The facade of the Brooklyn Museum with an installation by Deborah Kass and Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine. (image courtesy Brooklyn Museum)

The Brooklyn Museum in New York City has received a massive capital investment from the Department of Cultural Affairs — $50 million, the largest single gift in the institution’s history. The funding, announced yesterday by Mayor Bill de Blasio, will support gallery renovations and energy-efficient updates.

Located in the Brooklyn borough’s Crown Heights neighborhood, the museum is one of the oldest in the US and the third-largest in the city. The multimillion-dollar infusion will support “a transformative plan” for the 120-year old, city-owned building, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. That plan includes updating 40,000 square feet of collection galleries on the museum’s fourth and fifth floors; making infrastructure improvements throughout; creating more space for after-school programs; and establishing a new, permanent gallery devoted to the history of Brooklyn.

The last capital project on a similar scale was in 2004, when the museum redesigned its front plaza and glass pavilion at a cost of over $60 million, a spokesperson told Hyperallergic. (The funds for that renovation did not come in a single gift, making the most recent investment unique.)

In a statement, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Gonzalo Casals described the institution as “both a community anchor and an encyclopedic museum.”

“This transformative contribution to the Brooklyn Museum will ensure that this historic facility can continue to engage communities across Brooklyn and beyond for generations to come,” Casals said.

While many echo Casals’s remarks, others have voiced the opposite. In recent years, the Brooklyn Museum has faced backlash from local activists, notably the group Decolonize This Place, who believe the institution has fallen short in its mission of serving its diverse surrounding community. Last summer, 59 then-current and seven former employees penned an open letter that challenged the image of a social justice-oriented institution, alleging staff mistreatment and inequities.

This year, over 100 Brooklyn Museum workers across departments, from curators to visitor services representatives, voted to unionize. They cited job security, pay equity, and upward mobility, particularly amid a wave of pandemic-related furloughs and layoffs, among their primary concerns.

The Brooklyn institution is not the only local museum to receive a major infusion from the city in recent months. This September, the city announced a $26.4 million allocation for the expansion of the Queens Museum, including adding 50,00 square feet of galleries and making significant facilities repairs.

The city’s $50 million investment, said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been in the release, “emphasizes the administration’s commitment to ensuring that the great cultural institutions across the City are able to meet the needs of our changing boroughs.”

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is the News Editor at Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...