UPPER EAST SIDE — A museum that honors all things maternal will close the doors of its Upper East Side location in the coming months and begin searching for a new nest.
The Museum of Motherhood, or M.O.M., will leave its E. 84th Street home when its lease runs out in March, with the hopes of raising $5 million to find a permanent space for the 2-year-old institution by the end of 2015, said founding director Martha Joy Rose.
“We’re still really in our infancy,” Rose said of the transition. “We’re a beautiful idea and experiment that’s ready to launch in a more permanent way on the New York City landscape.”
M.O.M. has grown from a storefront experiment in Westchester to a full-fledged Manhattan museum in the decade since Rose first conceived of the idea. In 2003, she began displaying books and “momorabilia” — a big get was a spatula signed by Bette Midler — in her small Dobbs Ferry store before realizing that while there were museums for all sorts of arcane subjects (toilets, UFOs) there wasn't a space dedicated to exploring motherhood. From there, she developed her initial display into a traveling exhibit that she showcased at various events and online.
In 2011, the owners of an Upper East Side Gymboree at First Avenue offered Rose a space they were vacating as a four-month pop-up museum. Fittingly, she opened on Labor Day weekend with an exhibit entitled “Mother the Job.”
“When I went into this, I knew nothing about museums,” she said. “I just knew that I was a mother and an artist and I knew that there was something to this idea of telling mothers’ stories.”
Thanks to the outpouring of support from academic institutions and organizations such as Gymboree and the YWCA, Rose was able to stay in the space for 16 months beyond the original timeframe.
Since then, M.O.M. has functioned as a gallery space, classroom and clubhouse for all things related to child rearing, offering programming that ranges from lactation consultants to Munchkin Music Club. One room houses the permanent exhibit, another provides a playspace for kids. The museum hosts an academic conference, offers an "Introduction to Mother Studies" course and maintains a lending library.
There are kitschy touches, too, like weighted pregnancy vests to try on, realistic crying dolls and posters advertising Rose’s band, Housewives on Prozac.
It's an unusual mashup designed to expand the conversation, Rose explained.
“This is meant to push the boundaries of what we thought was acceptable in terms of motherhood and to start a dialogue about what’s appropriate, how do we do this, when do we do this,” she said.
The museum's current exhibit, “Nurture” by Cyma Shapiro, explores what motherhood is like for women who have or adopt children after the age of 40. Shapiro said that having spaces like M.O.M. is vital to society's changing understanding of the role of mother.
"Places like the M.O.M. museum bring home the message that motherhood is no longer just the 'Leave it to Beaver' model," Shapiro said. "I hope that the work we're doing now will be a stepping stone for the next generation so that women have lots of different models of choices for fulfilling lives."
In 2013, M.O.M. received support from the Museum Assessment Program, which helped Rose create a business plan and develop relationships with mentors in her field. During this process, she also came up with her fundraising goal.
The $5 million she seeks will go toward purchasing a building, possibly a brownstone or a larger building in need of some renovation, Rose said. She is open to staying on the Upper East Side, but is also looking at the Upper West Side, Harlem and parts of The Bronx. As she hunts for a space, the museum's displays may travel; Manhattan College has expressed interest in hosting an exhibit.
Rose has not yet settled on a development strategy for the museum’s next stage, but expects that funding will come from a combination of grassroots donors, grants and a few corporate investors.
"We've been staffing the museum largely with interns so we feel confident that we can keep our programs going," she said of how the funds will be distributed. "Right now, we're really focused on real estate and finding a permanent space."