One year ago I took a look at the state of museums in mid-pandemic New York. At that point, 106 of the museums I track in my database were open in some capacity. Now I’m back (it’s been a while) with a look at New York museums post-pandemic (hopefully).
One year later, the situation pandemic-wise and museum-wise has improved significantly: As of April 2022, 160 museums are open in New York City. That’s 80% of the museums I’m currently tracking.
The Bad News
Twenty-four New York museums post-pandemic remain closed due to COVID. They’ve still got websites and sound like they’ll reopen, eventually. This list includes major national historic sites like Hamilton Grange and The General Grant National Memorial (aka Grant’s Tomb), which presumably will come back. But it’s starting to seem unlikely that smaller institutions that closed due to COVID and haven’t reopened will return.
Another ten museums are currently closed for non-pandemic reasons — construction, between exhibitions, etc.
I’ve updated my museum database, showing which museums are open as of April 2022.
As always in these complicated times, do not take my word for whether a museum is open or not. Please check before you go. While many places have relaxed requirements around buying tickets in advance, museum opening hours and the requirements for masks or proof of vaccination remain highly variable.
It has been a while. But as things start to look (cautiously) up again, it feels like a good moment to end my Museum Project’s long hiatus, assess where things are, and hopefully point toward an optimistic future for museums.
To start, I took a quantitative look at where the New York museum world stands as of thirteen months after everything hastily shut down.
The news isn’t great, but it could definitely be worse.
The Numbers, April 2021
106 museums, or 53.5% of all the museums in New York, are currently open.
7 museums are temporarily closed, generally not COVID-related.
For those who like pie charts, here’s what the numbers look like:
Even museums that are open are very different experiences than they were a year ago. The vast majority of New York institutions today require advance reservations or ticket purchases, usually for specific entry times. It’s a challenging moment to just drop into a museum on a whim. Very definitely visit a museum’s website or social media before you attempt to visit the place itself. Still, it’s nice that even some smaller, quirkier gems (welcome back, City Reliquary and Nicholas Roerich Museum) have survived. And we will hopefully see more spaces reopen their doors in the coming weeks and months.
An offhand remark I made in my review of the The Statue of Liberty Museum got me thinking about emoji and museums and museum emoji. I have mixed feelings about emoji, especially as the character set nears hanzi/kanji numbers. They’re complex, and just as open to misinterpretation as any form of communication. Sometimes an eggplant is just an eggplant. On the other hand, adding a visual component to dry text communication can enrich it. And they’re fun.
Anyway, I started pondering what some of my favorite New York City museums would be called in emoji. And I decided, why not make a game of it? Here’s some museums rendered emojically. Most are pretty famous, though a couple are obscure.
Thinking about “future New York Museums” could inspire a ruminative, speculative essay on how the museum business will evolve over the next decade. I certainly have some thoughts about that, given my intense museum-going over the past year.
When I first compiled my list of New York museums, one of my sources was the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Trade associations, I love ‘em. The Alliance accredits worthy institutions. However, its website describes an AAM Continuum of Excellence rather than a black-and-white, accredited-or-not dialectic.
Indeed, the AAM offers a variety of options for museums short of full accreditation. The simplest simply being signing a Pledge of, well, Excellence. AAM maintains a list of museums that have signed the Pledge and/or proceeded further along its Continuum, up to and including full accreditation. Continue reading “New York Museums of Excellence”
For anyone seeking ways to celebrate Black History Month besides seeing “Black Panther,” I’ve compiled a list of New York City’s African-American museums. As an aside, I’m not sure seeing “Black Panther” actually counts, but I went today and it was awesome.
Lewis Latimer House, Flushing, Queens — A tribute to a largely forgotten African-American inventor, musician, poet, and general Renaissance guy, who worked with Edison perfecting the light bulb and became an important executive at GE.
Louis Armstrong House Museum, Corona, Queens. One of the city’s best house museums and a tribute to a truly singular, titanic genius of music history, and the modest life he and his wife led in Queens.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Harlem. An essential resource for black history, literature, and the arts. Leverages the New York Public Library’s supreme skill at curating shows that use primary documents to bring history to life.
Studio Museum in Harlem, Harlem. A fantastic collection and great space make this a must-visit institution for African-American art in New York City.
Weeksville Heritage Center, Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Historic houses and a sleek, modern visitor’s center commemorate Weeksville, an African American community started in the 1830s.
I Don’t Recommend
National Jazz Museum, Harlem. An institution with grand ambitions hampered by limitations of space and capability. Jazz may just not work well in the confines of a museum.
Sandy Ground Historical Society, Staten Island. Sandy Ground was an early African-American community. I tried, unsuccessfully, to visit this place this week. It’s a huge trek to get somewhere not reliably open during its ostensible open hours. Check out Weeksville in Brooklyn instead. Sandy Ground’s website is here.
Addendum: One “Maybe,” Two “Others”
Fraunces Tavern Museum, Lower Manhattan. This is my “maybe.” Some reckon that Samuel Fraunces, saloonkeeper, spy, and aide to Washington, was black. Mainly because his nickname was “Black Sam.” However, there’s little solid evidence for this claimed racial background, and most historians seriously doubt it. Still, ‘maybe.’
General Grant National Memorial, Morningside Heights, Manhattan. Obviously Ulysses S. Grant wasn’t an African-American, but in an era when some parts of this country still can’t seem to get rid of Confederate monuments, why not visit one of New York’s greatest monuments to the victors in the Civil War?
King Manor Museum, Jamaica, Queens. Rufus King was not an African-American either, but he was an early, persistent voice against the compromises that the framers of the Constitution made allowing slavery in the infant United States. His historic home today serves as a monument to an early abolitionist.
Okay, I’ve got one more, but it’s not a physical place. I feel compelled to add the Museum of UnCut Funk, a virtual institution that co-presented the Finance Museum’s great exhibit on blacks on U.S. currency. As surely the funkiest museum in the world, I highly recommend visiting it online, even if it’s not technically in New York.
I’m getting a bit of a late start in 2018. I blame the insanely cold East Coast weather. Still, here’s an obligatory year-in-review post to wrap my adventures in 2017.
Since starting this expedition last March, I’ve reviewed 144 museums. Overall averages continue to be right around, well the average. Across all the museums I’ve visited, the average education score was 3.06, entertainment 3.09, and “should you go?” rating 3.22 (on a scale from 1 to 5).
My average time spent per museum works out to about 1 hour and 3 minutes, for a cumulative total of 6 days and 6 hours and 58 minutes spent at museums I’ve reviewed this past year.
Cumulatively I’ve spent $364 on museum admissions for my 2016 reviews, or an average admission price of $2.53. I’m sure that will increase as I’ve saved some high-cost museums for the latter part of the project.
Percent of Total
At this point, Bronx museums slightly outscore those of the other boroughs. I’m surprised by that, but then again, the Bronx today quietly punches above its weight in many ways.
Points for Randomness
While I could focus on the greatest hits, I think it’s more fun to review the things that were most unexpected — the places I never would’ve gone except my list made me, which surprised me the most.
Truth be told, the randomest museum I’ve been to this year is one I didn’t review. While in Idaho for August’s total solar eclipse, I made a detour to the Idaho Potato Museum. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that such a place exists, giant fiberglas spud and all. But I was a little surprised that I actually liked it. I’d give it a 3 for edification, a 4 for entertainment, and a 3 for “should you go?” Assuming you ever find yourself in Blackfoot.
Of the museums I’ve reviewed, I would say my top five for peak randomness would be:
During 2017, I’ve had ample time to consider the concept of “museum.” I took a liberal definition of museum when I created my list. I continue to believe historic houses are indisputably museums. However, I don’t think it’s fair to judge botanical gardens by the same yardsticks as museums. And yet, I do think the historic cemeteries merit consideration as museums.
I had a conversation with my younger sister about the definition of museums, and how my thinking has evolved with the experience of visiting them all, big and small, mainstream and quirky. We kicked around various notions, starting from my initial idea that museums should both educate and entertain. I offered the idea that maybe they should “amuse” you.
From there I suggested that maybe they should be judged as places that cause you to muse on things.
And that in turn got us thinking (thanks, liberal arts education) about the Muses, the nine Greek divinities in charge of the arts. People talk about the Muses in the sense of having one, or of the Muse being upon them when they have a burst of creativity.
So perhaps museums shouldn’t just educate and entertain or amuse or make you think. Additionally, they should inspire. Something about that feels very right to me. I think of the people I’ve seen sketching at the Met, or those taking the Grolier Club’s life drawing and drinking class. Or myself, walking through say the Van Cortlandt House dutifully taking notes and seeking inspiration to frame a story about the place.
I briefly considered whether I should retroactively rate the places I’ve visited in terms of their inspiration levels. Fortunately, I have realized that even though it wasn’t an explicit criterion, inspiration correlates very strongly with how much I recommend visiting a museum.
The Shape of Museums to Come
It’s hard to believe I fewer then 50 museums to go in my Pokemon-esque effort to catch ‘em all. Barring something unforeseen, I should finish my last review just about a year from starting the project. I’ve deliberately left some of the biggest and most famous museums for late in this project — I have yet to write about MoMA or the American Museum of Natural History, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of those.
If there’s one category of museum I’ve not done justice to thus far, it’s children’s museums. I worry that I’ll seem a little creepy if I go to a children’s museum sans kid. And additionally I want a young person’s perspective to inform my own reactions to how well the childrens’ museums fulfill their mandates. So I will have to borrow or rent some kids in the next few weeks to rectify that.
Anyway, happy new year, thanks for reading, and here’s to another two score and five museum reviews before I’m done.
When I started this project I decided I’d rate museums based on standards of edification and entertainment. That is, how much I felt educated or improved by a place, and how fun the place was. I then added a third rating based on how much I think people should visit (or not).
But in our modern social, digital age, I’ve arguably missed a vital yardstick in the assessment of museum quality: how share-able an institution makes the experience.
So. 100 New York City museums in the past 160 days. Hitting the century mark is extremely satisfying. Places keep surprising me, and largely for the better. I’m not doing so well as I hoped in terms of time, but I’m doing far better than I expected in terms of money. I’ve seen a lot of art, and a lot of maritime, um, paraphernalia, and recently much Judaica. The Asia Society made me grumpy, while Louis Armstrong’s house filled me with delight.
While it feels great to be 53 percent of my way done (tally of currently open museums: 189), there’s still a long 47 percent of the way to go. Hopefully, like a roller coaster, now that I’ve crested the top of the hill, momentum will help carry me the rest of the way.
Alexander Hamilton. Bastard. Orphan. Son of a whore and a Scotsman. New York’s immigrant Founding Father. The ten dollar hero and scholar. From the Caribbean island of Nevis originally, came to New York to attend King’s College (now Columbia University). Died too young. Never president, but who wants to be president anyway?