Tribeca Trib: CB1 Committee Calls for Council Hearing on Museum’s Woes

CB1 Committee Calls for Council Hearing on Museum’s Woes

Members of Save Our Seaport at a rally this spring to raise awareness about the Museum's plight.

Members of Save Our Seaport at a rally this spring to raise awareness about the Museum’s plight.

CB1’s Seaport Committee passed a resolution on Tuesday calling for the City Council to hold a public hearing on the Seaport Museum New York when the Council returns from August recess.

“I think we need to hit this hard,” committee member Ann De Falco said.

Community Board 1 has been trying for months to get the museum’s president and chairman to come before them and explain the status of the financially strapped institution, which laid off half its staff in February and shut the doors to its print shop, museum, and galleries. So far museum officials, who are reportedly in talks with the city and the Museum of the City of New York for a bailout, have declined to speak publicly on the matter.

“As we are still actively working to resolve various fiscal issues and determine the best strategy for a smooth transition to new leadership, a presentation by the Museum would be premature,” Museum President Mary Pelzer said in a June letter to the Community Board in which she declined to attend a meeting where more than 100 concerned residents and Save Our Seaport members had hoped to hear her speak. “We look forward to providing a complete update at a later date.”

Tuesday’s committee vote came just a few days after the Museum of the City of New York, a private nonprofit institution, met with the group Save Our Seaport to discuss the Seaport Museum’s future. Save Our Seaport, comprised mostly of former Seaport Museum volunteers and employees, has been advocating for a change of leadership at the museum and a shift in goals to guarantee the survival of the museum, which includes eight boats docked at the seaport.

Michael Kramer, a Save Our Seaport member who attended the meeting, called the dialogue with Museum of the City of New York representatives “wonderfully productive.”

“They were receptive to the information we supplied to them, which included the Community Board resolution, and they were open to future meetings,” Kramer, a CB1 public member, told the committee. “So we are hoping that’s a good sign.”

The Museum of the City of New York did not immediately respond to a request for comments on the meeting.

“We are delighted that the Museum of the City of New York wanted to get to know us, and our view of things,” said Peter Stanford, who founded the Seaport’s museum in the 1960s and has been working with Save Our Seaport. “Our hope is that they will play a significant role in restructuring the museum to make it a more effective advocate of the maritime heritage it was founded to advance.”

The Museum of the City of New York has not made any promises, Stanford said, and the substance of its talks with the Seaport Museum were not discussed at the meeting. However, according to Stanford, the New York history museum indicated that it would be open to consulting with Save Our Seaport should it get involved with the Seaport Museum in the future.

“It’s very important that we not for one moment suggest any commitment by the museum to take over the Seaport Museum or run it,” Stanford said.

The Seaport Museum had reportedly been in talks for months with the city in an effort to stave off financial ruin, but earlier in July Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that the Museum needed to seek private help instead of relying on the government to save it.

“Government can help some museums, but can’t help them all,” Bloomberg said. “It’s really the private sector that has to come through.”

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