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Crippled with Debt, American Folk Art Museum to Sell Its Building to Museum of Modern Art

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We’ve known that New York’s American Folk Art Museum has been struggling financially since last summer, when it was reported that the museum was “unable to make upcoming payments on a $32 million bond it borrowed from the City’s Trust for Capital Resources.” At the time, they said the troubles stemmed from opening an expensive new building in the same decade as when the bottom fell out of the economy, which led to plummeting attendance numbers and fewer endowments (an issue that has plagued the whole industry now for years). Adding to the uncertainty, it was announced last week that the museum’s director, Maria Ann Conelli, would be stepping down as of July to return to academia. Though they’ll still have to hunt for her replacement, the financial issues now seem solved. In a release by the museum earlier this week, they’ve announced that the Museum of Modern Art has agreed to buy the American Folk Art Museum’s building. After the sale is complete, they will be moving to a smaller space in Lincoln Square. However, given that their future home is “only 5,000 square feet, one-sixth the size of the building it is selling,” it’s likely a given that a portion of its current staff will be laid off (this also helps possibly explain Conelli’s exit). As for how this will affect the financial weight they’ve been carrying, the NY Times reports, “Neither museum would say what MoMA was paying for the building, but the folk art museum’s president, Laura Parsons, said it was enough to retire the museum’s debt.” It’s expected that the MoMA will use the new space, and the vacant lot that separates the two, for future expansion plans. For a bit of history on the Folk Museum’s troubles, and how this deal came to pass, we recommend reading ArtInfo‘s great report.

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