It’s been a bad year for the American Folk Art Museum, which after selling its decade-old 53rd Street building to neighboring MoMA in May to pay off the $32 million loan that it originally took out in order to build it, was confined to its much smaller Lincoln Square space and contemplating total closure. Other museums offered to house some of its permanent collection, the Times‘ lead art critic Roberta Smith wrote an impassioned plea for the institution’s safeguarding. And, wouldn’t you know it, on Wednesday evening it was saved by a series of last-minute donations.
Well, “saved” is a bit of an exaggeration. As the Times grimly enumerates, “The museum’s staff, once at 50, is down to a dozen, and its budget is $7 million, down from $10 million in 2009.” But hey, at least it has a budget and a space on which it pays one dollar ($1) of rent annually.
The eleventh hour rescue came in the form of donations from trustees and the Ford Foundation, though AFAM’s newly elected director Edward Blanchard declined to reveal how much cash the institution received. But he did reveal his optimism about museum’s trustees’ decision to keep the unique institution around: “We are confident that we’re embarking on a prudent course with the facilities that we have and the staff that we have. [...] I think we’re going to do some very exciting things.”
It also means good things for the many other museums in the city that are interested in borrowing from AFAM’s rare collection, which include the Brooklyn Museum, New-York Historical Society and the Museum of Arts and Design. In summary, “Phew, that was a close one.” Next on the ailing museum agenda, how’s the Chelsea Art Museum doing?