T h e U k r a i n i a n M u s e u m
222 East 6th Street (bet. 2nd and 3rd Aves.) New York, NY 10003 212-228-0110
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Who Built The Ukrainian Museum?
Recently, the Board of Trustees of The Ukrainian Museum announced that a contract has been signed with the company S. DiGiacomo & Son, Inc., to begin construction of a new modern, $7.6 million museum facility on East 6th Street in New York City.
The realization of this project, which has been in the making for many years, will no doubt be a superb achievement. However, before one can revel in the grandeur of space and modern trappings that will be in place in the new building, it must be remembered that a we are not constructing a new museum, but a new home for The Ukrainian Museum, a viable institution that has been serving our immediate and greater communities for twenty-five years, as well as supported by them.
In order to appreciate the significance the Museum holds for us, as people of Ukrainian descent living on the North American continent, it behooves us to examine how this institution was conceived, and how and by whom it had been nurtured and supported to this day. In other words, who built The Ukrainian Museum?
This is a relatively simple question, but one that touches upon a subject that raises issues—some debatable, some sensitive, objective and subjective. The purpose of this article, however, is not to open a discussion, but to acknowledge the involvement of the people in our communities, to a greater or lesser degree, in the unfolding story of the Museum.
The most significant constant in the life of The Ukrainian Museum has been the gracious, continued, and most generous support of many, many people, who believed initially and continue to believe that the work of the institution and its very existence is important and necessary to the welfare of our community.
The Ukrainian National Women's League of America, Inc. (UNWLA), the largest Ukrainian women's organization in the United States, in its unofficial role as the "keeper of the hearth" of the Ukrainians immigrant population in America, for a long time held the strong conviction that our community needed a museum. The purpose of such an institution would be to preserve the artifacts and treasures that identify our cultural heritage, and by the same token, keep alive our customs and traditions. Based on an existing small collection of folk art owned by the organization, UNWLA mobilized its efforts in the 1960s and early 1970s, first - to inform the public of its intent to open a museum, and second - to raise funds for this project. Through the intensive, incessant efforts of the organization's members and the foresight and guidance of its leadership, the concept of the Ukrainian Museum became a reality.
Today, it is easy to say that the Museum was founded through the efforts of UNWLA, but twenty-five years ago this project was a challenging and difficult undertaking. The idea of a museum of Ukrainian culture had to be "sold" to the public, and money for its development had to be raised among the friends and supporters of the organization. Hard work, persistence, extraordinary generosity and strength of their convictions carried the organizers through to the realization of their goal.
In 1976 the Ukrainian Museum first opened it doors to the public and a year later attained the status of an independent cultural institution with its own charter, and from the community, elected its governing body—a Board of Trustees. Nonetheless, the members of UNWLA, through its organizational structure—Branches and Regional Councils—located throughout the country, have continued to support the institution, both financially and with time and effort. Even an individual branch was organized with the intent of channeling its activities specifically toward Museum support. As to the current building project —UNWLA and its members have underwritten the cost of the library in the new museum facility.
From the first time the idea of a museum was proposed and through today, when the construction of a new, modern Ukrainian Museum building is about to begin, there have been thousands of people whose generosity left a lasting and profound imprint on this institution. Their support is greatly appreciated and prized, for they are the underwriters and motivators of the achievements and successes enjoyed by the Museum as an inherent member of our immediate and greater community, and equal among its peers.
The Museum's supporters come from various parts of the world, although the majority live in this country and Canada: they are professional people and homemakers, business owners and leaders of institutions and organizations, members of the clergy, senior citizens and students, those who enjoy great wealth, a measure of wealth or none at all, those who have seen the birth of the Museum twenty-five years ago and are still friends of the institution, and those whose new membership applications have arrived in today's mail.
Over the years this support has come in many guises. We see it as a financial donation, or a donation to the collections, as an offering of professional expertise, or volunteering to work with a project; we see it in being a member of the Museum and taking part in various museum-sponsored programs. It appears in assuming the leadership of this institution as members of the Board of Trustees and in the dedication of its staff. It is evident in the readily-given press coverage by the Ukrainian news media, especially the newspapers. It is also seen in the conscientious management of the Museum's web site by BRAMA, its Internet host. Each and every overture to support the Museum or the interest and involvement in its activities, have been the indispensable increments of positive energy, that have created the major impetus to the rapidly escalating growth and development of the institution.
Many people have supported the Museum by specifically focusing their interest on the new building project. They have donated substantial amounts of money to the Building Fund and purchased galleries and space in the projected new building. Their confidence in the future of the Museum and their generosity prompted others to join this endeavor and help in the realization of this project.
The Museum maintains an Endowment program, which is critical to the future financial stability of the institution. Over the years many Museum supporters have joined this program, opening endowment and memorial funds, thereby helping to insure that the Museum will exist for our future generations.
A very recent singular and most generous support came from California entrepreneur Eugene Shklar, who was born and raised in a Ukrainian family in Canada, and his wife Daymel. Their donations in the sum of $2.5 million to the Building Fund and a $1 million Challenge Grant were remarkable in their magnitude and unprecedented in the history of the Museum. They provided the financial assurance that the new museum building will be built. The gifts were also intended to "encourage others to step forward with their own contributions of time or capital, in order to ensure that this institution can survive all of us and continue its noble mission for all time." (Eugene Shklar, Press Conference, The Ukrainian Museum, Dec. 11, 2000)
Since its founding the Museum has also enjoyed the considerate and generous support from Ukrainian financial concerns - our Credit Unions. They have played a major role in sustaining community cohesiveness, in building and cementing the strength and influence of Ukrainian Americans as an effective economic and cultural constituency within their individual towns, cities and states.
Because these financial institutions are entrusted with the public's money, their decision whom to support and when, must be highly rational and yet satisfy the aspirations and needs of their communities. Thus, their endorsement is coveted and greatly appreciated as an indication of what is consequential not just in terms of a singular project or an organization, but for the subsequent welfare of the entire community. Therefore, the support of our Credit Unions is immeasurably important to the Museum's validation as an institution befitting of public trust.
Self Reliance New York Federal Credit Union was one of the first among Ukrainian financial organizations to support the Museum. As the Museum's neighbor, a few blocks down New York's Second Avenue, Self Reliance New York has, through the years, kept a watchful eye on the growing institution, providing generous financial help when it was needed, thereby inspiring confidence and providing assurance.
When the new building plans were made public by the Museum, Self Reliance New York purchased a gallery in the projected new facility. Then, in April of this year, while celebrating its 50th Anniversary, the Credit Union honored the Museum with a $500,000 donation to the Building Fund. This gift, as well as the substantial financial support the institution received from them over the years, is a clear indication that the governing body and members of Self Reliance New York hold the Museum and its work in very high esteem. It also speaks about their close interest in the community and its affairs. Their support enables the community to grow and prosper, thus helping to preserve our Ukrainian identity in the multicultural spectrum of American society.
Most generous support was received by the Museum over the years from other Credit Unions as well. SUMA (Yonkers) Federal Credit Union purchased a gallery in the new museum building, as did Ukrainian Selfreliance Federal Credit Union - PA, in Philadelphia. Other Credit Unions such as Self Reliance (NJ) Federal Credit Union - Clifton, the Ukrainian National Federal Credit Union - NY (formerly the Ukrainian Orthodox Federal Credit Union), Self Reliance (Newark NJ) Federal Credit Union, Rochester Ukrainian Federal Credit Union, Self Reliance Credit Unions in Wethersfield (Hartford) CT, in Baltimore, MD and in Jersey City, NJ contributed significant sums of money over the years to the Museum and its building project.
Museum supporters are also Ukrainian organizations - civic, youth and educational in nature - some headquartered in the New York City and vicinity, others in distant parts of the United States. Their endorsement also is an important indication of their appreciation of the Museum's work.
When the Museum first announced its new building plans, regional committees in distant Ukrainian American communities were formed to raise funds for this project. But the members of these committees did more than raise funds - they introduced the work of the Museum within their communities. In 1987 the Rochester Development Committee was the first to begin working on behalf of the Museum. This group has been the longest-existing regional fundraising committee, providing substantial financial and moral support for the institution. Subsequent committees were formed in New Jersey, Washington, DC, in Colorado and Ohio.
Many of the people who have supported the Museum over the years live far away from the institution and rarely are able to visit its galleries. Yet they, like the people who live in the greater vicinity of the Museum believe that it is important for us, as Americans of Ukrainian descent to have a world class showcase for our culture in New York City, the popularly acknowledged center of political, economic and cultural endeavor in the Western world.
Perhaps by recounting the story of the Museum and focusing on who the supporters of the institution are, the answer to the question "Who built The Ukrainian Museum?" becomes obvious. The builders of this institution are we, the people of our immediate and greater communities. Whether directly or indirectly through other organizations supportive of the Museum, we, the people, have embraced the concept of a museum of Ukrainian culture. We have nurtured the institution through its fledgling years and now are eagerly awaiting to see its emergence in a new setting.
Notwithstanding the community support in all its manifestations, it must be noted that over the years city, state and federal funding agencies have helped to sustain programs and general operations of the Museum. New York State Council of the Arts particularly has been consistent in its support since the founding of the institution.
As written in the promotional literature, in its new building, "The Ukrainian Museum has the potential to develop into an active and diversified Ukrainian cultural center in New York City, serving as a base for Ukrainian-American artistic, cultural and community activities, and as headquarters for exhibitions from Ukraine."
The potential for success of The Ukrainian Museum was conceived years ago in its founding, and since then it had been fine-tuning. The Museum has done an excellent job in the last twenty-five years as an educational source, providing and disseminating information about Ukraine and the Ukrainian experience through exhibitions, publications, cultural programs and public events. It must be remembered that all this transpired on a limited scale due to space restriction, a situation that will be remedied in the new building.
When we, individually or from an organized source give to The Ukrainian Museum to support its programs or the building project, we actually give the gift to ourselves. The Museum is for all people of Ukrainian ancestry as well as for all people interested in learning about us. It is our cultural sanctuary, it is a sanctuary for the creative spirit of those who came before us and those who will come after us. The new building will be OUR HOUSE to showcase what is best in the Ukrainian culture. This will be our bequest to our future generations.
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