The American Museum of Natural History – Failed US Tax Policy

The American Museum of Natural History – Failed US Tax Policy

The American Museum of Natural History (AMHN) is causing a disaster on the Upper West Side, and could care less.   It is a failed museum, albeit in a wonderful location on the West Side of New York.   If one goes into the museum, they will find extensive exhibits related to natural history, most of which have not been relevant since the turn of the Century – the turn from the 19th Century to the 20th Century.  

As a result, I can give a child – any child – between the ages of 4 and 14 an IPad and they can learn more about natural history in 30 minutes than they could learn in three hours (or three years) inside the museum.

The museum isn’t just antiquated, it is poorly laid out and completely inefficient in its current use of space.    Approximately 80% of the museum’s built complex seems to be office space used to support an inflated administrative staff and  museum “research” -- but not research that appears in any way to support the role and mission of the museum.

One need only drop down to Washington to see the National Museum of Natural History and to see all that such a museum can be (and it is free compared with over $100 to take a family of 5 to the AMHN).  Even Chicago, a city in catastrophic decline, has a better natural history museum in the Field Museum. 

Yet, the museum is not held accountable to anyone in order to maintain its tax exempt status.  In fact, is seems terribly clear that its tax exemption allows it to continue to exist, to become less relevant and, now, to flail and to harm.

And it is about to cause real harm to New York.  It appears, in spite of considerable and sustained community appeals, that the Museum will be allowed to take up still more precious land now used as park and much needed public space to build still more brick and mortar facilities attached to what is already its badly utilized and excessive space.

Rather than be forced to become more relevant and more efficient with its space in order to continue to justify its non-profit status, the museum is now being allowed to seize what little parkland around it remains in order to create a mall with a food court so that it can become yet another beacon for New York tourism.  It is a sad comment on our time that an institution, especially a non-profit one, can turn its back on the public and the need to preserve green space.  And, worse, it looks as though a non-profit can do most anything today, anywhere in this city and elsewhere in America, without consequences.  

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