Museum of NYC Cultural History Finds Home in East Village

By Serena Solomon on February 17, 2014 7:14am 

EAST VILLAGE — A museum and center dedicated to the city's cultural history is taking its exhibits and events to the East Village, after finally securing its first true home in nearly three decades.

City Lore moved into the former Lower Eastside Girls Club space at 56 E. First St. in October and is gearing up for its first exhibit there in April, which will focus on images of graffiti and trains. In addition to showing artwork and historical objects, City Lore will hold workshops, classes and poetry readings at its new base.

"What people remember most is where the program took place, so to define City Lore in people's mind, it was important to have a place," said Steve Zeitlin, 66, who founded the organization in 1986.

City Lore's 1,500-square-foot headquarters will help the organization continue its mission of preserving the stories, history and traditions of New York City's diverse cultures, Zeitlin said.

Its first exhibition in its new home will feature images by Henry Chalfant, a pioneer in hip-hop photography. The show opens April 3.

"From floor to ceiling, the walls will be covered in images of his trains," said Zeitlin, adding the show will have an interactive element.

Some of the future exhibits will focus on the local area, including the history of the nearby Catholic Worker soup kitchen or the history of photography on the Lower East Side, Zeitlin said.

City Lore has long operated from an office at First Avenue and East 1st Street, but it has never had its own gallery, relying instead on sharing exhibition space with other organizations across the city.

Zeitlin had thought it would be impossible to afford a gallery in the East Village, so he started looking into renting a storefront in Midtown or teaming up with other groups to split the pricey rent.

But when he heard about the Lower Eastside Girls Club moving out last June — the two organizations have collaborated in the past — he quickly applied to take over the spot, which has below-market-rate rent under a city program that sets aside spaces for community organizations.

"It frees us up to do our own programming in our own space and be in full control of our programs, which you never are when you are in someone else's space," Zeitlin said of City Lore's new home.

Even with the East First Street gallery, Zeitlin said City Lore will continue to use the entire city as an exhibition space, holding programs in areas that connect to the subject matter. The organization will also continue running an artist residency program at P.S. 11 in Woodside, Queens.

"We still think of ourselves as a museum without walls," Zeitlin said.

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