In a most curious fundraising initiative, the Queens Museum of Art is drawing down on its most notorious -- and in these anxious economic times, perhaps most valuable -- asset: The Panorama of the City of New York, a built-to-scale model of the city originally built for the 1964 World's Fair. Starting Monday, the museum's new Adopt-a-Building program will allow donors - or rather, owners - to purchase deeds to one of the 895,000 structures that occupy the model's 9,335 square-foot expanse, situated in the old fairgrounds in Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Prices range from the modest to the outrageous: $50 buys an apartment, while developers can plop their mega-developments into the landscape for $10,000. Proceeds from sales will fund the museum's education initiatives; any additional funding plans have yet to be announced.
The New York Times' recent article on the subject cites logistical concerns: What if a prospective owner finds their building's gothic details reduced to a modernist cement box? (Gargoyles are difficult to render in architectural models, after all.) What about co-ops and rent-stabilized buildings? Of greater concern, perhaps, is the museum's decision to leave the twin towers intact; instead of replicating the pit that is ground zero -- or as it's known on-site, the "bathtub" -- officials have elected to wait until buildings planned for the site are completed before adding them to the model. Though the city has vowed to open the World Trade Center Memorial by September 11, 2011, the project isn't likely to be completed in its entirety until 2016.
The future of New York City's skyline remains in question -- in jeopardy, even -- as large-scale developments (including the World Trade Center rebuild) have suffered brutal financial blows. Credit lines have dried up and sales plummeted, leaving semi-finished projects languishing in a starchitect-designed limbo. As construction slows to a crawl and grand schemes become pipe dreams, nervous developers are turning to the arts to imbue their projects with a sense of cultural caché. One such strategic partnership is that of the Gwathmey Siegel-designed Soho Mews, which enjoys a professional relationship with Deitch Projects, the Art Production Fund, and the New Museum. All three are represented in the development's marketing materials: Deitch's show room occupies one of the building's unsold multi million-dollar condominiums, which extend from West Broadway to Wooster Street, while the Art Production Fund has installed its street-front exhibition space, the Lab, on the ground floor. New owners receive memberships to the New Museum, along with discounts at Moss and other neighborhood shops.
As endowments dwindle, not-for-profit institutions are scrambling to the avoid layoffs and budget cuts that seriously hinder exhibition development and museum programming. The Queens Museum has put a new and different spin on the increasingly cozy relationship between institutions and commercial development, however bizarre and even ironic an affair it may be. (Hans Haacke's then-controversial investigation of the commingling interests of the Guggenheim's board of trustees and real estate mogul Harry Shapolsky, Shapolsky et al. Manhattan Real Estate Holdings, A Real Time Social System, as of May 1, 1971, feels almost quaint when considered in this brave new world.) For better or worse, New York City's skyline will change -- the Queens Museum, however, will hopefully remain intact.
Image courtesy Uli Seit for the New York Times.