News Register for our weekly news digest here.

The Brooklyn Museum in New York. Photo: Elisa Rolle/Flickr.
The Brooklyn Museum in New York. Photo: Elisa Rolle/Flickr.

Brooklyn Museum Receives Historic $50 Million Gift from New York City

A $50 million gift to the Brooklyn Museum announced yesterday by outgoing New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio marks the largest donation in the museum’s history. The windfall from the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs is the upshot of the shrewd politicking from Brooklyn Museum director Anne Pasternak, who came to de Blasio in June 2020 with the request, The New York Times reports.

“Our exhibitions and public programs have been embracing ideas for twenty-first century museums, but our building is absolutely mired in the 19th century. So it’s time to catch up,” she told the Times. The museum’s historic American Renaissance building, built in 1987 by McKim, Mead, and White, will be retrofitted with new climate control systems and gallery interiors to showcase the institution’s collection of European and American, including Indigenous American, art and design. The money will also finance the construction of a permanent gallery devoted to the history of Brooklyn. The overhaul, Pasternak suggested, would enable dynamic, technologically sophisticated multimedia displays that could help the museum draw visitors and compete in a saturated attention economy. “People are wanting more immersive, participatory experiences in addition to having beautiful galleries with natural light,” she said. “You want to be able to have sound; you want to be able to have projection. You want to be able to envelop people in a multitude of ways of telling stories.”

The gift comes on the heels of two recent curatorial appointments at the museum. Next month, Stephanie Sparling Williams will join the staff as the Andrew W. Mellon Curator of American Art, while Kimberli Gant will join in the new year as curator of modern and contemporary art. Previously an associate curator at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, Sparling Williams in her new role will lead initiatives to diversify the representation of American Art at the museum and will work with the institution’s Council of African American Art to support the acquisition and study of work by Black artists. Gant, recently a curator at the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, Virginia, will advance efforts to enrich the museum’s holdings and research in modern and contemporary art, with an emphasis on the African diaspora.

The Brooklyn Museum, which receives approximately $9 million (around 20 percent of its operating budget) annually from the city of New York, was among the scores of institutions rocked by the global pandemic. Faced with lost revenue, it was the first major US institution to take advantage of the Association of Art Museum Directors’ emergency suspension of a rule prohibiting the deaccessioning of artworks to support the care of current collections—auctioning off works by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Gustav Courbet, Jean Dubuffet, and others in controversial sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in October 2020. Citing economic hardship, the museum laid off twenty-nine employees last summer after receiving $4.5 million in Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans. This past August, workers at the museum voted overwhelmingly to unionize, joining Local 2110 of the United Auto Workers.