Jewish History Museum often uses capital, both intellectual and practical, to bring new visitors to the museum and engagement with their exhibits. In a financial crisis, with a deficit in arrears of nearly $1.1 million, the museum faced an even more dire situation.
Proceeds From Rare Treasures Sold at Auction Help Steady Jewish History Museum Jewish History Museum often uses capital, both intellectual and practical, to bring new visitors to the museum and engagement with their exhibits. In a financial crisis, with a deficit in arrears of nearly $1.1 million, the museum faced an even more dire situation.
“It was very much out of the blue,” said Richard Roth, Acting Managing Director and Director of Administration and Finance, of the decline in fund revenue.
To generate additional funds, the museum has turned to an unusual source: capital — everything from a van bought to collect artifacts, to a jar on loan from ABC News, to an unclaimed bible that Moses Solomon, the Zikkarets Rebbe, may have owned.
But even with that funding, for many nonprofits, the sale of objects doesn’t always go well.
“It has been a challenge for the Jewish museum,” said Milton Williams, Director of Physical Heritage Programs for The Simon Wiesenthal Center. “The Jewish museum is going through a period of major challenges.”
Roth noted that this particular sale was modeled after the Smithsonian Institution’s challenge sales, one of several experiences the museum has taken from. According to Roth, between 2 and 5 percent of the proceeds from the sales go toward the museum’s overall budget, including accounts payable and accrued expenses. The rest of the money pays down outstanding fund credit and raises more revenue for the museum.
The museum’s basement — which provides workstations for museum staff, parking and meeting space for fundraisers, and a budget office — was a vestige of its previous digs at Brooklyn’s Arts and Culture Center. When the museum purchased the building a year and a half ago, the mandate was to make the new space work for all stakeholders, from the arts to the broad community to visitors of all ages, cultures and religions.
“We wanted to make the museum unique and interesting, with lots of different programs, not just for children but for people of all ages,” Roth said. “A lot of our programs that aren’t supported by big donors in the way that they are at similar museums in the country are supported by foundation grants.”
The newest of these may be the Israeli Jerusalem Museum, built on the site of the ancient home of the city’s rabbis and a renowned synagogue. The museum will open in 2020, coinciding with its namesake’s jubilee year, and will be housed in the senior center where Israel’s president lives and provides visitors with behind-the-scenes access to a Jewish community.
“This is a landmark project for Jewish Heritage month for New York,” Williams said. “This is a turning point for the museum, and to have the opportunity to see one of the major landmarks of the land has been a thrill.”
The sale of rare treasures was important to the museum so that it would no longer have to put all of its funds into collections. The agency needed to redirect these funds toward different areas of the museum.
“Every time there is a sale, there is more money, and it allows us to provide more programming in other areas,” Roth said. “Maybe it’s just a couple of dollars more per visitor, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s not going to be erased.”