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Museum of Jewish Heritage in Financial Trouble

They must increase their revenues and explore more projects.

Museum of Jewish Heritage

The Museum of Jewish Heritage, an institute tucked away at the tip of lower Manhattan, is facing hard times after years of success.

When Bruce Ratner took over as chairman of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in June, he and museum officials were optimistic. Though eight months later, there seems to be no direction for the museum and visitors are diminishing over time.

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The museum, which explores Jewish life before, during and after the Holocaust, needs to boost annual attendance, which is far below that of comparable city institutions, despite a respected collection, according to the Wall Street Journal.

They must increase their revenues and explore more projects. They should also update powerful exhibitions, such as reimagining key sections of its core exhibit.

However there has been a divide between Mr. Ratner, a prominent real-estate developer, and museum officials over the urgency of these problems, the roles of each leader and some of the solutions.

“I’m raising issues about development, I’m raising issues about programming, I’m raising issues about the management aspects of the place, ” said Mr. Ratner, 70 years old. “To someone who’s been there a long time—anybody is going to feel somewhat challenged by that and I understand that.”

When Mr. Ratner begun he had a list of more than 20 initiatives to “put the museum on the map.” They ranged from hosting four blockbuster events a year to rebranding the museum to “make it more readily identifiable to the public, ” according to a document reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Mr. Ratner said bold initiatives are essential to attracting donors and helping increase the museum’s $1 million endowment. They also need to be able to compete with surrounding institutions, such as the Sept. 11 memorable that recently opened nearby.

It’s especially important to preserve the museum, because the sole survivors of the Holocaust are dwindling with each passing year.

Mr. Ratner pointed to the museum’s third floor as an example of the slow pace of progress. It had originally moved the café and event space to expand on exhibits, but 12 years later there has been no work done to the space.

Suri Kasirer, an early supporter of the museum, said she sees a certain amount of devotion to the muesum. “Sometimes you’ve got to shake things up a little bit and I think that’s what he’s trying to do. Not shake it up for its own sake, but shake it up for a vision.”

While other museum officials believe they shouldn’t take too many risks, Ratner feels that’s the only way to go for the results they need to see.

Robert Morgenthau , who spent 15 years advocating to create the museum, served as board chairman from its 1997 opening until last summer. In an interview, he said he saw Mr. Ratner’s most important function as a fundraiser, while leaving museum leadership to Mr. Marwell.

“I think it’s done very well, ” Mr. Morgenthau said of the museum’s progress, citing more than $250 million in fundraising since its inception, the erection of two buildings and what he called “world-class” programming.

Still, budgets and staff have been trimmed, but the gap is too large said Mr. Maxwell. “We really reduced to kind of muscle and bone, ” he said.

The museum draws nearly 41, 000 walk-up visitors a year, compared with 167, 000 at the much smaller Tenement Museum, and 161, 000 at the more established Jewish Museum, on Museum Mile.

“It’s too much of a schlep, ” said William Shulman, president of the nonprofit group Association of Holocaust Organizations, of the Jewish heritage museum’s isolated lower Manhattan location. “If it were in Midtown, plenty of people would be walking in.”

Mr. Marwell disagreed. “It’s a huge advantage, ” he said, noting downtown’s growing number of tourists, residents and businesses. Although the location is far, it sits in the presence of picture perfect views of the Statue of Liberty and the New York Harbor.

The museum said in a statement that it isn’t comparable to any other area institution: “When people want to learn about the Holocaust and the rich fabric of Jewish life…they turn to us.”

Mr. Ratner nonetheless remains eager to light a fire under the institution. Without new momentum, he said, “I’m not sure what will happen to the museum and that’s what worries me.”

Originally published by JP Updates



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