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How are museums growing institutional resources? How are museums working with their communities? How are museums using their exhibitions and collections in new ways? Explore original articles by MANY staff about NYS museums. 

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  • January 30, 2023 9:12 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    In 2021, the National Park Service (NPS) selected the Bowne House to join the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. It is the first location in Queens to join more than 700 other sites admitted to the Network since the National Park Service founded the program in 1998. The Network to Freedom program reviews applications from sites, research facilities, and programs with verified connections to the Underground Railroad. The program was created via legislation titled the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998 to honor, preserve, and promote the history of resistance to enslavement through escape and flight. 

    The Bowne House

    The Bowne House was the home to nine generations of abolitionists and prominent New York Quaker activists. Built around 1661, it is the oldest house in Queens and is the best preserved example of Anglo-Dutch residential architecture in the country. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a designated New York City Landmark. “We’re best known for John Bowne, the founder of the house and the patriarch of the family who emigrated from England in 1649 and his later non-violent protest against Governor Peter Stuyvesant –his courageous defense of religious freedom,” said Rosemary Vietor, Vice President of the Bowne House Historical Society’s Board of Trustees. “Recently, we’re focusing on the connection with the Underground Railroad and the Network to Freedom. The program designated us as a facility, not a site. The house originally had 400 acres, and within our archives we believe that we located a place where freedom seekers were concealed, but that site no longer exists. Therefore it is on the strength of our archives that we were awarded this designation.” 

    The Bowne House archives includes thousands of documents, letters, photographs, maps, architectural drawings, and more that span over 300 years, from 1661 to the museum’s founding in 1945. “Nine generations of the Bowne and Parsons families safeguarded the house and its contents,” said Charlotte Jackson, Archival Consultant to the Bowne House Historical Society. The archives offer a unique look into the history of the house, families, and community over the centuries. Many of the documents are original to the property and were carefully handed down through generations of Bowne and Parsons families. “We have almost everything in our archives that documents historically significant events,” said Veitor. “We have archival materials of the family discussing their views on the American Revolution as Quakers. They were reluctant to participate…some did and some didn’t. Others were involved in spearheading the move for public education in New York State in the early nineteenth century. Our archives are really like a repository of all sorts of different facts of Queen’s history.” Other stories that can be found within the archives are about horticulturists, political and religious leaders, artists and writers, and Walter Bowne, who was the 59th mayor of New York City from 1829 to 1833.

    “We don’t know precisely where the Parsons hid enslaved people seeking freedom so although Underground Railroad conductors definitely lived at the Bowne House, we cannot claim that the house itself was a station in the sense that freedom-seekers were sheltered within its walls,” said Jackson. The Parsons ran a nursery business and family farm that occupied over 200 acres. “It would have been more discreet to hide people in remote outbuildings or even in the woods and marshes adjacent to the Flushing Creek,” said Jackson. Most of this land was sold and is no longer part of the Bowne property. The property now belongs to the NYC Parks Department and to be designated as a site under the Network to Freedom rather than as a facility, the NYC Parks Department would need consent and involvement to apply as a site. “However, the Bowne House Historical Society still owns the museum collections, including the archives, so the Society was able to apply for status as a research facility.”


    One of the documents discovered within the archives was a letter of introduction carried by a enslaved person seeking freedom which as Jackson describes was discovered by chance in 2016 during a research project on the Parsons nursery. It was the first documentary evidence that confirmed a long-rumored status of the Bowne House as a stop on the Underground Railroad. “Part of what made the experience so moving was that I didn’t discover the letter in a large university or government archive. The charm of the Bowne House is that due to the nine generations of continuous ownership by the same family, we encounter its collections –artifacts and documents– in the same setting where they were originally read and collected,” said Jackson. “I read the letter sitting in the very house where the letter had almost certainly been handed to and read by William Parsons and then preserved for decades.” 

    From the Bowne House Archives, Letter, S.S. Jocelyn to William Parsons, Sept. 28th 1850. 

    The letter is addressed to William Parsons, Esq. at Flushing and signed by Jocelyn with a request to care for a Person of Color and get him to safety but keeping him hidden before he can continue onto his journey east or north. Jackson notes that the signature was done by a shaky hand, so much that the document was mistakenly labeled “L.I. Jocelyn” when the museum inventoried the collection in the 1980s. L.I. Jocelyn was determined to be S. S. Jocelyn, short for Simeon Smith Jocelyn, a prominent abolitionist and social reformer and is also best known for his role in the Amistad Affair. The letter itself was carried by the freedom-seeker. “Knowing that makes the experience of handling this letter seem more intimate. But the letter still contains a mystery that likely will never be solved –its bearer’s identity and his story,” said Jackson. “The words ‘this is a strong case and great care and caution are required’ suggest a dramatic backstory, even by the standards of the Underground Railroad. It’s surprising to me that the Underground Railroad letter was preserved at all. Most such notes would have been discarded as soon as they had served their purpose—maybe even destroyed. After all, they constituted evidence of a crime and could potentially endanger all parties involved.”

    The Bowne House archives includes obituaries for Samuel and Robert Bowne Parsons that describe their long-term involvement in the Underground Railroad but any real time documentation was usually not kept nor advertised. “These activities were conducted below the radar and they did not publicize the work that they were doing,” said Vietor. “The Quakers were opposed to slavery early on where there was actually a prohibition against enslavement where if you did not free those you had enslaved, you were excommunicated.”

    Application Process

    The National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom accepts applications twice a year (January and July) which go directly to the NPS Underground Railroad Regional Manager. The main components to the NPS Network to Freedom program are to educate the public about the historical significance of the Underground Railroad, provide technical assistance to organizations that are identifying, documenting, preserving, and interpreting sites, travel routes and landscapes related to the Underground Railroad or that are developing or operating interpretive or educational programs or facilities, and to develop a Network of sites, programs, and facilities with verifiable associations to the Underground Railroad.

    One of the principal objectives of the program is to validate the efforts of local and regional organizations and make it easier for them to share expertise and communicate with the NPS and each other. 

    “We reached out to the Regional Administrator as early as possible for guidance in understanding the application,” said Ellen Spindler, a Bowne House volunteer who led the application process. “I would encourage other applicants to start as early as possible, read the application, decide what category best applies since it impacts the kind of evidence required (site, facility, educational program), read the extensive instructions and map out a strategy of compiling all of the known evidence and how to research for additional information in support of the application.”

    Any element (site, facility, educational program) nominated to the Network must have a verifiable association to the Underground Railroad. These associations must be verified using professional methods of historical research, documentation, and interpretation. The supporting evidence must be documented in the application using specific citations that would allow the reader to recreate the research. “The instructions for the application describe the difference between primary sources, secondary sources, etc. and the weight which might be given to various kinds of evidence,” said Spindler. “We needed to include both historical and geographical information and a bibliography which took some time to compile, in addition to the other evidence. Geographical information and historical maps were quite important.” 

    To be nominated to the Network of Freedom as a Facility, the Bowne House had to exceed a minimum level of accuracy and professionalism. Under accuracy, the NPS attempts to ensure that the history of the Underground Freedom Network is portrayed accurately by members of the Network to Freedom. Therefore the source material on which interpretation and presentation of information are based must be precisely described in the application. Sources should include primary materials and should be as specific to the story presented in the program or facility as possible. 

    The Bowne House submitted three primary sources of direct evidence. The first was the letter describe above and “a letter of introduction of Robert Bowne Parsons, another Bowne resident, by Lewis Tappan, a well-known abolitionist, to Gerrit Smith, an Underground Railroad agent upstate, on a letter with an engraving of a kneeling enslaved person on it,” said Spindler. The third evidence submitted was a letter to Robert B. Parsons by the treasurer of the New York Vigilance Committee about his fundraising and safeguarding the funds for the organization in the Queen Library. The Bowne House also submitted obituaries about the third brother Samuel B. Parsons, who lived across the street after marriage, that describes in detail how he assisted in numerous escapes after hiding freedom seekers on his property. “We were very fortunate to have our archives and relevant correspondence preserved in books and other repositories, and newspaper articles/obituaries,” said Spindler. 

    Under professionalism, the NPS does recognize that many facilities and programs operate on a volunteer basis with limited resources. Therefore, rather than requiring professional qualifications for the staff, the Network to Freedom focuses on a professional approach to activities such as interpretation or curation that will indicate a high-quality presentation of the history of the Underground Railroad. 

    Another goal of the Network to Freedom is to increase public knowledge and understanding of the Underground Railroad, so providing access to information is a critical component of facilities. Facilities must demonstrate a willingness to share information with the general public and researchers. Facilities also must be able to demonstrate that key staff members have an appropriate level of training and a record of operations through a measurable output such as a past and ongoing production of a journal or reports. 

    “I was initially worried that having such a small number of items that directly relate to the Underground Railroad would be insufficient to qualify us as a facility,” said Jackson. “However, in our application I emphasized that our documents illustrate the broader context within which the Parsons made their decision to participate in the Underground Railroad.” In the Bowne Houses’ application to the Network for Freedom, it cites that while the Parsons did not make the decision to participate in a vacuum; their choice arose from nearly 200 years of lived experience and evolving Quaker philosophy which left traces in the archives. “Quaker descendants and scholars draw explicit connections between all these experiences and the Quakers’ anti-slavery activism, and our documents can illustrate such connections.”

    What’s next

    A year after the Bowne House received Network to Freedom membership, staff and volunteers continue to work to make their archives and research accessible to the public with a mapping project that will expand on the Brown House’s role in the National Underground Railroad and the Underground Railroad occurring in Flushing. In September 2022, the Bowne House received a grant from the National Underground Railroad to Freedom to research, identify, and map Underground Railroad networks and escape routes used by freedom seekers through relatively unknown channels of Queens and Long Island. 

    The project, Mapping the Underground Railroad at the Bowne House: Flushing & Beyond will document the museum’s ties to various Underground Railroad networks, the broader abolitionist movement, and other Black history sites throughout Queens and Long Island. “We want to map out the network of sites and other grounds that freedom seeks passing by the Bowne House would’ve used,” said Vietor. “This software will allow us to include archival media like photographs, documents, audio and visual recordings, and text to different locations as well as superimpose historical maps on present day maps.” This project will also allow staff to continue research in the museum’s archives, interview Black history scholars and New York City historians, and create multimedia programming including story maps and walking tours. 

    “This place is an amazing place,” said Vietor. “I knew very little when I got involved but you are always finding something. It’s remarkable and never static. It brings great joy to rediscover things that have been hidden. This house and its archives is a survivor and I’ll quote Margaret Mead (cultural anthropologist) “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

    Learn more about the Bowne House: and read more about the archival document that was the first documentary evidence that confirmed a long-rumored status of the Bowne House as a stop on the Underground Railroad 

  • January 24, 2023 4:13 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)


    Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation Awards $150,000 to the Museum Association of New York

    Funding to support three years of virtual programming and professional development opportunities for Long Island museum professionals

    The Museum Association of New York (MANY) is thrilled to announce that the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation has awarded a three-year, $150,000 grant to support MANY’s virtual programs and provide professional development opportunities for Long Island museum professionals.

    "The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation supports impactful projects that lead to the growth of our regional historical societies and museums. RDLGF specifically seeks projects that help organizations with outreach and inclusion, which ultimately leads to institutional sustainability. MANY's professional development offerings are an invaluable resource and aid in educating these groups in governance, collection policy, educational outreach and community engagement." said Kathryn M. Curran, Executive Director of the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation.

    This grant provides instrumental support for three years of MANY’s free virtual programming and will feature museum professionals from across the country to share their experiences and case studies of program activities in order to help museum professionals gain new skills. Virtual program topics will include Community Engagement and Outreach, Diversity, Equity, Access, and Inclusion Strategies, Museum and School Partnerships, Collections Management and Deaccessioning, Climate Change: Facilities and Green Building Strategies, Programs for New Americans, and more. All programs will include ASL interpretation. 

    Funding also supports an increase in professional development opportunities for historical societies and museum professionals on Long Island to attend MANY’s annual conferences and The Museum Institute at Great Camp Sagamore, a multiple-day retreat in the Adirondacks with a focus on advancing the work of mid-career museum professionals. 

    “At the onset of the pandemic, the Museum Association of New York made a commitment to make all of our virtual programs free,” said MANY Executive Director Erika Sanger. “This generous grant from the Gardiner Foundation enables us to expand our virtual program offerings and keep them free for museum professionals across New York State and beyond.”

    To learn more about MANY’s virtual programming and professional development scholarship opportunities, please visit

    # # #

    About the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation

    The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, established in 1987, primarily supports the study of New York State history. Robert David Lion Gardiner was, until his death in August 2004, the 16th Lord of the Manor of Gardiner’s Island, NY. The Gardiner family and their descendants have owned Gardiner’s Island since 1639, obtained as part of a royal grant from King Charles I of England. The Foundation is inspired by Robert David Lion Gardiner’s personal passion for New York history. For more information visit:

    About the Museum Association of New York

    The Museum Association of New York is the only statewide museum service organization with more than 700 member museums, historical societies, zoos, botanical gardens, and aquariums. MANY helps shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities. Visit and follow MANY on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn @nysmuseums 

  • January 24, 2023 4:07 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)


    Museum Association of New York Awarded $10,000 in Recovery Funding from the New York State Council on the Arts for Regional Meet-Ups and Roundtable Discussions

    MANY also awarded $49,500 in Support for Organizations

    The Museum Association of New York (MANY) has received a Regrowth and Capacity grant of $10,000 from the New York State Council on the Arts as well as $49,500 in Support for Organizations in FY 2023. This funding will help support MANY’s regional meet-ups and “Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Museum” roundtable discussions focused on exploring issues in the museum field based on the recently published collection of essays in “Change is Required: Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Museum.”

    “Extending the conversations begun in ‘Change is Required’ comes at a crucial time as New York museums emerge from the continued challenges of the pandemic, reconsider how to engage with our altered communities and understand how our role as museums has shifted in the past five years,” said Brian Lee Whisenhunt, MANY Board President and Executive Director of The Rockwell Museum. “MANY is incredibly thankful to NYSCA for supporting these programs and providing a space for this dialogue in every region in the State.”

    Meet-ups and roundtable discussions will be hosted by museums across New York State. The series will launch on Wednesday, February 8 at the American Museum of Natural History from 5 to 7:30 PM. With NYSCA’s support, we are able to make all meet-ups and roundtable discussions free with advance registration. 

    The responsive funding of NYSCA is providing nearly 1000 organizations with over $13 million in recovery support in FY23, as part of their historic $90 million in grant making and $150 million in multi-year capital support.

    “This unprecedented funding continues our investment into the vital role that the arts contribute to the health of the economy, our communities and our citizens,” said Governor Kathy Hochul. “As we continue our comeback, we applaud the strength and innovation of arts organizations across the state and are all the better for their hard work and dedication.”

    “NYSCA applauds Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature for their historic investment of $240 million for the nonprofit arts and culture sector,” said Mara Manus, Executive Director of NYSCA. “As we continue rebuilding the arts across our New York, the Museum Association of New York will play a vital role in the renewal of our state’s economy and creative ecosystem. Congratulations on your award from the entire NYSCA team.”

    “Council congratulates the Museum Association of New York on their grant award! These grants are from the people of New York State, for the future of New York State,” said Katherine Nicholls, Chair, NYSCA. “Arts and culture are crucial to the health of our citizens and the economic vitality of our communities and we recognize the contributions of NYSCA grantees to the lives of all New Yorkers.” 

    To learn more about MANY’s regional meet-ups and “Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Museum” roundtable discussions, please visit

    Regional Meet-Ups and “Preparing for the Post-Pandemic Museum” Roundtable Discussions

    Wednesday, February 8 –American Museum of Natural History

    Wednesday, March 22 –Oneida Community Mansion House

    Wednesday, May 10 –Planting Fields

    Thursday, June 1 –The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center

    Monday, June 12 –George Eastman Museum

    Wednesday, June 14 –Finger Lakes Boating Museum

    Wednesday, September 13 –Thomas Cole National Historic Site

    October –Buffalo AKG Art Museum

    More program dates and details to be announced.

    # # #

    About the New York State Council on the Arts

    The Council on the Arts preserves and advances the arts and culture that make New York State an exceptional place to live, work and visit. The Council upholds the right of all New Yorkers to experience the vital contributions the arts make to our communities, education, economic development, and quality of life. To support the ongoing recovery of the arts across New York State, the Council on the Arts will award funding in FY 2023, providing support across the full breadth of the arts, including dedicated support for arts education and underrepresented communities.

    The Council on the Arts further advances New York’s creative culture by convening leaders in the field and providing organizational and professional development opportunities and informational resources. Created by Governor Nelson Rockefeller in 1960 and continued with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature, the Council is an agency that is part of the Executive Branch. For more information on NYSCA, please visit, and follow NYSCA’S Facebook page, Twitter @NYSCArts and Instagram @NYSCouncilontheArts. 

    About the Museum Association of New York

    The Museum Association of New York is the only statewide museum service organization with more than 700 member museums, historical societies, zoos, botanical gardens, and aquariums. MANY helps shape a better future for museums and museum professionals by uplifting best practices and building organizational capacity through advocacy, training, and networking opportunities. Visit and follow MANY on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn @nysmuseums 

  • January 03, 2023 1:10 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Sunrise over the Chemung River in Corning, NY. December 2021

    Dear Members, Friends, and Colleagues,

    I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy new year and thank all who made a donation to the Museum Association of New York in 2022. Your generosity helped us close the year on a high note. I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at our annual conference and at gatherings around the state. I’m excited to learn about all of the great things you have planned for 2023.

    Museum people are the most creative people I know. We are planners and achievers trained to make the best of limited resources under less-than ideal circumstances. We have all been tested by the events of the past three years, become catalysts for change, and from what I have gleaned from conversations with so many of you, we have hit walls and kept going to a place far past where our creativity can thrive. I believe it is time to reframe expectations of ourselves and our museums. My hope for 2023 is that you will take pride in your work, communicate your value authentically, and construct achievable timelines with realistic budgets. I hope you give yourself the space, time, and resources to experiment, to reach beyond your comfort zone, and to fail forward without thinking that you didn’t work hard enough. I hope you can find ways to restore and reclaim your creativity, whatever that means to you. 

    A museum director recently wrote saying that they were looking forward to attending MANY’s conference because whenever they discuss challenges with colleagues, they leave with dozens of ideas that would have never occurred to them alone. I hope that we will all be able to spend more time together and that we will build time in our schedules to learn from each other. I hope that you will be able to grow your network and form supportive partnerships. 

    At the last gathering of museum professionals I attended, a board member leading a merger of organizations asked me if it would be better to call themselves a museum or a historical society. I replied that as long as they crafted a mission statement that embraced history and art, and followed through with clear communications to share the new, combined mission, either proposed name would be greatI hope you will find ways to define your organizations outside of long-held biases and set new standards for how museums can create and execute business plans. I hope you will discover new ways to not only sustain your museum financially, but center it as an integral part of your community while fostering it as a destination. I hope you will invite someone on a tour of your museum who hasn’t visited before, listen to feedback courageously with an open heart, and design engagement strategies to broaden your audiences. The name of your museum is important, but your collection, your work, and how you tell stories may matter more. 

    For the past two years, MANY has been helping 95 museums close the gap in their technological capacities by providing hardware, software, and training. We know the gap is very large for some, less so for others, and perhaps funding can only address part of the problem. What we have learned is that given tools and training, museum professionals can tell stories in ways unimaginable less than a decade ago. I hope that you can combine collections and research with digital technologies to share stories that accurately reflect New York’s peoples, our histories, and our cultures. I hope that by sharing those stories and partnering with like-minded organizations and colleagues we can advocate for our relevance, help support our democracy, and actively speak out against racism and anti-Semitism wherever and whenever they are found. 

    I hope for all that I have written and so much more for New York’s museums in 2023. I hope we can repair endangered historic structures that house unique collections, I hope we can restore and exhibit works of art languishing in storage to enrich our visitors’ experiences, I hope we can take action to ameliorate our museums’ negative environmental impacts, and I hope that come next January, diversity, equity, inclusion, access, and justice grow to be even more significant for our field. I know you will help each other and your museums move creatively from hope to plan and from plan to action.

    With sincerest thanks,

    Erika Sanger, Executive Director

  • December 21, 2022 9:00 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Dear Members, Supporters, and Friends,

    It may be a cold December day outside of the MANY office with holiday lights filling the streets of Troy and ice beginning to form on the banks of the Hudson River, but inside we are celebrating new growth bursting through buds on tree branches. With a record number of proposals for conference sessions, more scholarships to award than ever before, and leaders of the field nominated for Awards of Distinction, we are focused on our 2023 annual conference “Finding Center: Access, Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement” that will be held in Syracuse from April 15th to the 18th. Mark your calendars, conference registration opens on January 23!

    Syracuse is in the Central Region of our state, and the home of the Onondaga Nation,

    the Central Fire of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. It is a walking city filled with marvelous architecture, universities, theaters, boutiques, and great places to eat. People from all over the world have come to call Syracuse home. The arts, culture, and food of the city reflect that diversity. 2023 conference registration rates will remain the same as 2022 and we are doing our best to keep special event prices low to allow as many people as possible to participate. 

    World renowned museums in the Central Region and downtown Syracuse will open their doors to conference attendees for tours, programs, and special events. The historic Hotel Syracuse, restored to its 1924 glory, will be our conference headquarters. Syracuse is easily accessible. It is a two-and half hour drive from both Albany and Buffalo, round-trip flights from New York City airports can be found for under $300; we have a Delta Airlines discount code we will share when we open registration. The Syracuse Amtrak station makes train travel a great option. 

    We are honored that Omar Eaton-Martinez, the Senior Vice President for Historic Sites at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, will be our keynote speaker. Concurrent session presenters will share their experiences and offer actionable solutions to help New York museum professionals successfully meet the challenges we face and exceed expectations of our funders, supporters, and communities. Sessions with prompts to generate discussions will generate new ideas and shared visions for the future of museums.

    I wish you all joyous holidays and a very happy new year and look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in Syracuse in April. 

    With thanks,

    Erika Sanger

  • December 21, 2022 8:35 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, New York

    When New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation allocated Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site capital funding ($20 million) for the renovation of its buildings, grounds, and a new permanent exhibition, the goal was to secure the structure and reinterpret the Manor's history to help visitors better understand the complex relationships that took place at the Manor from its construction during the Dutch Colonial period to the American Revolution, and beyond.

    The Philipse Manor Hall project is part of New York States’ Our Whole History initiative that seeks to bring equal presence to all of the peoples involved in building New York. Built in the 1750s, Philipse Manor Hall was the property of four generations of the Philipse family, one of the wealthiest families in colonial New York. While past exhibitions and lectures documented the role that African and Indigenous peoples contributed to New York State history, the new permanent exhibition and the Virtual Wing website connect the Philipse family history at this site to the worldwide events that resonated at the confluence of cultures in Colonial New York, Westchester County, and at the Philipse Manor - Munsee Lunaape, European, and African.

    “The Our Whole History initiative was part of the State of the State Program in 2021,” said Lavada Nahon, Interpreter of African American History for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and project lead. “I’ve been involved with the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site Project from the beginning… from the conception of the new museum interior, the storyline, exhibitions, to the finished product.”

    The Manor reopened in November 2022, and the number of visitors is expected to double from 15,000 to 30,000 by the end of 2023.


    Interpreter of African American History for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and project lead Lavada Nahon with New York State Governor Kathy Hochul during the site’s reopening on November 16, 2022


    Access and a More Inclusive Visitor Experience

    Renovation work included electrical upgrades, restoration of the interior plaster, woodwork, and floors, exterior masonry, wood shingle replacement, and major landscape improvements. In addition to the historic preservation work, the building and grounds were also updated to improve accessibility including a two-story addition at the rear of the building for new restrooms and an elevator. Exhibitions were designed to meet the needs of multilingual speakers, people who are hard of hearing, people with low vision, and visitors with wheelchairs and walkers.

    “One of the major goals of this project was to make it fully ADA accessible,” said Nahon. “Yes, there are the traditional words on the walls, but you can also hear languages, smell, touch, feel… we’re inviting people to touch things. If we don’t want people to touch something it’s behind a case, but there aren’t many things behind cases.” Nahon was inspired by visits to other museums across the state. “Being in a state with some of the world’s premier museums I wanted to see what we could do at Philipse Manor. I looked at other museum websites, at their virtual tools, and exhibitions.”

    The new exhibitions tell the story of the Philipse family, the Indigenous people from whom the Philipse lands come from and with whom the family did business, and enslaved Africans from whose work and trade the Philipse family prospered during the pre-Revolutionary War era. These expanded permanent exhibitions tell the full story of a multicultural and international environment of the colonial period and share this complex history with visitors.


    A look at the new permanent exhibition with interactive panels


    QR codes and augmented reality are incorporated throughout the exhibition. “We want people to use their phones and experience this history differently. My goal for this site was not to invent anything new, but to bring the State up to common and current practices.” “There was no part of the site that was not touched. It was a digital dead zone in the middle of a major urban center.” The QR codes on exhibition panels give greater context, linking back to the museum’s Virtual Wing. “The exhibition is information dense,” said Nahon. “Which means it is open for people to return to again and again. Information is shared through multiple learning levels and styles, from traditional exhibition panels to AR experiences. We want people to visit with the openness to learn.”


    Virtual Wing

    From the initial renovation plans for the physical building, Nahon pitched the creation of a virtual wing as a place for additional content. “It’s a wing of the museum, an extension of it.” The website is devoted to additional historic and interpretive content including a 360-degree interactive virtual tour and material that links to the QR codes within the exhibition, blog, and educational resources.

    “We have a website via the State like all other state historic sites, but this site is specifically for additional content,” said Nahon. “Its purpose is to support additional research because even as we were doing research for this site and its re-interpretation, Nick Dembowski [Executive Director at the Van Cortlandt House] was researching the Kingsbridge area and found sixteen more people enslaved by the Philipse family. Although it was too late in the development of the physical exhibition to include this new information on the panels, having the virtual wing allowed us an important place to include it.”

    Historians have identified at least 115 named individuals who were enslaved by the Philipse family at their properties in Manhattan and Westchester. The Virtual Wing lists them all and recognizes that some will forever remain unnamed, but should not be forgotten. “One of the advantages of the Virtual Wing is that we can stay on the cutting edge of research and share it with the public. We can’t afford to print wall panels fast enough.” Research on New Netherland-has increased over the last few years providing much needed insight into primary documents. The Virtual Wing includes this ongoing research as well as documentation from Philips family members’ wills, probate inventories, and censuses. “It’s necessary for us to have a way to continue sharing new discoveries and to foster people’s research, and curiosity.” said Nahon. “If we were in the South, we’d be 5 to 10 books away from these primary documents. But for us, we are still heavily in the document phase.”


    Homepage of Philipse Manor State Historic Site’s Virtual Wing at


    An Accelerated Timeline

    The original timeline for this project was 12 months; it was completed in 18. “Usually, a project of this scope is 3 to 5 years,” said Nahon. “We communicated on a constant basis across the entire team, capital and exhibit. Philipse Manor Hall is a very significant historic structure.  Accommodating the exhibit vision and having it all go well meant that it was a complete team effort. The project included Erin Moroney, the Architectural Conservator; Patricia Kirshner, as the Capital Project manager; Saratoga Associates, the architects; and many other subcontractors, as well as the IT department, legal, contracts, etc.”

    Inside Philipse Manor before and after renovations with the new permanent exhibition.

    Lavada Nahon led the exhibits section and guided a large team that involved NYS Parks Division of Historic Preservation’s staff members, including Senior Curator Amanda Massie, Interpretive Programs Coordinator Kjirsten Gustavson, Historic Preservation Program Analysts Cordell Reaves and Mary Patton, and Director of Collections Travis Bowman; Parks regional staff members, including Regional Director Linda Cooper and the Regional Capital Team of Garrett Jobson, Kurt Kress, Patrick Kozakiewicz, Tom Murray, Daniel Lewis, and Alton Malcom; Philipse Manor Hall site staff members Charles Casimiro, Steve Oaks, and Michael Lord; Director of the Division for Historic Preservation Daniel McEneny; andSpecial Assistant Chloe Hanna. At the end of November 2022, the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site Team was awarded a Special Service Award from New York State Parks, which recognizes extraordinary achievement and continuous outstanding service or acts of valor by Park staff.

    “Erin [Moroney] and I met every morning to touch base before we jumped into our separate parts. What helped me a lot is that I came from having experience managing large projects. One of the things that I am always grateful for is that my baseline is theater. In theater you learn to work as a team and with a deadline because curtains are going to rise whether you’re ready or not and that means you have to be solution-driven. There were two cases that were going to be installed in two closets,” said Nahon. “But there were large electrical panels in both closets. We’d previously gotten clearance from our code person that it was okay, but then he retired and someone new came in and said we couldn’t install the cases as planned. That was it, the answer was no. I had to stop, take a breath, and look around at the space and figure out my options. How were we going to be flexible? So we just moved it; it was already on casters, so we moved it. It wasn’t the original design, but we needed a solution. Sometimes you have to compromise.”

    The team also included a five-person advisory team; an exhibition development team from Amaze Design; digital components by Trivium Interactive; and fabrication by Split Rock Studios.


    Unexpected Challenges

    One of the main challenges that Nahon and her team faced centered on the lack of understanding of New Netherland/New York’s colonial history and the lack of knowledge about the Philipse family’s history across multiple generations, among the local community. “The narrative that had been shared at the site and adapted by many in Yonkers did not jibe with the truth,” said Nahon. “The fear was that bringing a more accurate story forward meant that we would vilify the family that is considered the founders of Yonkers.”

    That concern is making it difficult to correct historic narratives across the country. “If we are not glorifying someone, then we are automatically vilifying them is a very prevalent fear being pushed. But we want to reexamine the choices people made and who did and did not benefit from them. To reexamine ‘truths’ and bring forward not just the shiny good bits. We are a country grappling with the fact that our nation is built on stolen lands and slavery. This information is challenging and being shared when other social challenges are being managed, so it makes for a difficult journey for many.”

    This also meant that the design team needed to learn more about New Netherland/New York’s colonial history. The design team is based in Boston and had just completed a project for the Concord Museum. “They joined the Philipse Manor project and thought that it was the same colonial history that was happening in Massachusetts, but we’re not Massachusetts. We were colonized by the Dutch, not the British, and the Dutch operated very differently, and had a lasting impact. So, we had to help them understand the Dutch system first. We were fortunate that Michael Lord, a long respected Philipse scholar from the Upper Mill property was available. He is now the site manager.”

    What’s next?

    There are two major statewide projects for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: the 250th anniversary of the American Revolution and the Commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the Gradual Emancipation Act, which was the second piece of abolition legislation passed in New York in 1817. This act built upon the 1799 Gradual Manumission legislation by declaring that any African American born before July 4, 1799 would be freed on July 4, 1827. However, the first legislation stated that those born after July 4, 1799 would not be freed until the age of twenty-one years for both women and twenty-eight for men or July 4, 1827. Many enslaved would remain in bondage, reclassified as indentured servants until the 1840s.  The commemoration exhibits will seek to clarify the mystifying process of granting freedom throughout the colonial period, culminating in statewide commemoration, hosted by individual historic venues of all kinds where people were enslaved. 

    “My overarching plan is to clear up this history surrounding freeing someone who had been enslaved,” said Nahon. Many New Netherland historians and scholars support the notion that those enslaved in New Netherland were treated like indentured servants. “But they weren’t. They were being owned by a people from a culture that did not previously have slaves. To create a new area of legislation within the Dutch legal system, they took the closest thing they had and started adapting laws and regulations based on indentured servitude, and that was their starting point. That doesn't mean that those enslaved were treated like indentured servants. This is where the Dutch laws and regulations around slavery began. This is where I want to start.”

    Although still being drafted, planning is centered on creating a multi-level experience geared to helping people understand what it took to free an enslaved person, ending with commemoration ceremonies across the State on July 5, 2027. “There was a major movement within the Black community to not celebrate on July 4, 1827 for fear of reprisals. July 5th was purposefully selected. It will discuss what the Act did and did not do as well as honor those held in bondage and bring awareness to their contribution and sacrifices. Nahon’s plan is to track these changes across the different historic sites beginning with Crailo State Historic Site, one of the earliest houses in the Dutch period. “I do hope all colonial sites and historic societies will begin making their own plans, while I craft them for the state. This is an important anniversary, that goes hand in hand with Rev War 250, and the years following it in our state’s history. I am hoping the entire colonial historic community supports it. 

    “This is the time to honor the people who were manumitted and who were held in bondage. It’s also the time to help the public understand that a lot of what we are dealing with now as a nation started with the first people enslaved and when they were freed. Would they or would they not become full active citizens and Americans?  Are their descendants now?”


    Learn more about Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site and explore the museum’s Virtual Wing:

  • December 21, 2022 8:00 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Governor Kathy Hochul announced that a total of $68 million was awarded to support 74 projects across New York State through the 2022 Regional Economic Development Council initiative. This round of funding included core capital grant and tax-credit funding from Empire State Development. 25 museums across New York State received $9.7 million.

    The Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY was awarded $25,000 to expand and enhance their marketing strategies and partnerships.

    Capital Region –2 museums totaling $180,400

    Thomas Cole National Historic Site, $120,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Women, Land + Art Marketing Campaign Tourism Working Capital

    Thomas Cole National Historic Site will use grant funds to implement and promote “Women, Land + Art: Showcasing the Hudson River School for Contemporary Audiences”. This project will expand the reach of NYS’s heritage by expanding the story to include historic and contemporary women.

    The Sembrich, $60,400

    ESD Market NY Program

    The Sembrich Centennial Marketing Initiative Tourism Working Capital

    The Sembrich Museum will use grant funds to enhance marketing presence leading to the facilities centennial in 2024. Marketing efforts will expand in local and regional publications, social media campaigns, digital & print advertisements and new geographic targeted markets.

    Central NY –1 museum totaling $25,000

    Everson Museum of Art, $25,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Everson Museum of Art Marketing Initiative Tourism Working Capital

    Everson Museum of Art of Syracuse will use grant funds to support an expanded and enhanced marketing strategies, partnerships, and collateral. The Everson will welcome visitors from across the country, state, and region to engage in unique museum experiences, support the region’s rich art and culture scene, and contribute to the post-pandemic revitalization of downtown Syracuse and Central New York through increased tourism and tourist spending dollars.

    Finger Lakes –2 museums totaling $254,283

    Strong National Museum of Play, $175,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Play Rochester 2023: A Collaborative Tourism Driver Tourism Working Capital

    Play Rochester is a collaborative tourism marketing project created and led by The Strong utilizing grant funds to drive tourism to the Rochester region by marketing to targeted audiences within a 5-hour drive and providing online resources for consumers to create tailor-made packages when planning their trip. Through online and TV marketing that features both The Strong and partnering cultural institutions, the project promotes the region and its cultural assets.

    Genesee Country Village and Museum, $79,283

    ESD Market NY Program

    Eclipse and General Marketing Tourism Working Capital

    Genesee Country Village and Museum (GCV&M) will use grant funds to develop and promote new programming to attract visitors, combining education and entertainment with rural character, local agriculture, authentic foodways, and diverse storytelling. The Museum will also use the 2024 eclipse to draw visitors to view the event from GCV&M and stay locally.

    Long Island –2 museums totaling $127,000

    The Museum of American Armor, $60,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Heritage Marketing Tourism Working Capital

    The Museum of American Armor, a WWII living history destination, will use grant funds to implement a marketing campaign that seeks to reach an international and national tourism market and increasing the awareness of The Museum of American Armor and increasing overnight tourism to Nassau County, and the overall Long Island region.

    Southold Historical Museum, $67,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Southold Rediscovered Tourism Working Capital

    Southold Historical Museum will use the funds to support the planning and implementation of a tourism marketing plan with the goal to showcase on a regional, national and international basis, the significance of the Southhold Historical Museum.

    Mid-Hudson –2 museums totaling $1,600,000

    Dia Art Foundation (Dia Beacon), $400,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Dia Beacon Tourism Capital

    Dia Art Foundation will use grant funds for critical renovations to the tourism destination. Capital improvements that include: a facade restoration addressing climate control/energy efficiency issues; relandscaping of an area impacting accessibility; creating more accessible gender neutral and family restrooms; and replacement of the HVAC system.

    Storm King Art Center, $1,200,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Storm King Art Center Tourism Capital

    Storm King Art Center will use funds to fund a portion of a capital project that includes two building elements: a Welcome Sequence (WS) and a Conservation, Fabrication, and Maintenance (CFM) Building. These updates to the tourism destination will further enhance the experience of residents and visitors.

    Mohawk Valley, 2 museums totaling $457,500

    The Farmer’s Museum, $52,500

    ESD Market NY Program

    The Farmers Museum Tourism Attraction Rebranding and Website Redesign

    The Farmers’ Museum (TFM) requests marketing funds to undertake a major rebranding effort and build a state-of-the-art, easy-to-navigate website that captures and conveys the museum’s vibrant personality, attracting visitors to Cooperstown and the Mohawk Valley.

    Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, $405,000

    New York Main Street Homes and Community Renewal Program (HCR NYMS)

    503 Henry Street Stabilization

    Munson-Williams will structurally stabilize 503 Henry St., an unoccupied architecturally significant residence in downtown Utica.

    New York City, 6 museums totaling $3,979,400

    New-York Historical Society, $1,250,000

    ESD Grants

    New-York Historical Society/American LGBTQ Museum Partnership Project, $1,000,000

    The New-York Historical Society (“N-YHS”) will expand its current building on an N-YHS-owned adjacent lot, with the top floor housing The American LGBTQ+ Museum, a new institution dedicated to preserving and sharing LGBTQ+ history and culture. Including new galleries, classrooms, and outdoor spaces, the expansion will facilitate collaborative educational resources integrating LGBTQ+ history and filling gaps in K-12 curricula and allow N-YHS to increase by tens of thousands the number of students, teachers, and families served.

    ESD Market NY Program

    New-York Historical Society/American LGBTQ Museum Tourism Capital, $250,000

    The New-York Historical Society (N-YHS) will expand its current building. Currently, the top floor of the building is housing The American LGBTQ + Museum, a new institution dedicated to preserving and sharing LGBTQ+ history and culture. This partnership will create a new tourist destination and increase visitation for New York State, and the overall NYC area.

    New York Botanical Garden, $461,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    NYBG Green Library Tourism Capital

    New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) will use funds granted to implement The Green Library project, a construction project that includes procurement and installation of two 140-ton HVAC Chiller units, pumps, supply and return piping, insulation, connection to the existing fire alarm and building management systems. The project, when completed, will have both clear energy reduction benefits and add to NYBG's ability to welcome guests from around the corner and across the globe.

    American Museum of Natural History, $150,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    American Museum of Natural History Digital Marketing Campaign Tourism Working Capital

    The American Museum of Natural History in New York City will use grant funds to execute a marketing campaign targeting international and regional audiences to grow visitation to New York State and the Museum.

    Lower East Side Tenement Museum, $218,400

    ESD Market NY Program

    Tenement Museum Marketing Tourism Working Capital

    The Tenement Museum will use grant funds for a tourism outreach campaign that will draw local, regional, and international visitors to NYC’s Lower East Side for the re-opening of our historic landmark tenement and the launch of a new exhibit.

    New Museum of Contemporary Art, $1,800,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    New Museum of Contemporary Art Expansion Tourism Capital

    The New Museum, a leading contemporary arts museum on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, will construct a 55,000 sq. ft. addition adjacent to their current facility. This capital expansion will double the Museum’s footprint, improve public circulation, enhance indoor air quality and energy efficiencies, create an increase in permanent staff, raise annual attendance, and drive additional City and State tax revenue

    American Museum of the Moving Image, $100,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Special Events Marketing Tourism Working Capital

    American Museum of the Moving Image will utilize the grant funds to implement and promote multiple series of special events that attract filmmakers and tourists from Queens, all of NYC, NYS, the US, and abroad. The diverse slate of events will attract new audiences, including many overnight visitors.

    North Country, 3 museums totaling $461,900

    Fort Ticonderoga, $211,700

    ESD Market NY Program

    Fort Ticonderoga Tourism Working Capital

    Fort Ticonderoga plans to utilize the grant funds to plan and execute a tourism marketing plan to promote Fort Ticonderoga as a multi-day experience and tourism destination, encouraging visitors to stay in the North Country longer, boosting awareness of the broad array of activities available.

    Adirondack Historical Association, $50,200

    ESD Market NY Program

    Building African American Audiences for ADKX and the Region Tourism Working Capital

    Adirondack Historical Association will use grant funds to initiate targeted marketing to African American communities and host two festivals highlighting their culture.

    North Country Children’s Museum, $200,000


    Second Floor Expansion Project

    The North Country Children's Museum will complete the expansion project and renovate the second floor of its building in downtown Potsdam.

    Western NY, 5 museums totaling $2,634,704

    Explore & More Children’s Museum, $384,704

    ESD Grants

    Explore & More Expansion Project

    Explore & More will enhance and modify the footprint of all four floors of the children's museum, improving building accessibility and increasing guest safety. It will ensure the sustainability and outgrowth of a long lifespan of the museum and its mission to provide best-in-class PLAY experiences where all children, families and the community can explore, learn, and develop together.

    Center for Kashmir, Inc, $1,000,000

    ESD Grants

    The Kashmir Museum

    Center for Kashmir will redevelop a 97-year-old abandoned church on the National Register of Historic Places, in the heart of downtown Niagara Falls, NY to house the The Kashmir Museum (TKM). The Kashmir Museum will exist to study, preserve, and share Kashmir’s history and culture with the world. Teaming up with local schools and community organizations, TKM will have year-long art, music, literary clinics, and local artist exhibitions.

    Burchfield Penney Art Center, $50,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Burchfield Penney Art Center Tourism Working Capital

    The Burchfield Penney Art Center (BPAC), located in Buffalo's Museum District, will use the grant funds to initiate a strategic marketing plan with a goal of engaging out-of-town visitation to the destination and overall Western NY region.

    Buffalo Society of Natural Science (Buffalo Museum of Science), $200,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    Buffalo Museum of Science Tourism Capital

    Buffalo Museum of Science will use the tourism grant to fund a portion of the renovations to the museum's core exhibits into a hands-on learning gallery focused on the “Science of Sport.” The new dynamic Science of Sport exhibit will stand a tremendous educational, entertainment, and quality-of-life resource for our region and become significant draw for tourism.

    The Aquarium of Niagara, $1,000,000

    ESD Market NY Program

    The Aquarium of Niagara Tourism Capital

    The Aquarium of Niagara will use the tourism capital grant to fund a portion of the construction costs to open a new cultural attraction in the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. The Aquarium of Niagara will also use tourism marketing funds to directly appeal to visitors through a regionally-based, multi-pronged advertising campaign.

    Learn more about NYS REDC here:

  • December 21, 2022 7:57 AM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    In November 2022, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced a new funding initiative –American Tapestry: Weaving Together Past, Present, and Future. This new initiative aims to leverage the humanities to strengthen America’s democracy, advance equity for all, and address the changing climate. 

    Within this initiative are new grant programs including “Dangers & Opportunities of Technology: Perspectives from the Humanities,” “Cultural and Community Resilience Program,” and “Climate Smart Humanities Organizations.”

    Dangers and Opportunities of Technology: Perspectives from the Humanities

    This grant program supports research that examines the relationship between technology and society. The NEH is interested in projects that examine current social and cultural issues that are significantly shaped by technology. Possible areas for research include climate change, racial justice, social media (disinformation and the democratic process), wealth inequality, and educational technologies. This grant program will fund research assistance, community partner participation, conducting studies or interviews, data collection, designing curricular materials, and development or production of articles, books, documentary films, websites, or other forms of intellectual output. Projects led by a single researcher may be awarded up to $75,000 and projects led by collaborative teams may be awarded up to $150,000. 

    Learn more: 

    Address Our Changing Climate

    While the NEH has previously provided technical assistance and support for cultural and educational institutions to protect and preserve collections and programs following natural disasters, the new American Tapestry initiative will “develop and implement programs that incorporate climate resilience in the nation’s cultural and education sectors and promote robust humanities research into the cultural and historical roots of the climate crisis and its impact of human language, culture, and society.” 

    Cultural and Community Resilience

    This grant program builds cultural and community resilience in the face of climate change as well as challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Funded activities include identifying and capturing cultural and historical resources, safeguarding cultural resources, collecting oral histories from individuals impacts, documenting traditional knowledge, memories of elders, practices, or technology that may inform contemporary ways of working and living, engaging in collaborative planning efforts to prepare communities for rapid response collecting, and applying insights from cultural heritage identification and documentation projects to inform local and regional community resilience strategies.

    All proposed activities must relate to either climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic. The program prioritizes projects from disadvantaged communities and the NEH encourages applications that employ inclusive methodologies. 

    The Cultural and Community Resilience funding program supports the collection of the experiences of doctors, nurses, and other emergency responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also supports the documenting of everyday community experiences during the pandemic such as lifestyle changes and shortages or losses. 

    Since this is a new grant program, the NEH offers potential project ideas including a local historical society that creates an oral history collection with reflections from first responders after wildfires or other types of climate crises or an organization that is interested in documenting and safeguarding traditional memories of Indigenous elders or other knowledge keepers during climate crisis.

    Another suggested project idea is in an area prone to wildfires, a public library, local college or university, and historical society develop a plan for rapid response collecting should a wildfire occur. One project outcome would be a memorandum of understanding outlining the goals of collecting, and the responsibilities of each partner –including outreach to the community and acting as the repository for physical and digital collection items. 

    Organizations may be awarded up to $150,000 for projects for up to two years. 

    Learn more: 

    Climate Smart Humanities Organizations

    This grant program is designed to help museums, libraries, archives, historic sites, and colleges and universities anticipate the operational, physical, and financial impacts of climate-related events on their institutions while also reducing their own impact on the environment. 

    Organizations can also use this funding to undertake activities such as energy audits, risk assessments, and meetings with consultants. The objective of this grant program is to help organizations create a climate-smart plan that establishes goals and prioritizes actions that reduce the organization’s impact on the environment through mitigation and vulnerability from extreme events through adaptation. The NEH emphasizes that strategic planning for climate change is an essential part of sustaining humanities organizations’ operations and activities, thereby becoming climate smart.

    An organization’s climate action plan evaluates alternative energy sources, identifies building improvements that would result in increased operational efficiencies and lower energy use, landscape improvements (such as reforestation or native groundcover to support better environmental conditions and offset carbon producing-activities), encourage lower-carbon transportation options for visitors, staff, and operations (such as bicycle and pedestrian access, public transportation, and ride-sharing), and establishes organizational recycling, composting, reuse, and waste reduction plans.

    Funded project activities include a comprehensive energy audit of an organization’s building, land use, utilities, operations, and facilities, a calculation of an organization's carbon footprint, testing of the existing HVAC system, or the installation of energy, waste, or carbon footprint monitoring and sub-metering equipment to measure consumption.

    Organizations can reach out to their local energy company to see what kind of services they offer, explore the Department of Energy’s Energy Star Portfolio Manager or the Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory tool, or search for local climate action plans published by New York State or local government. 

    The maximum award amount is $300,000 for up to 2 years. This grant program offers federal matching funds for comprehensive organizational assessments that lead to strategic climate action and adaptation plans. In order to receive federal matching funds, recipients must raise $1 of non-federal, third-party funds for every $1 requested from the NEH. This match must be raised by July 21, 2024. The total project budget includes the funds requested from the NEH plus the required match. 

    Learn more: 

    Funding for Small and Mid-Sized Organizations

    Another new funding program that will launch in 2023 is the “Public Impact Projects at Smaller Organizations.” This is a program designed specifically to help small and mid-sized cultural organizations to increase the impact, reach, and excellence of their public programs. The main goal of this grant program is to help smaller organizations expand their impact, reach, and public programming. Grant awards will support a variety of activities that will focus on either strengthening interpretive approaches for future programming or enhancing community engagement with public programming. More information will be available in early 2023 with an application deadline in summer 2023.

    Learn more about these and other funding opportunities from the NEH here:

  • November 29, 2022 3:56 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Balsam Fir growing at the edge of a granite quarry that closed for industrial purposes in 1960, making this tree approximately the same age as the Museum Association of New York.

    The last weeks of 2022 bring MANY’s sixtieth year of service to the museum field to a close. Despite the recent hardships we have all experienced, we stand stronger now than ever before. As I look back over all that we have accomplished, I am proud of the ways we brought museum professionals together in person and virtually for critical discussions about contemporary museum practice. I am continually inspired by my colleagues who generously share their time and expertise and I write now to ask for your financial support. 

    MANY’s in-person programs help museum professionals meet new people and form new connections. In 2023, we will host programs in every region of the state to discuss strategies to prepare and envision post-pandemic museums. We will begin those discussions on February 8th at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. We are excited to be in Syracuse from April 15-18 for “Finding Center,” our 2023 annual conference. I am pleased to announce that Omar Eaton-Martinez, Senior Vice President for Historic Sites, National Trust for Historic Preservation will join us as our opening keynote speaker on Sunday, April 16. 

    Federal and state pandemic grants helped us absorb the increasing expenses of the past two years. Project support grants help us to provide free, virtual programming. But as we move into 2023, our budget can no longer shoulder the impact. We need your support before December 31. Your donation, no matter the amount, will help us continue to serve the needs of our museum community.

    You can use the secure donation page on our website: or send a check via USPS to: Museum Association of New York, 265 River Street, Troy, NY, 12180.

    With thanks for all the ways you support MANY, 

    Erika Sanger

    Executive Director

  • November 29, 2022 3:54 PM | Megan Eves (Administrator)

    Natalie Stetson is the Executive Director of the Erie Canal Museum in downtown Syracuse, NY. She previously served as the Director of Development at the Seward House Museum in Auburn, NY. Natalie has spent much of her career thinking about and finding ways to engage new audiences at history museums and connect museums to their community. 

    Natalie received a BA at the Honors College of Florida Atlantic University with concentrations in American Studies and Literature. She later attended Syracuse University and received an MA in Museum Studies. Natalie grew up in museums and followed in the footsteps of her father, who received his MFA in Museum Studies (then called Museology) from Syracuse University thirty years before she attended.

    Natalie joined the Museum Association of NY Board in April 2018 and is the co-chair of the Program Committee Chair of the Host Committee for our 2023 Annual Conference in Syracuse “Finding Center: Access, Inclusion, Participation, and Engagement” April 15 - 18, 2023.

    We spoke with Natalie to learn more about her career path and her leadership in the development of a new interpretive plan for the Erie Canal Museum.

    Natalie Stetson, Executive Director of the Erie Canal Museum sits on a recreated canal boat in the historic 1850 Weighlock Building 

    What other jobs have you had in the museum field? Can you tell us about your journey to get to your current role?

    My dad is a museum director so I grew up in museums. He’s been working in museums for over forty years across the country including Iowa, Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Louisiana, and New York. His first museum job was at the Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University.

    I’ve volunteered in many different museum positions including art classrooms, the gift shop, and the front desk. My first paid museum job was a front desk job at my dad’s museum in Central Florida. I worked the front desk on the weekends while I was in high school but I didn’t mean to go into the museum field. Outside of volunteering and working at the front desk, I didn’t spend a lot of time in museums and wasn’t thinking that’s what I wanted to do. 

    It’s a time that I now look back on and it makes sense that I’m working in museums. Those early experiences led me to work in a museum now, but I didn’t know it at the time. I wanted to be a teacher and that’s what I worked toward in college. Later I realized that teaching wasn’t something that I wanted to do, but I wanted to work in education. 

    After college, I started looking at graduate programs in museum studies or American studies. I don’t like writing. It doesn’t come easily to me so I wanted to pursue something without a thesis dissertation. When I was growing up, my aunt was working on her PhD and for my entire childhood, she had a dissertation to write. I just imagined the burden of that dissertation or that thesis on my shoulders. I didn't think I would finish it and get my degree. It made me think that maybe academia wasn’t right for me. I ended up taking a year off after college and moved to Portland Oregon with my best friend. It was at this point that I thought about pursuing a career in museums. 

    Museums seemed to check all the boxes in what I was looking to do in my career. I started looking for graduate programs in museum studies. I applied to a few but ended up choosing to attend Syracuse University because they offered me the best deal. I actually only applied to Syracuse because my dad got his master's in museum studies at Syracuse University. My dad’s mom also went to Syracuse and his grandmother. So just the idea of this legacy I thought that I’d apply but I wasn’t going to go. I didn’t see myself moving to Syracuse. I didn’t have any interest in moving to Central New York. I wanted to live in a large city where I didn’t need a car but I was convinced that I would only be here for two years to get my degree and then I would leave. But I’ve been here for over ten years now and it’s home. 

    I wasn’t sure which part of a museum I wanted to work in. I took a development class and I developed this philosophy of museum development which is if you can be passionate about what you’re doing and can convey that to others, the money will follow. That was my early development philosophy. Then I interned at the Erie Canal Museum and worked for the museum curator Dan Ward. In the first semester of my second year of graduate school, he forwarded me an email from the museum that said they were looking for a Director of Development and Marketing. I still had a semester left of school but I figured that I would throw my hat into the ring. The museum hired me and I started in November 2010. In the early days, I felt like I had no real idea of what I was doing but I had a lot of passion, energy, and ideas. I worked at the museum for three years and learned a lot about grants and their complicated nature. I left the Erie Canal Museum and worked at the Seward House Museum in a similar position for two and a half years. Billye [Chabot, Seward House Museum Executive Director] came to me one day and told me that the director position at the Erie Canal Museum was open.

    I was hired as the Erie Canal Museum Executive Director in March 2016 and in my six years here, I have really come to love this museum and the story of the Erie Canal. The canal touches upon enough things that if you want to, you can find a connection. Art, math, science, immigration, and Native American history. It’s all here and I loved that. 

    What an interesting journey and opportunity to explore different roles at museums. Did you ever have a moment when you began your museum career and look back at your childhood with your father and think about the impact it has on your role now?

    Yes. I think part of what makes me at least somewhat of a successful executive director is that I have experience working in many different parts of a museum. Having that knowledge of other roles and what they’re doing, helps me understand my staff’s needs. I think people are the most important resource this museum or any museum has and if I can't support my staff and take care of them, then we won’t be successful. Having at least some understanding of what they need without them having to tell me because some employees are better than others at telling you what they need. Having a little bit of background knowledge from my experience is helpful. 

    I think back to watching my dad interact with his staff and although he’s a different kind of leader than me, we both trust our staff. I’m not a micromanager. I trust them to do what needs to be done because we’re all on the same page with the same goals is important. They’re probably a few of my previous experiences that come up here and there that are nice reminders of all of the things that I know help me to hopefully be a better leader. 

    Tell me about some of your biggest motivations to do what you do. What do you get excited about in your role as the Executive Director of the Erie Canal Museum?

    That’s a good question because it’s changed over time. This museum is amazing, but for many years it kind of just existed. We’re a popular tourist destination which is wonderful and we can exist on that if we wanted to. When I came back as director there was a lot of foundation building we needed to create. We were down to three volunteers. We needed to build up a constituency of people who cared about this museum in the community. There also wasn’t a lot of collaboration amongst the staff. It was very much a blinders-up situation and working independently of each other. In those first couple of years, my job was hard and I didn’t always like it and didn’t always know what I was doing. 

    But then during the pandemic, there was this moment, an awakening for all of us where we thought we can do so much more with the Erie Canal story. I called it a microcosm for all of American history and we have this incredible opportunity to help people reconcile with history. People think that history is hard but it’s not. It’s not pretty most of the time, but our museum is a trusted source of information. This museum now has the support of a wonderful group of people who are letting us tackle really hard topics and allowing us to think about how we can be kind of the arbiters of change in this conversation around history. I like when I come to work each day now, really excited about what we’re going to do next and where we’re going. The team here is excited. I think we’re going to change things. We’re just one little museum in Central New York and I hope we can be leaders for other small museums. 

    For the past couple of years, we've been doing a lot of this work through our programming. We’ve been focused on expanding our interpretation. We’re talking more about the Haudenosaunee past and present. Currently, you cannot find the word Haudenosaunee in our exhibitions anywhere and that is a problem. But changing exhibitions is a lot more complicated than working to develop programming. I think developing programming and developing those relationships, the language, and establishing goals all need to happen before we start changing the exhibitions. That’s what we’ve been doing for the past couple of years. We’ve had a couple of thousand people participate in our virtual programs, but there are over fifteen thousand people visiting the museum in person, walking through the door to look at our exhibitions and our programs are not touching those people. They’re not getting that experience. 

    The museum was recently awarded $50,000 IMLS Inspire! Grant to develop a new interpretive plan as part of a larger effort to tell a more inclusive Canal story. Can you tell us more about the grant project?

    Our last interpretive plan was connected to our reaccreditation with the American Alliance of Museums in 2010 which was part of the documentation needed in order to be reaccredited. Nothing is wrong with that plan, but it’s not extensive and it no longer aligns with our current goals to tell a more inclusive story of the Erie Canal. We knew that we needed a new interpretation plan. The murder of George Floyd and the social justice movements that followed ended up being a transformative moment for a lot of museums. When that happened, many cultural institutions made statements. For us, The Canal connects to everything, and initially, we stayed silent but we knew that there were things we were not talking about and that we should be. Derek Pratt, our Museum Educator, and I got to work. Derek really dug in and created our Pathway Resistance walking tour. In 2021, we brought in a research fellow, Renée Barry, who traveled across New York State’s Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, collecting and analyzing Canal history. She focuses on how the dominant Erie Canal discourse continues to reinforce and obscure the ongoing historical context of industrialization’s radicalized inequality. This position was funded by the NYS Power Authority’s Reimagine the Canal initiative. It was a great opportunity for us and two months after Barry started, we applied for the IMLS grant. 

    We were awarded the funding from the IMLS in August and we’ve met with our consultant to outline themes and goals. We will likely completely redo the entire museum. Our current exhibition was installed in 2015. Its research is twenty years old and it’s not the story we want to tell. We want to talk about New York State before the Erie Canal, and what was happening before the ditch was dug. When this exhibition was installed it cost $700,000, so this is just the first step with a large capital campaign to follow. One donor has already contributed $10,000. 

    Can you share more about what some of the intended goals are for this project?

    There are five goals. The first one is to tell a more inclusive Erie Canal story through exhibits and programs, the second is to expand the interpretation of the 1850 Syracuse Weighlock Building, the third is to increase engagement for children and families, the fourth is to provide a more welcoming environment for marginalized populations, and the fifth is to create a more cohesive visitor experience.

    The plan will allow for strategic updates over the course of a few years or as funding becomes available. 

    We don’t know fully what this will look like but it’s important that the museum is a space that is welcoming to all people. One thing that will be critical for us is to figure out tone and language. For example, we will need to talk about the trauma the Erie Canal had on the Haudenosaunee. That’s why we’ve hired professionals and built connections with our colleagues at the Skä•noñh Great Law of Peace Center to help us. 

    What advice would you give other museums applying for an IMLS Inspire! Grant? 

    It seems like a nuanced thing but I’ve been part of some teams that try to create something that a particular grant funding will work for but then ended up with a project that there weren’t resources available to actually complete or didn’t fit within your goals. 

    When I sit down to write a grant I know that this grant is important to the museum’s goals and we’re not creating a project to fulfill grant requirements but it just aligned with what we’re already doing. 

    Can you describe a favorite day on the job?

    I can’t think of a literal day but there are days when I am not sitting at my computer and I’m leading people through the museum that I really enjoy. I’m a member of the Canal Recreationway Commission for New York State* and l led a tour a couple of weeks ago. I don’t get to do this often but it’s important because those are the days when I get to talk about our plans and goals. 

    I like watching visitors interact with a presenter during one of our programs. It’s nice witnessing the good work we’re doing rather than just being behind the scenes. 

    I also like our staff meeting days where we talk and share the work we’re doing. It’s important to get out from behind the computer and have face-to-face interaction, both with the public and with your staff. They’re the days when I look at the calendar and think I’m not going to get any work done with all the meetings, tours, and programs but at the end of the day, I feel so invigorated. Those days can be overwhelming and exhausting but they’re the best days. 

    *The Canal Recreationway Commission was founded in 1992 and comprised of 24 members representing the Canal System and appointed by the Governor to develop a conceptual framework for fostering the development of the Canal System into a recreationway system.

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