Folk Art Museum to Fold?

Even after selling its beautiful Williams-Tsien building to MoMA for $31.2 million, the American Folk Art Museum is still in financial peril. Trustees are considering whether the organization can reasonably pay its staff and cover the cost of housing, conserving, and insuring one of the world’s finest collections of American Folk Art. According to the NYT, one option is to give the collection over the The Smithsonian and Brooklyn Museum, an act that would require approval of the State attorney General and Board of Education. AFAM representatives have been in communications with The Smithsonian for several months.

From the NYT:

The folk art museum’s situation is a stark warning of what can happen when a museum overreaches in constructing a new home. Founded in 1961, the museum survived some early near-death experiences. When it decided to build a permanent home, it engaged high-profile architects and borrowed the $32 million by issuing bonds through New York City’s Trust for Cultural Resources, a public benefit corporation that helps major cultural institutions borrow money for capital projects.

Some critics have attributed the museum’s troubles to its architecture, saying that it was unwelcoming and did not display the art and artifacts attractively. To be sure, the museum never drew the crowds it had projected in estimates made during the planning process, or received enough contributions to support its interest payments. It was the first institution that borrowed through the trust to default on its debt.

Seriously. It wasn’t the architecture. It was the cost.

Addendum: ARTINFO just published a piece on this very issue! Check out Can the Folk Art Museum Be Saved? A Look at Three Endgame Scenarios.

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