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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | This past weekend, volunteers who had worked for the Seaport Museum New York before its galleries closed in February, at Bowne & Co. Stationers, the museum’s 19th-century print shop on Water Street, and on its historic ships trolled the Seaport seeking signatures for a petition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg urging that the museum, its ships and its collections be saved.
“It may be that wonderful things are happening but none of this is being shared with members or with volunteers,” said one woman, who asked not to be named. She was among the people manning a stall at Sunday’s New Amsterdam Market on South Street, dispensing literature about the 44-year-old museum’s plight and asking for signatures.
Statements from New York City departments with possible jurisdiction over the fate of the Seaport Museum and its holdings are vague.
“The City has been involved in ongoing conversations with the Seaport Museum New York to develop a transition strategy that includes a plan for financial sustainability and new leadership,” said Danai L. Pointer, director of external affairs for the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, via email. “The priority is to ensure that visitors will be able to experience New York’s dynamic waterfront history for years to come.”
A spokesman for the Seaport Museum New York confirmed the information, adding, “The Museum’s leadership has been working diligently to tackle the Museum’s ongoing financial problems, and has had to take some difficult steps in the process, all focused on the institution’s best interests.”
Most of the staff of the museum has been furloughed or fired. This past week, two more people were laid off, closing down the education department completely.
Bowne & Co. Stationers was closed down so abruptly on Feb. 14, 2011, that the employees didn’t even have time to put things away. “If you look through the window, it looks exactly the same as it did that day,” said Laura Koo Nicholas, one of the volunteers.
If the antique lead type used on the 19th-century presses were damaged or lost, the materials would be difficult or impossible to replace, Nicholas said.
Though not as specific as they might have preferred, the news that the City is actively involved in planning for the museum’s future should be somewhat heartening to the groups that call themselves Save Our Seaport and Friends of Bowne. On Saturday, June 4, with the historic fireboat John J. Harvey spewing plumes of water in the East River to call attention to the Seaport petitioners and on Sunday, June 5, at the New Amsterdam Market, volunteers collected more than 550 names to add to those already submitted to the Mayor’s Office.
“We’ve been getting a positive response from the community,” said Kerry Nolan, one of the volunteers, who lives on Pearl Street. “Some people were not aware of what’s been going on, but when we tell them, they’re outraged.”
As Richard Dorfman, the last master of the Pioneer — the museum’s 19th-century schooner — asked at the May full board meeting of Community Board 1, “Why is the museum being allowed to fall into the state that it is now? Why is the Pioneer being allowed to sit at the dock when it could be working, every day, all through the summer? Ask the Mayor’s Office why this is being allowed to happen?”
On June 21, people who want to know the answers to those questions will be able to pose them to Frank J. Sciame, chairman of Seaport Museum New York, who has promised to appear at a meeting of Community Board 1’s Seaport Civic Center Committee. To accommodate what is expected to be a large crowd, the meeting, which starts at 6 p.m., will be held in the community room of Southbridge Towers at 90 Beekman St.
In the meantime, the volunteers will be continuing to collect signatures protesting the deplorable state of the museum and urging action before it is too late.