Gotham Logo Gotham Logo  
Books Features Timeline Archive
ARTICLES

MUSEUM AT SOUTH ST. REDUCES STAFF TO CUT BUDGET
BY ROBIN POGREBIN

July 8, 2004 Thursday Correction Appended Late Edition - Final

Still hurting financially from the 9/11 attack, the South Street Seaport Museum is eliminating several major staff positions to reduce its budget by $1 million, the museum's chairman said this week.

Among the five full-time and two part-time employees dismissed as of July 1 were the museum's ship historian, a 32-year employee; its waterfront director; and its archaeology curator. Since the 2001 attack, the museum has cut its staff to 33 members from 53.

''To put this museum on a break-even basis, we've had to cut back the payroll,'' said the chairman, Lawrence S. Huntington, a retired Wall Street executive. ''This spring we realized we had to really behave in a financially responsible way.''

Like all the city's cultural institutions, the museum -- just a few blocks from ground zero -- suffered a decline in attendance and donations after the attack, but attendance was falling even before then. Annual attendance is down to 450,000 from 700,000 a decade ago, said Paula Mayo, the executive director.

Since Sept. 11, the museum has struggled to balance its budget, even as it completed a $20 million upgrade of Schermerhorn Row, a strip of eight historic buildings along Fulton Street. The museum had a $700,000 deficit in 2003.

The redevelopment of the World Trade Center site, which could benefit the museum, is several years off.

The museum is moving its library into the Schermerhorn buildings, which were renovated in part to house a permanent exhibition on the Port of New York, and may install its offices as well.

The city gave the museum $200,000 this year, and has budgeted $600,000 for it next year. But city officials are not yet prepared to meet the museum's request for $750,000 in annual operating support toward its $5 million budget.

''The city's invested a lot of money in the museum in the past couple of years,'' said Kate D. Levin, the cultural affairs commissioner. ''We're waiting to see what their future plans are to see if it's possible to be more helpful.''

The staff cuts have the remaining employees worried. ''We're all concerned,'' said Jack Putnam, who has been with the museum for more than 20 years and runs its Elderhostel programs.

Norman Brouwer, the ship historian, who oversaw the museum's library, was dismissed on June 22.

''I'm very disappointed,'' Mr. Brouwer said. ''The purpose of the place was serving as the maritime museum for the Port of New York. I wonder what's happening to that.''

Mr. Huntington said that moving the offices to the renovated buildings would not cut into the exhibition space, as some employees feared.

''We're not really eliminating programs; we're rationalizing the work force,'' he said. ''We're going to get the job done with fewer people.''

Also let go was Diane Dallal, the director of the museum's archaeology center, called New York Unearthed. ''We have over two million artifacts,'' Ms. Dallal said. ''I was told to just leave them and walk away. It breaks my heart.' '

Several archaeologists who have used or contributed to the museum's collection said they were concerned that no one would look after it or explain it to students and researchers. ''Diane was not only the conservator, but she made these collections available and understandable to people who want to do research,'' said Joan Geismar, an urban archaeologist. ''This is one of New York 's historical treasures.''

Mr. Huntington said the archaeology collection would still be accessible. ''We'll find somebody to be in charge of it, and anyone who wants to look at the artifacts we have can do so,'' he said. ''It was never going to be the center of the South Street Seaport collection,'' he added. ''It's not necessarily related to the seaport's mission, even though it comes out of the ground of Lower Manhattan.'' The seaport's mission, Mr. Huntington said, was explaining history through New York's port.

The nine historic ships that have largely defined the South Street Seaport are rapidly deteriorating because of inadequate upkeep, the museum says. Mr. Huntington said that raising money for maintaining ships was not an easy sell. ' 'Nobody wants to support them,'' he said. ''They live in salt water, and if they 're not cared for, they sink.''

CORRECTION-DATE: July 12, 2004

CORRECTION:

   An article on Thursday about job reductions at the South Street Seaport Museum in Manhattan, where attendance and donations have declined, misstated the timing of its two most recent contributions from the city and the amount of one. The city provided $200,000 for the last fiscal year, which ended June 30 - not for this year. It has allocated at least $60,000 (not $600,000) for the current fiscal year, which began July 1 - not for next year.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company The New York Times

URL: http://www.nytimes.com