STATI UNITI | New York, an Interview with Joseph Scelsa on the status of the new Italian American Museum

As we begin 2019, what can you tell us about the status of the new museum?

Now that we have removed the Banca Stabile artifacts (vault, teller cases, light fixtures and deposit table) and placed them in storage, the demolition of the existing buildings has begun.

The developer has erected scaffolding along the Mulberry and Grand Streets sides of the existing buildings.

The anticipated building completion is by the end of this year.

         

Once the building is completed, we will begin assembling artifacts in the new museum and expect we will have a grand opening in Spring 2020. It is our hope the new IAM will become a community nexus, much like Banca Stabile was in its heyday. Of course, our focus will be history and culture. More to the point, IAM will be a permanent neighborhood anchor to help ensure Little Italy will always be an important and vibrant part of New York City. We owe a lot to the long-time businesses that have remained. The museum may be in the heart of Little Italy, but the Italian merchants are its soul.What effect do you think the new museum will have on Little Italy, whose “shrinkage” has been the subject of news stories?

What do you see as your major challenges?

Our biggest challenge is deciding which pieces from our permanent collection to display. We are working with professional design companies with expertise in this area. We have a mammoth collection so we’re evaluating how to best tell the story of the Italian American experience in New York, and in a way that draws interest and provokes thought, discussion, and emotion among visitors.

What are your fundraising and public attendance goals?

We would be thrilled to say that one million people visited the new IAM during its first year. It’s an achievable goal, and we hope to get there with a full program of exhibitions and events. Through museum visits and annual fundraising events, we will seek to keep IAM’s finances healthy.

What do you want museum visitors to leave with?

With so much interest in ancestry, we think we’re in the right place at the right time. But for the “Italians of New York” exhibit at the New-York Historical Society more than a decade ago, Italian Americans have never had a permanent place that celebrates their heritage, which includes an especially long list of achievers, many of whom are unsung. When they visit, we think they’ll be enriched by the experience as a whole, and this is crucial for younger generations.

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