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Tenement Museum Announces New President
Annie Polland will lead in an unprecedented time in the institution’s history
12/8/2020, New York, NY– The Tenement Museum Board of Trustees announced today that Dr. Annie Polland has been named the institution’s next President, effective January 2021. Polland served as Executive Vice President of Programs and Interpretation at the Museum from 2009 to 2018 before becoming Executive Director of the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS).
Polland will replace Dr. Morris J. Vogel, who has served as president since October 2019, a position to which he returned after serving as Tenement Museum president from 2008 until his initial retirement in 2017.
“We are thrilled to welcome Annie back to the Museum as our new President!” said Merryl Snow Zegar, Board Co-Chair. “Annie has proven herself a dedicated, caring, and insightful leader whose background as a historian along with her depth of creative programmatic experience make her an exceptional choice to lead our Museum forward through these unprecedented and difficult times to an even brighter future. “
Since March, the Museum has struggled to survive in the midst of the pandemic shutdown, focusing primarily on driving philanthropy and engaging audiences through digital and virtual content. Polland takes the reins at a crucial moment in the institution’s history.
“What the Tenement Museum does is nothing short of magical—bringing strangers together on an immersive tour of history, inspiring them to draw connections between past and present, and in the process forging connections with one another,” said Polland. “Our country needs this now more than ever. We need to delve into our nation’s complex history, and we need to do it together. While I cannot wait until people once again crowd Orchard Street to take a Tenement tour, I am eager to rejoin the Museum’s fantastic staff to envision the most accessible and dynamic virtual tours possible, reaching new audiences far and wide.”
Polland is an accomplished scholar and museum visionary, with a trademark approach of weaving together physical spaces, historical scholarship, and facilitated storytelling to amplify the stories of immigrants and migrants. As EVP of Programs and Interpretation, she launched the Tenement Museum’s two newest exhibits, Shop Life and Under One Roof, which infused cutting edge interactive projection technology into historically recreated spaces for the first time. This use of technology allowed visitors to forge deeper connections and understanding with the historical stories shared in the exhibits, and led to the Museum winning the American Alliance of Museums 2013 Multimedia Installations Muse award. In 2013, she launched the first crowdsourced digital storytelling exhibit of its kind, Your Story, Our Story, now used in thousands of classrooms across the country.
“Annie has shown her dedication for institution building through her countless program initiatives at the Tenement Museum during her first tenure and more recently in her role as Executive Director of AJHS,” said Fordham University Associate Professor Christina Greer, Museum trustee and author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream. “Now more than ever, New Yorkers need a cultural institution to help situate the importance of immigrant narratives into the larger American context. Annie’s deep commitment to telling the stories of everyday New Yorkers makes her the ideal scholar and leader for this next phase of the Tenement Museum. I am so excited for the new and innovative ways she will lead the museum post-pandemic and post-recession. She has the intellect, the energy, the dedication, and the vision for this moment.”
The Museum is set to break ground on a capital funded project to stabilize its flagship historic building at 97 Orchard Street in late 2021, preserving the National Landmark tenement for future generations. This project will include the installation of a new exhibit recreating the Lower Manhattan tenement home of a Black family in the 1860s, contrasting race and ethnicity more explicitly in its in-building tours, comparing and contrasting the experiences of Irish immigrant and Black communities on the Lower East Side. The Museum also plans to launch Reclaiming Black Spaces, a new walking tour addressing the erasure of Black history in Lower Manhattan in spring 2021.
Vogel noted that leading the Museum had been the great privilege of his professional life: “I have every confidence that Annie will bring the Museum to ever greater heights, creating programs that will serve as models of what thoughtful, engaged, and effective museum leadership can accomplish. She is a brilliant hire.”
Polland brought her wealth of experience to AJHS, where she transformed the traditional archive into an accessible sphere by inviting people in to engage with the stories hidden on the shelves. Her largest initiative turned a handwritten copy of Emma Lazarus’s famous poem “The New Colossus,” kept in an archival box on AJHS’s shelves, into the Emma Lazarus Project, a curriculum, exhibit, and poetry contest. Polland successfully shifted the nationally recognized project—initially launched in December 2019—to an online format after the pandemic struck and AJHS closed. The project developed a new virtual costumed interpreter program and partnered with the 92 Street Y to host poetry workshops. These grew into larger conversations around COVID-19 and race and identity in America following the unrest that followed the June 2020 killing of George Floyd.
Executive recruiters Phillips Oppenheim assisted the Museum in this search.
About the Tenement Museum
Since 1988, the Museum has forged emotional connections between visitors and immigrants past and present, through educator-led tours of its historic tenement buildings at 97 and 103 Orchard and the surrounding neighborhood, enhancing appreciation for the vital role immigrants play in shaping America’s identity. The Museum has become one of New York City’s preeminent cultural and educational institutions, welcoming more than 278,000 visitors, including 55,000 students, each year. The Museum now aims to use every medium at its disposal to dramatically increase the impact of its programming—reaching millions not thousands—with its message of how immigrants built and continue to build America.