On the final day of a particularly celebratory Pride Month, the New York Times revealed yesterday that the American LGBTQ+ Museum, New York City’s first museum dedicated to queer history and culture, will have a new permanent home at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library. The new museum will be located within a just-announced 70,0000-square-foot expansion at the storied Upper West Side institution, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA). Established in 1804, the New-York Historical Society is the oldest museum in New York City.
In a wider announcement today, the New-York Historical Society shared additional details of RAMSA’s Landmarks Preservation Commission-praised expansion. Other than the new American LGBTQ+ Museum, the addition will add exhibition- and education-dedicated spaces, for the host museum itself; new galleries and collections study areas that will host graduate students from New-York Historical and CUNY’s Master of Arts in Museum Studies program, and a suite of classrooms that will enable New-York Historical to expand its on-site learning programs for New York City public school students, including sixth-graders participating in the Academy for American Democracy initiative. It will also include a state-of-the-art new storage facility for the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, enabling the rehousing of a substantial part of the library’s famed collection, much of it stored offsite due to the advanced age of the original stacks, at the society’s landmark home along Central Park West.
As noted by the Times, the expansion will be built on a 10,000-square-foot vacant lot to the west of the main museum building that was purchased by the society in 1937. The organization held on to the parcel in the event that, sometime down the line, it ever needed or wanted to expand its present building at 77th Street and Central Park West, a granite structure designed by York and Sawyer that the museum has called home since 1908. (A pair of Beaux-Arts pavilions were added to the original building in the late 1930s.) Over 80 years later, it will.
“It’s been a privilege to work with the New-York Historical Society to design an expansion of its landmark building, enabling it to extend its broad and vital mission to a growing audience that ranges from local schoolchildren to international visitors,” said Robert A.M. Stern, founder and senior partner of RAMSA, who is leading the design team with partners Graham S. Wyatt and Preston J. Gumberich and senior associate Kim S. Yap.
“With input from engaged and supportive neighbors and in response to the historic neighboring townhouses, the design of the expansion is sympathetic to the palette and rhythm of the 1908 building and its 1938 additions,” Stern added.
Describing itself as an institution that “preserves, investigates, and celebrates the dynamic histories and cultures of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people, as well as those of the emergent and adjacent identities among our communities,” The American LGBTQ+ Museum will populate the entire fourth floor of the new addition and feature two galleries, storage and administrative space, and access to the New-York Historical Society’s rooftop terrace.
“We’re delighted to partner with New York’s foremost museum of history to build a new museum dedicated to an exploration and celebration of the richness and diversity of LGBTQ+ history and culture in America,” said Richard Burns, chair of the LGBTQ+ Museum’s board of directors, in a statement. “The respect and rigor with which New-York Historical has approached this process, including their consultation with local communities, mirrors our own commitment to building a thoughtful, welcoming, queer, and inclusive experience for our visitors and partners. We look forward to bringing a dynamic new museum to life within this cherished, deeply-respected, and growing New York City landmark.”
The American LGBTQ+ Museum was established in 2017 by a group of LGBTQ leaders and activists and received its museum charter two years later by the New York State Board of Regents, per the Times’ reporting.
When completed, the American LGBTQ+ Museum will join a modest handful of permanent U.S. cultural institutions dedicated to presenting programming and exhibitions through a queer lens. Others include the GBLT Historical Society Museum and Archives in San Francisco’s Castro district, Manhattan’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, and the Stonewall National Museum & Archives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, which also has a standalone gallery in neighboring Wilton Manors.
As detailed in a press announcement, the American LGBTQ+ Museum’s presence at New-York Historical will kick off while construction on the expansion is still underway. Hosted within the museum’s existing building and outdoor spaces, this programming will bring “the voices, perspectives, actions, and achievements of this community to the foreground for hundreds of thousands of annual visitors and New York City schoolchildren.”
While not part of the forthcoming museum’s programming, New-York Historical’s rear courtyard currently serves as the backdrop for Safe/Haven: Gay Life in 1950s Cherry Grove. The special (pandemic-appropriate) outdoor exhibition features photography and ephemera depicting the vibrant, creative, and all-accepting Fire Island community of Cherry Grove during an era when society was largely inhospitable to those who lived their lives outside the confines of heterosexual, cisgendered America. Opening this past May, Safe/Haven is free and on view through October 11.
The first phase of the expansion project, which will focus on the below-grade library stacks, is slated to kick off in the summer of 2022. As noted by the Times, just yesterday New-York Historical learned it would receive $35 million in funding from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, a move that will enable the society to complete and debut the expansion project around 2024.