, I think the museum is — rarity in today’s New York — something of a hidden gem as well. My borrowed kids and their mom and I went for the museum’s free third-Sunday day and yet while there were a healthy number of kids and caregivers there, it was not at all overrun.

Sugar Hill Children's Museum of Art and Storytelling
Unexpected Jazz Concert

I came away completely impressed at how well the museum executes its mandate. It could just be a smaller clone of the Children’s Museum of the Arts, but instead it’s distinctive, vibrant, and really, just a lovely, welcoming space in which to see and create art.  I recommend it for anyone with kids.

For Reference:

Address 898 St. Nicholas Avenue (at 155th Street), Manhattan
Website sugarhillmuseum.org
Cost  General Admission:  $7
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Queens Botanical Garden

Edification value 2/5
Entertainment value 3/5
Should you go? 2/5
Time spent 84 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The plants are terrific, but I will pick this tucked-away sundial.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

It was a gift from Queens-based Bulova Watch Company, and a garden resident since April of 1951!

I still wonder whether I was right to include botanical gardens in my definition of museums. However, I did it, and I haven’t undone it. So another garden it is. I didn’t even know the Queens Botanical Garden existed when I started this project.  However, it does bill itself as “a living museum,” so its staff seem to agree with me.  It also calls itself “a place of peace and beauty for the quiet enjoyment of our visitors.” Please reserve your noisy enjoyment for places like the American Museum of Natural History.

Queens Botanical Garden, Flushing

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Federal Reserve Bank of New York Museum

 

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 108 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned The tantalizing glimpse into the gold vault.  I’m not awed by wealth, generally, but there’s wealth and there’s WEALTH.

Federal Reserve Bank of New YorkThe Federal Reserve Bank of New York occupies a huge (full city block) beautiful Italian palazzo of a building constructed for it in 1924.  Its classical grandeur meant to evoke the stability of many centuries of tradition. Solid and rich, like a Medici. Which was important, because the Fed was then still a fairly young institution created to stabilize the financial system and steer the economy in the right direction.

Security at the New York Fed exceeds even that of the United Nations. And frankly, in terms of relative institutional importance, that might be appropriate.

However, mere mortals can in fact visit. Limited free tours introduce visitors to the history and role of the Federal Reserve System, explain what the New York Fed does in particular, and, best of all, permit them to ogle one of the largest accumulations of gold in the world. Continue reading “Federal Reserve Bank of New York Museum”

Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration

Edification value  
Entertainment value 4/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 213 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Ellis Island National Immigration Museum, New York

Ellis Island’s mental health tests were simple puzzles designed to be as culturally and linguistically neutral as possible. In theory, they quickly weeded out anyone who needed a closer cognitive look.

The classic twofer of New York Harbor is typically viewed as nerdy little brother Ellis overshadowed by big sister Liberty, who enlightens the world.  But from a museum perspective it is the reverse.  Ellis Island’s outstanding National Museum of Immigration tells the story of a unique era in American history, in the space where that era unfolded.  Twelve million people got their starts in the United States right here.

Ellis Island National Immigration Museum, New York Continue reading “Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration”

Statue of Liberty Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 123 minutes (not counting time going through security, waiting for the ferry, or on the ferry)
Best thing I saw or learned I’d never given much thought to the Statue of Liberty’s pedestal. So the story of its design — and the near failure of the effort to raise the money to build it — fascinated me. Yes, it’s like choosing frame over the painting, but still.
Statue of Liberty, New York HarborThink how different she’d look if they’d gone with a stepped, Aztec-looking pyramid as her base.  Or something Egyptian revival.

There aren’t all that many museums built to honor a single work of art. Right? I assert that and now suddenly I’m unsure of myself. In New York, there’s Walter de Maria’s Earth Room. And I think of the Hall of Fame for Great Americans as a single, unified whole, even though many busts of great men (and a few women) comprise it. And the Statue of Liberty Museum makes three.

Statue of Liberty, New York Harbor
Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty Museum occupies a substantial space in Liberty’s pedestal. It tells the story of the genesis, engineering, construction, and gifting of the statue, as well as her absolutely iconic role as a symbol of freedom, democracy, New York, and the United States. Among other treasures, it includes the statue’s original torch, glass and lit from inside. Continue reading “Statue of Liberty Museum”

Staten Island Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 94 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned I had completely forgotten about New York’s state fossil, until the Staten Island Museum reminded me.  It’s a sea scorpion or eurypterid, which I would absolutely not want to meet on a Jurassic beach.

Staten Island Museum
The State Fossil!

The Staten Island Museum started as a private pooling of personal natural history collections in 1881, opening to the public in 1908.  Currently it claims to be New York’s only truly encyclopedic museum, embracing science, history, and art.  And so it does, albeit in small doses of each.

The museum formerly resided in a classical building in St. George, near the Staten Island Ferry, until last year, when it moved to Snug Harbor.  It’s a bus or car ride from the ferry terminal, but at least the architecture is still appropriately museum-y.

Staten Island Museum

The Snug Harbor Cultural Center is Staten Island’s Mall of Enlightenment.  A Chinese Scholar’s Garden, a Children’s Museum, the fantastic Noble Maritime Collection, the hit-or-miss Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, and the Staten Island Museum all reside within its more-or-less renovated, beautiful, Greek revival grounds and buildings. Continue reading “Staten Island Museum”

National Track and Field Hall of Fame

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Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  3/5
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 75 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned
National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Armory
The black and red bars near the ceiling are the world’s highest pole vaults…

The curators integrated visual depictions of track and field world records into the exhibition.  Bars mark heights of high jumps, lines on the floor show long jumps and shot puts and such.  It’s one thing to read a record, a much more viscerally impressive thing to see one in the flesh. 

This is my second hall of fame  (after the Hall of Fame for Great Americans), and the second museum in one of New York’s antique armory buildings (after the Park Avenue Armory).  However, it is my first museum devoted to a sport.  New York doesn’t have, say, a museum to baseball or football.  Or soccer.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Baseball cards at The Met

There are sports legends waxified at Madame Tussaud’s. The Jackie Robinson Museum hopefully exists in New York’s future.  And the Met has its baseball card collection, which I suspect it keeps mainly to show it’s even more encyclopedic than the Louvre.  But in general sports are an underserved museum topic in New York City.

The National Track and Field Hall of Fame resides in the 1909 22nd Core of Engineers Armory in Harlem.  The entire building is now a track-and-field complex, with a running track in the vast former drill hall.  Like most of New York’s armories the architecture is cool and castle-like.

National Track and Field Hall of Fame, Armory Continue reading “National Track and Field Hall of Fame”

United Nations Headquarters

Edification value  
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  4/5
Time spent 138 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned Octavio Roth’s depiction of the 30 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as cheerful, colorful lithographs.  I particularly like the one about the right to leisure, which uses sailing as its visual.

United Nations
Octavio Roth, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UN

As I was walking toward the East River on 42nd Street to meet a friend for my 11:30 tour of the United Nations, I realized that this institution breaks one of the rules of my museum project.  I set out to visit every museum in New York City.  Technically, in a legalistic, treaty sense of the world, the 17-ish acres of Manhattan occupied by the UN are not part of New York, or even of the United States.  The UN is its own extranational entity.  So from that perspective it isn’t  a “New York museum.”

Then again, I should be less pedantic.

United Nations

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National September 11 Museum

Edification value  4/5
Entertainment value  
Should you go?  3/5
Time spent 133 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned A special exhibition of New Yorker covers that featured the Twin Towers both before and after Sept. 11. My favorite of all is probably this one from 2003, showing New York’s iconic buildings twinned.

National September 11 Memorial and Museum

Particularly timely exhibition now that Condé Nast’s headquarters are in One World Trade Center.

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum bills itself as a single, unified whole.  And indeed, the museum is integrally part of the plaza, a cavernous underground space that extends all around– and under– the footprints of the World Trade Center towers.  However, for my purposes I’m thinking about them separately.  

National September 11 Memorial and Museum
The WTC Memorial

The September 11 Memorial, with its somber square fountains and all the names, is one thing:  well worth a visit even as the Trade Center has gone from being a giant hole in the ground to being a thriving center for commerce and commuting once again.

The September 11 Museum I don’t recommend so heartily.

National September 11 Memorial and Museum
Eerie architecture evokes a knocked over tower

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Living Museum

Edification value  3/5
Entertainment value  4/5
Should you go?  
Time spent 62 minutes
Best thing I saw or learned John Tursi’s prolific, colorful, abstractions, en masse, amazed me.

The Living Museum, Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital, Queens
John Tursi, Abstract Paintings

A friend accompanied me to the Living Museum, and when Tursi asked her opinion of them, she replied unthinkingly, “This is crazy.”

I don’t believe in psychic powers. If they existed, we would have proved it by now.  And yet, I can’t deny that some places have an inexplicable aura about them — a feeling indelibly embedded in the stones and bricks.   Ellis Island, full of hopes and dreams from long ago.  The library at Columbia, resonant with over a century of stress and study.  

I mention this to set up my initial reaction to visiting the campus of Creedmoor Psychiatric Center.  Even just driving by Creedmoor’s forbidding deco-institutional buildings along the Grand Central Parkway, it commands attention.  You may not know what it is or what goes on there, but it has a hulking presence.  For lack of a better word, it’s creepy.  It comes as no surprise that it is a mental hospital.

The Living Museum, Creedmoor Psychiatric Hospital, QueensCreedmoor dates back to 1912, when an abandoned National Guard barracks was used to house a few dozen patients.  At its peak in 1959, the sprawling facility housed an inconceivable 7,000 patients.  Since then, the inpatient population has fallen, leading it to sell the farm (literally), and also to abandon some buildings, adding to the creepiness of the campus today.  And at Creedmoor’s heart, in the ginormous former inmate cafeteria, lies the Living Museum.

Continue reading “Living Museum”