What was the South Street Seaport Museum? Designated by Congress as America’s National Maritime Museum in 1998, the Museum provided hands-on experiences of New York City’s rich maritime history and marine ecology to thousands of people for more than four decades. It included vibrant education programs, reaching thousands of children per year. It had an active development department, bringing in a steady stream of donations and grants. It had a well-run volunteer program, primarily focused on the working ships. That volunteer program facilitated the rebuilding of one of its historic schooners, which was then used as a platform for the Museum’s highly successful sail training program. Its collections were regularly on display, and its galleries were open to the public. Bowne & Company Stationers ran a profitable printing operation, while teaching historic printing methods.
What had become of the Museum? In recent years the Museum (renamed Seaport Museum New York in 2010) had run aground. The once renowned Museum library was no longer accessible. Membership plummeted. The working boats, previously self-sustaining, spent the summer of 2011 tied to the dock, falling into disrepair with a handful of waterfront staff trying to keep up with an overwhelming task. The galleries lay empty and closed. Bowne & Company was closed. The majority of Museum staff were laid off or furloughed. The education department was closed. Only the gift shop remained, with inventory reduced and merchandise drastically marked down. Virtually every inquiry from the press and the community met with a resounding “no comment.”
What is the Museum’s future? After many months of continued disintegration and official silence, in September 2011, a new partnership with the Museum of the City of New York was announced, supported by a major grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. A new management team from MCNY has taken over the Museum’s operations and a new board has been elected. Bowne has re-opened, and is doing vibrant business again. The Museum galleries have re-opened as of January 26, 2012. The Museum’s working vessels are on target to resume operations in the 2012 season. The Museum’s loyal corps of volunteers have returned to work, and the Museum has begun to rebuild relationships with its supporters and the community.
Save Our Seaport is a grassroots organization made up primarily of Museum volunteers and former staff who seek to bring about a new beginning for the Museum. We support the change in the Museum’s leadership as the only viable way to retain and share the Museum’s collection, rebuild its education department, maintain and grow its long-standing volunteer program, and, ultimately, to regain its critical role in the preservation and telling of New York City’s maritime history.
SAVE OUR SEAPORT!