Museum of Chinese in America Names New Leader

The Museum of Chinese in America in the Chinatown neighborhood of Manhattan has experienced protests and resignations, a fire and legal problems. Now, the board has chosen a new leader who wants to move the institution forward and reconnect with the local community.

Michael Lee, a nonprofit executive, will be the next director, the board announced on Tuesday. In an interview, he said, “At the end of the day, I want people to know that the museum is here for four things: to preserve history, promote culture, tell our stories and celebrate our accomplishments.”

In 2020, shortly before the pandemic shutdown, a fire ripped through a building housing some of the museum’s permanent collection. Staff members were sifting through the ashes — about 5 percent of the collection was destroyed — as trustees were raising money to buy the main building, at 215 Centre Street, at the same time as the landlord was planning to sell it to developers.

In 2019, the city awarded the museum $35 million through a program for community projects as part of a deal for a local jail — money that allowed the museum to buy the main building. Museum officials said they have opposed the jail’s construction. But some residents have remained skeptical of the museum’s position, and maintain that in taking the money, officials betrayed the neighborhood. Artists withdrew their work from a major exhibition, leading to its cancellation, and to demonstrations by another wave of activists.

The frequent protests by several groups have continued. In February, nearly a dozen picketers from Youth Against Displacement, chanting, “Chinatown is not for sale” and “Boycott MOCA,” appeared outside of the museum’s Lunar New Year celebration.

Eric Lee, a museum chairman, said the new director needed to be someone who could rebuild trust with the community. So he turned to Michael Lee.Credit…Jeenah Moon for The New York Times

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