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Tenement Museum President Morris Vogel Announces Retirement

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Morris Vogel on Orchard Street. Photo courtesy of the Tenement Museum.
Morris Vogel on Orchard Street. Photo courtesy of the Tenement Museum.

A big transition is ahead for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. The Orchard Street cultural institution announced today that Morris Vogel, its president during the past eight years, will be retiring this coming summer.

In a statement, board co-chairpersons Merryl Snow Zegar and Scott Metzner said, “We have been so appreciative for the brilliant leadership that Morris has brought to the Tenement Museum over the past decade… He has managed to successfully transform and expand this museum into the world class institution it is today, and amplify its influence on the national immigration debate that has been increasingly in the news.”

The board has formed a search committee, which will oversee the search for a new president. Online job listings popped up for the position earlier this week.

Vogel will remain president of the museum through the opening in July of a new exhibition called “Beyond the Melting Pot,” which will tell the stories of Puerto Rican and Chinese immigrants, as well as Holocaust survivors. It’s part of a $12.5 million expansion of the institution at 103 Orchard St.

Vogel arrived at the museum in 2008, succeeding co-founder Ruth Abram, who served as president during the institution’s first 20 years. As a press release noted, the Tenement Museum nearly doubled in size during Vogel’s tenure and also doubled its annual attendance to 238,000. During the past several years, two new permanent exhibitions opened and new programs were added, including neighborhood walking tours and evening events. He led a successful campaign to have the U.S. Congress recognize 103 Orchard St. as a National Historic Site and opened a new visitor center.

In the weeks following  the presidential election, the Tenement Museum has found itself in the middle of the contentious national discussion around immigration policy. Tour guides have received training to deal with a growing number of negative comments from visitors about today’s immigrants. Vogel has preached tolerance and underscored the museum’s conviction that, “immigration allows us to become more than we already are as a people.”

In September, we sat down with Vogel for a wide-ranging discussion. We covered some of the institution’s past controversies, including ill-fated efforts for a Lower East Side historic district. Vogel also talked about the museum’s vision, which has come into sharper focus in recent years.

“What we want people to see,” he said, “is that the stories (we tell) are not just relevant to today, but they shape who we are and they influence the kind of decisions we make in the present.” The new exhibition, Vogel explained, offers, “a chance to overwhelm our visitors with the fact that the (Tenement Museum reflects what’s) happening on your streets. This is why your city or community looks the way it does. This is why the country faces the issues it does and (new immigrants are) a strength to draw on in negotiating those issues.”

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