The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. has announced that Aileen Fuchs has been selected by its Board of Trustees to lead the museum as its next president and executive director. Fuchs, who currently serves as president and CEO of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in New York City, will be the fifth person to lead the 40-year-old nonprofit institution, located within D.C.’s landmark Pension Building opposite Judiciary Square.
Like countless other museums and cultural organizations, the National Building Museum experienced unprecedented turbulence and uncertainty over the past year while navigating the coronavirus crisis. The museum is unique in that it closed to the public well before the pandemic in December 2019 to allow for planned construction work including renovations to the ceramic floors of the soaring Great Hall, a popular—and lucrative for the museum—D.C. event space. The museum was initially scheduled to reopen on March 13, which, of course, never happened as the deadly virus began to spread across the United States in the spring of last year.
While the museum was enacted modest staffing cuts to staffing due to its prolonged, pre-pandemic closure, in late April it announced the partial furloughing of its salaried staff members and the full furloughing of all visitor-facing staff. A little under a month later, the museum announced it would permanently eliminate 42 positions. Just a couple of short weeks before that, longtime executive director Chase Rynd had announced his retirement after 17 years. (Dr. Brent Glass, Director Emeritus of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, has served as interim executive director since July 2020).
Needless to say, it has been quite the year for the National Building Museum. With the announcement of Fuchs as the new executive director, there’s clear optimism regarding the museum’s post-pandemic future in a renovated space with an exciting roster of new exhibitions. (Robust online and outdoor programming did continue during the museum’s physical closure including the launch of the virtual exhibition Documenting Crossroads: The New Normal).
While no firm reopening date has been announced, the museum does plan to once again welcome in-person guests later this spring. The museum’s gift shop reopened in February for by-appointment shopping.
“As our nation reopens and recovers, Americans are looking to create more just, safe, healthy, and resilient environments for their lives,” said Fuchs, who officially begins her new role on May 5, in a statement. “This is precisely the mission and the role of the National Building Museum—sparking curiosity about the built environment in order to create a better world—and this mission has never been more relevant. I look forward to working with the talented staff and Board to deepen the Museum’s impact as it enters this next chapter.”
Upcoming exhibitions at the museum include Justice is Beauty: The Work of MASS Design Group and the Washington, D.C. debut of the Gun Violence Memorial Project. The museum will also reopen with a new and improved Visitor Center completed as part of the pre-pandemic renovations. The 2021 edition of what’s become one of the museum’s signature events in recent years, the Summer Block Party installation, will not be held in the Great Hall. Instead, the museum is planning on “several smaller installations that can be experienced in a more intimate manner and are better suited to smaller groups of visitors.” (The 2020 Summer Block Party installation, Shakespeare’s Playhouse, was obviously scrapped due to the pandemic.)
Fuchs has been with the Snug Harbor Cultural Center since 2017 and, in her of president and CEO has ushered in “unprecedented financial and programmatic growth” for the Staten Island-based organization according to a press release. Prior to that, Fuchs was executive director of Exhibits & Programs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, and the associate curator and content manager at the American History Workshop, also in Brooklyn. In the former role, she established and ran the Museum & Visitor Center at BLDG 92.
Anthony Greenberg, chair of the National Building Museum Board of Trustees and executive vice president at JBG SMITH, noted in a statement that the board was “compelled by Aileen’s unique combination of energy, thought leadership, and experience, as well as her rare ability to toggle effortlessly between vision and action.”