New York’s Folk Art Museum Could Close, or Loan Collection to the Brooklyn Museum

08/23/2011 8:57 AM |

The American Folk Art Museums Lincoln Square space.
  • The American Folk Art Museum’s Lincoln Square space.

Ever since the American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) sold its West 53rd Street home to its big next-door neighbor MoMA back in May for the $31 million it desperately needed in order to repay the loan it took out to fund the building’s construction in the first place, the smaller institution’s future has been very uncertain. Among the options AFAM’s trustees are considering is the possibility of closing down the institution entirely.

The Times‘ Kate Taylor reports that AFAM’s building sale absolved its debt, but left it with virtually no reserves for covering its operation budget at its smaller Lincoln Square location (pictured). As the country’s foremost folk art museum, and the only one in New York City, AFAM is as invaluable feature of the local art community, and any plan to move its 5,000-object collection outside the city or state would have difficulties gaining the approval it would need from both the New York State Department of Education and the state attorney general’s office.

An anonymous participant in the trustees’ talks about the museum’s future tells the Times that the museum is considering a plan to transfer its collection to the Smithsonian, while setting up a long-term loan agreement with the Brooklyn Museum so as to appease the state agencies that would disapprove of sending the entire collection out of New York. The Brooklyn Museum, much like AFAM, has been suffering from chronically limited resources, and its ability to house and maintain a sizable portion of the folk art collection is uncertain.

Alternately AFAM may attempt to make a go of it in its 5,000 square foot space—where it’s currently open and free of charge, showing the exhibition Super Stars: Quilts from the American Folk Art Museum through December—or shut down entirely. Another option not mentioned anywhere in the Times piece is that the Smithsonian’s one New York City museum, the Upper East Side’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, could also exhibit long-term loans from AFAM, thereby keeping its collection in New York City.