June 25, 2022

The oldest museum in New York is getting an upgrade.

The New-York Historical Society will add more than 70,000 square feet to its building – including space for the American LGBTQ + Museum, the first museum devoted to LGBTQ history and culture in the city.

For decades, local activists have been talking about the need for a museum to document the history of the queer movement, said Richard Burns, the museum’s chairman.

“All of a sudden we have reached that moment, a turning point where more and more people are saying, ‘We better take this story, integrate it and celebrate it before we lose it,'” said Burns. “And so we met in a living room in January 2017 and started having this conversation.”

A group of LGBTQ leaders – they eventually became the museum’s board of directors – began raising funds for the institution. In 2018 they interviewed eight museum planning firms. A year later, they received their museum charter from the New York State Board of Regents.

The museum and external companies jointly held focus groups in English and Spanish in all five districts. They also interviewed about 40,000 LGBTQ people who live across the country.

We don’t need museums about Will & Grace and Ellen DeGeneres, Burns said. “These stories are told in popular culture. We need a museum that tells the untold stories of a regular life, the lives of activists, the life that was lost in queer New York and queer America. “

But the LGBTQ museum space – which will occupy the entire top floor of the extension – is only part of the Historical Society’s five-story addition. The institution, housed in a granite building on Central Park West, bought 10,000 square feet of vacant land to the west in 1937 for expansion purposes. Now the time has finally come.

The move also dramatically expands classrooms for the Academy for American Democracy program, a history and civics initiative that, when expanded, will serve approximately 30,000 6th grade public school students across the city.

“We offer the program online, but we always expected to give students the opportunity to be in a public square, Roman forum or Greek agora,” said Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the Historical Society. “

On Wednesday morning, the Historical Society learned that it would work with the City Council to receive $ 35 million from the New York Department of Culture – bringing the project to completion around 2024.

When the Historical Association opens its new and improved doors, the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library’s materials – including rare copies of the country’s founding documents – will be more accessible to visitors thanks to ultra-modern, compact storage. And new galleries will host the Society’s Masters of Arts in Museum Studies graduate students aiming to diversify the museum profession.

The Historical Society aims to tell history – both New York and America – in all its complexities. For Mirrer, the expansion of the reach stories is of great importance. “Welcoming a new audience is really wonderful, especially for an institution founded in 1804.”