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Postscript to Kevin Guthrie's The New-York Historical Society: Lessons from One Nonprofit's Long Struggle for Survival

Postscript

Part One of this book concluded with the summer of 1994 and the appoint­ment of Betsy Gotbaum as executive director. As was explained in the pref­ace, it did not seem appropriate to write a historical review while events were still unfolding. Although I continue to believe this to be true, it would be misleading to leave the reader with the impression that the Society is in the same position it was at the conclusion of this book's historical narrative. As one would expect, a great deal has happened since Gotbaum took over. This brief postscript does not attempt to analyze the first year of Gotbaum's tenure; rather, its purpose is sim­ply to bring the reader up-to-date on significant events that have occurred dur­ing this time.

Not surprisingly given the Society's history, almost immediately after assum­ing her new position Gotbaum faced controversy. As if installing a new man­agement team, building a strong relationship with her board, and reviving an institution in a state of financial crisis were not enough, one of Gotbaum's first major tasks was to oversee deaccessioning of approximately $20 million worth of Society collections. The plans for this process, which had been put in place prior to Gotbaum's appointment, called for the auctioning of three separate parts of the collections: "Important Old Master Paintings," which was composed of most of the remaining paintings from the Bryan collection; "Important Paperweights," a large collection of European paperweights; and "Americana and Decorative Arts," which was made up of various general materials in addition to items from the decorative arts collection. Even though the Society negotiated a special agree­ment with New York Attorney General Oliver Koppell to allow New York cultural institutions to preempt other bidders and purchase auctioned items at a discounted price, there was considerable criticism from the arts community. Nevertheless, be­ginning with the sale of the Bryan collection on January 12, 1995, and continu­ing through the sale of the decorative arts collections on January 29, 1995, the Society raised a net total of just under $16 million. The Society is currently prepar­ing to sell the remaining items identified during the original deaccessioning process, including a large number of items from the library collections. All deaccessioning proceeds are being placed in permanent endowment restricted to care and main­tenance of the remaining collections.

In addition to deaccessioning, another major project Gotbaum undertook early in her administration was renovating the Society's aging building. This step, long overdue, had been made possible by the joint New York city and state spe­cial capital appropriation of $10 million in 1993. Although much of the funding went toward building repairs, especially of the Society's roof and its heating and ventilation system, funds were also allocated to make other improvements to the facility. Gotbaum and her staff oversaw this important work, which resulted in substantial reconstruction of the Society's first-floor gallery spaces, enlargement and relighting of the first-floor hallway to create a brighter, more open environ­ment for visitors, and a reorientation of the Society's primary entrance to 77th Street, facing the Museum of Natural History.

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Source:  OpenStax, The new-york historical society: lessons from one nonprofit's long struggle for survival. OpenStax CNX. Mar 28, 2008 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10518/1.1
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