The planning process for a new gallery is about to begin at The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages in Stony Brook thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced Aug. 3 the museum was awarded $40,000 through NEH’s competitive grant program. The new interactive gallery will be called “A World Before Cars” and plans include developing a simulation ride where visitors can experience how it felt to ride in a carriage.
“The Long Island Museum has continued to do amazing work in preserving this great heritage.”
— Lee Zeldin
Zeldin thanked the NEH for recognizing the museum’s contributions of providing a source of art, history and culture to the community.
“Our local history and culture is so important to us here on Long Island, and The Long Island Museum has continued to do amazing work in preserving this great heritage,” Zeldin said in an email. “The Long Island Museum presented a strong application for this grant when compared with other applicants, and as such were able to get through the rigorous NEH selection process.”
The NEH is an independent federal agency that was established in 1965 and provides grant funding for museums, archives and libraries to promote excellence in the humanities in the country. Zeldin was among the congressmen who voted to fund the agency at $149.8 million this year, which was an increase of $1.9 million from 2016.
Funding organizations such as this is important to Zeldin.
“Our museums, libraries, art galleries, archives, and other related venues serve an incredibly important purpose, and it is imperative that they remain supported through initiatives like these,” the congressman said. “Long Island has a unique and cherished history unlike any other, and securing grants like this for our local institutions is integral in preserving our distinct heritage and attracting visitors to help our local tourism economy.”
Neil Watson, executive director of The Long Island Museum, said in a phone interview he feels the future gallery is the missing element at the museum.
The director said they submitted a proposal in 2016, and while they weren’t awarded a grant last year, they were able to rework and resubmit the proposal for 2017. He said the grant was awarded for the planning necessary to construct the gallery, and the museum will apply for another grant through the NEH to implement the plans. Additional funds will be raised to supplement both grants.
“We don’t know what’s possible yet and that’s what we want to discuss [in] the next nine months to a year.”
— Neil Watson
Watson said the proposal was one that needed time to be honed as the new gallery will incorporate history, interactive features and is object-driven.
The director said the concept for interactive elements was a result of requests from visitors to the museum, which features carriages from various eras.
“What visitors have told us often … is they want to know what it’s like to ride in a carriage,” Watson said.
The director said the planning period will take approximately a year and the gallery will be located on the lower level in a 2,500 square foot space. While they have held preliminary meetings with the architecture company Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, future meetings will include historians, curators, and they will also approach the plans from the educational and public access angles.
“We don’t know what’s possible yet and that’s what we want to discuss [in] the next nine months to a year,” Watson said.
Joshua Ruff, director of collections and chief curator, will be part of the planning process and said he was pleased when he heard the news about the grant.
“I think it’s a terrific thing,” he said. “NEH has been very instrumental in the process to renovate the carriage museum.”
The curator said the planning committee will be taking a long, meticulous look at the proposed plans for the gallery that he said will be rich in content. He said a simulation ride will give museum guests the opportunity to choose the type of horse, carriage and ride they would like to experience and feels it will add a new dimension to the museum.
“I think it will help us to connect with a new, larger audience,” Ruff said.
Watson and Ruff said the gallery will incorporate displays to show the direct correlation between cars and carriages, too.
“[A carriage] was the car before there were cars,” Watson said. “Everybody used it for industry, for everyday life, to get to one place to another. It was like a car. So we want to make that connection through a variety of activities.”
For more information about The Long Island Museum of American Art, History and Carriages, visit www.longislandmuseum.org.