Counting Museums: Building the Museum Project Database

Met Button - RedThere are eight million stories in the naked city.  How many museums are there?  Counting museums posed some challenges, largely related to locating online lists and assessing their accuracy.

I started with, a central tourist reference for all things related to the city.  It lists 91 as of mid-February 2017.  That is, I was sure, way too low.

Yelp, when I searched for “museum” and New York, NY, generated a list of 774 entries.  I worried for a moment that perhaps I’d bitten off more than I can chew. But a quick scan of some of their results shows museums in Montclair and Jersey City, and my first rule here is New York only.  And it also showed a lot of commercial art galleries. The line between a gallery and a museum is   blurry, I’ll admit.  But just about all commercial galleries are outside my project.  Having no practical way to weed down 774 entries, I decided to look elsewhere.

Foursquare listed a disappointing 90 total, which I realized was even more disappointing than it sounded, since individual bits of the American Museum of Natural History got listed separately, like the Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites and the Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples.  So that’s hardly an accurate count.

Finally, with reluctance, I turned to the place I probably should have looked first, Wikipedia.  Wikipedia’s “List of Museums and Cultural Institutions in New York City” had 213 institutions listed on it as of mid-February 2017.  That seemed reasonable, and “felt” like a good number, at least to start with.

But as with so much on Wikipedia, I knew I couldn’t just take this list at face value.  I’d have to clean it up, remove places that have closed or where never really exhibit spaces, and (harder task) add any that I could catch that were missing.  So that’s what I spent a chunk of a day doing. 

27 museums on Wikipedia’s list aren’t currently open for business.  

  • Some, like the Mets Museum (not to be confused with the Met Museum) and Governor’s Island are open at certain times of the year (like baseball season).  
  • Some are closed in between exhibitions, they’ll be open again at some point.  
  • Some are defunct, including, sadly, Staten Island’s Tattoo Museum, which I was excited about.
  • Some were never really museums, being more performing arts spaces, or curators of educational materials that get lent out or travel around, like the Toy Museum (another one I’m bummed about removing from the list).
  • And some are from the future, like the Culture Shed, which is scheduled to open in 2019.

I opted to err on the side of leaving places on the list, even if I wasn’t 100% sure they should count.  For example, I’ve left the two botanical gardens, and Green-Wood Cemetery (though Woodlawn’s not on the list, and I didn’t add it). On the other hand, I have added two museum to the Wikipedia list.  First, the Met:Breuer.  The Met’s takeover of the former Whitney Building is terrific, and if the Cloisters counts separately, so should the Breuer. And second, the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling in Harlem.

Adding and subtracting gives the answer to the question.  At the moment, there are 188 museums in the naked city.  And I’m making it my mission to visit all of them.