JERSEY CITY - The Jersey City Museum will reopen to the public at the end of this month after being closed and in limbo since December 2010. This development comes just months after the museum building on Montgomery Street narrowly averted foreclosure after being sold to a local hospital in December of last year.
These developments could signal a new chapter in the museum's history, which recently saw the arts institution facing financial trouble and possible extinction.
With the help of volunteers, the museum's current board of directors is planning what Board Treasurer Mark S. Rodrick calls "a quiet reopening" on Saturday, June 30. The yet-to-be-titled exhibit, he said, "is going to be curated anonymously by a few curators and will essentially focus on treasures from the collection. We've purposely kept this quiet because we didn't want to involve the bureaucracy that is Jersey City."
The exhibit will be the first time the general public will be able to see any portion of the museum's 10,000-piece collection since it closed. Rodrick said the hope is that the exhibit will lead to other events and exhibitions at the museum and to a gradual reestablishment of this arts institution.
Since the museum no longer has a full-time staff, the exhibit will be open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays only.
"This is, in my opinion, our last stand," said Rodrick. "This is, perhaps, our last opportunity to do something nice and enjoyable to gain some forward momentum for the museum."
Despite the turn of events, however, the city's biggest priority for the museum - tracking and documenting the location and condition of the museum's art collection - remains largely unfulfilled, according to city sources.
Still, this is a brighter future than the one the institution faced just a year ago when the museum - which is incorporated as private nonprofit and operated by a board of directors - was on the verge of being foreclosed by Sovereign Bank.
After the United Way of Hudson County backed away from initial interest in buying the museum's building at 350 Montgomery St., the building was later purchased by LibertyHealth System, the owner of Jersey City Medical Center.
According to the Hudson County Board of Taxation, LibertyHealth bought the property for $900,000 in December 2011.
"We've taken the second and third floors for office space. We're moving 140 jobs from Secaucus and elsewhere back to Jersey City," said LibertyHealth spokesman Mark Rabson. "We can ensure the public that the air conditioning is on and, before it got warmer, the heat was on. So the artwork wasn't just sitting in the building."
PSE&G had briefly cut power to the building in 2010 due to unpaid utility bills, which led to fears the museum's art collection was being stored in less-than-ideal conditions.
"The hospital has been wonderful to work with," said Rodrick. "We were not performing on our mortgage and on our utilities because of the financial crisis. Wall Street West was no longer able to fund us, and the City of Jersey City was unable to fund us.The big news here is the collection is safe, the hospital has provided us with a lease, and there's 24-hour security at the building. So the works have never been better kept. We now have the ability to reorganize because we don't have all the costs associated with a gigantic mortgage and utilities."
In addition to losing much of its funding from private sources, the museum saw its city funding slashed in recent years.
LibertyHealth has given the Jersey City Museum a two-year lease to use the building's first floor, which also includes a 152-seat theater, for exhibits.
However, according to city sources, an inventory of the museum's collection has not been completed. Such an inventory has been a priority for the city's elected officials and residents for more than a year.
For more on this story, be sure to pick up this weekend's edition of the Jersey City Reporter, or visit us online at www.HudsonReporter.com. - E.