As part of a $650 million project to expand Manhattans Museum of Modern Art
(MOMA), some of the worlds most valuable works of art will soon be found in
Queens... cramped up in a storage warehouse.
While Queens cultural institutions are suffering from budget
cuts, the city is giving the Museum of Modern Art $65 million for a warehouse in western
Queens which will be closed to the public.
While MOMA has raised the bulk of the funding required for the project through private
donations, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani announced last week that the city would contribute $65
million to the museums plans.
This came as quite a shock to the directors of cultural institutions here in Queens,
who had only recently learned that as a result of a $22.2 million proposed cut in the
citys Cultural Affairs budget, many of their programs may have to be scrapped. The
fact that MOMA is going to construct 75,000 square feet of storage space in Queens does
not comes as much of a consolation.
"We get MOMA in a coma," Councilman Walter McCaffrey told the Tribune.
MOMA has chosen to commence their massive 75th anniversary rehabilitation project with
the warehouse, which if all goes well should be stocked and functional by the year 2000.
MOMA will then devote the next four years and the rest of the money to expanding
MOMAs 87,000 square feet of gallery space, its renowned sculpture garden, and
invaluable educational facilities.
Borough President Claire Shulman said that while she recognized the importance of this
expansion to the art community, she was distressed by the citys decision to make
such an exclusive donation.
"It is discouraging that the city has pledged to fund approximately 10 percent of
the museums expansion plan," said Shulman, "while calling for dramatic
cuts in Queens cultural programs and institutions."
Queens was selected as the site for the warehouse because of its proximity and easy
accessibility to Manhattan, said MOMA spokesperson Liz Addison.
But to several Queens elected officials, the borough is was getting the short end of
the citys financial stick.
"Quite frankly, its ludicrous," said McCaffrey. "MOMA is an
institution that does not require this type of funding. And just as this is happening, our
[Queens] institutionswhich are relatively neware being cut. It is absolutely
Marc Chagalls "Paris Through The Window" may soon be storedout of
viewin a Queens warehouse like this one in Long Island City.
Shulman also found the distribution unfair. "While the Museum of Modern Art has a
healthy and wealthy board of trustees, I am concerned that the city is cutting back on the
glue that holds our network of cultural institutions together," said Shulman.
"Many of our lesser known institutions are currently struggling to increase programs
and services for an extraordinarily diverse population, while concurrently fearing budget
reductions that would cripple services. At the same time, it is difficult for these
smaller institutions to attract private money."
The Jamaica Arts Center provides an example of the type of Queens institution that
would be hurt by the proposed cuts. Housed in a five-story building, the center features
art and dance studios, three art galleries and a 75-seat theater. The Centers
Executive Director, Veronique LeMelle, expressed hope that the mayor would think of
organizations like hers when slashing the budget.
"I hope they remember that places like this are actually incubators for the
artists that will eventually be displayed in MOMA," LeMelle said.
However, Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Schuyler Chapin said that there
was no reason for Queens to feel slighted.
"The MOMA grant has absolutely nothing to do with the regular budget," Chapin
said. "The $65 million that the city is offering is 10 percent of the total MOMA
expansion budget. It comes out of capital funds, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the
regular budget. We still have the usual minuet between the executive and legislative
George Delis, District Manger for Community Board 1, confirmed Chapins rationale.
"Capital funding is federal money put aside for municipal construction projects
such as these," Delis explained. "This budget is entirely separate from the
regular expense budget."
When the Borough
President first heard of the citys plans to give $65 million to MOMA, she called for
a full restoration of funding for cultural institutions and programs that were to be cut,
as well as for the elimination of the Cultural Challenge Initiative.
"We must work together to make certain that our body of cultural institutions and
activities lands on its feet," Shulman said.
In the meantime, however, the only thing landing in Queens is a storage warehouse. The
museum has located a number of spaces suitable for the storage site, but as of yet has not
made a decision.
LeMelle expressed interest in seeing if the completed warehouse, which will house
surplus items from the MOMAs vast collection of over 100,000 works, will create jobs
for local residents.
"A warehouse such as this will require art handlers, preservationists, and
movers-all specialized jobs," she said. "This warehouse may even benefit our
people by creating jobs in our borough."
Others remained somewhat skeptical. "What good is having all of this great art in
the borough," said one art teacher. "If we are unable to see any of it?"