Museums As a Reflection of the Communities they Serve

Steve Adubato goes one-on-one with Whitney Donhauser, Director and President of The Museum of the City of New York, about the service museums provide to visitors and the communities they serve and why museums are a reflection of their vibrant cities past, present and future.

7/11/2017 #2056






"We are pleased to welcome Whitney Donhauser, who is President and Director of the Museum of the City of New York. Good to see you. Great. Thank you for having me. This is a museum that is based over at 103rd and 5th Avenue? That's correct. Founded in 1923, correct? Yes. Describe the museum. It is a museum that is in a very traditional building, but we deal with issues that relate to modern and contemporary New York life. So we interpret and celebrate the city, and really share with our public what is great about the city, as far as its diversity, as well as its perpetual transformation and the challenges it faces. Why do you think a signif... a certain number of New Yorkers, and those around New York, don't know enough about the museum? I think we often... people confuse us with the New York Historical Society, and I think also our location has made us, for many New Yorkers, something that they have not spent a lot of time on that part of 5th Avenue. So I think we've gone... we've been under construction for the last ten years, and... Ten years? Ten years. We completed construction in 2015, and the building is completely renovated and really really beautiful. Wow. Yeah. It looks great. That is gorgeous. Mm hmm. But you also look at the future? We do. Explain that. So, well we just opened, in November, an exhibition of 400 years of New York City history, which is actually amazing that there is no place in a museum in this city that actually looks at the city's history, and there is a tradition around the world of city museums. So you can go to Mumbai, Singapore, Paris, London, so there's a tradition, certainly, in major urban centers of a city museum. But the thing that we actually do that's unique is in our overview of New York City history, we have over a third of our gallery space is dedicated to the future... the future of the city, and really urban issues that New Yorkers face everyday. Such as? So they... so the challenge of affordability, affordable housing, the challenge of climate change, rising sea levels, the challenge of earning a living, the challenge of diversity - people living together. And so this is something that we... challenges of transportation too. And these are the issues that we cover in that gallery, and ask our visitors to express what's on their mind. We have a question... we have a table where they can... we ask "what if?" and they can answer that question... pose that question to a series of experts. So what..."