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The Presidency Project Seeks to Inform Visitors and Spark Conversation with Pop Quizzes, Special Installations, an Original Art Project, Public Programs, Family Programs, and More


New York, NY – January 10, 2017 – Coinciding with the upcoming presidential inauguration and an increased interest in the American political process, the New-York Historical Society―the oldest museum in New York City―will launch The Presidency Project, a Museum-wide educational initiative that explores the role, powers, and responsibilities of the presidency. The Presidency Project aims to survey, examine, and celebrate the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. presidency through objects from the first inauguration in 1789, historical documents about the presidency from the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and New-York Historical’s collection, engaging conversations with historians and renowned public figures, weekly quiz challenges, family programs, and historical reenactors portraying U.S. presidents. 

“As Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reminds us, the practice of democracy is something that must be taught and learned by each generation of citizens,” says Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “The Presidency Project is part of our effort to meet the critical task of educating the public about democracy, government, and the constitutional rules by which our country operates.  Our goal is to encourage citizens to be well-informed and engaged, and to take their civic responsibility seriously.”

Messages for the President-Elect
Through Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, visitors to the New-York Historical Society can add their words to Messages for the President-Elect, a special installation on view in the Museum’s glass entryway on Central Park West.  Inspired by the Subway Therapy project, the sticky notes posted at the Museum will become a part of New-York Historical’s permanent collection, along with the thousands of Subway Therapy notes recently collected from Manhattan’s Union Square subway station, following a partnership between artist Matthew “Levee” Chavez, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the NYC Metropolitan Transit Authority to preserve reactions to the 2016 election.

Historical Objects and Documents on View
A special installation will recreate the setting of the first inauguration when George Washington took the oath of office in New York City on April 30, 1789, uttering for the first time the words that every succeeding president would recite: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” On display will be an original piece of wrought-iron railing from Federal Hall that ornamented the second-story balcony where Washington took the oath of office.  Also on view will be the mahogany chair Washington sat in before he delivered his inaugural address to Congress as well as a printed copy of his speech. Families can step into a mural of Washington at Federal Hall and take the oath of office in DiMenna Children’s History Museum.

The Gilder Lehrman Institute will present a selection of documents that explore important moments in the presidencies of Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. On view will be a manuscript draft of Washington’s Sixth Annual Address to Congress in 1794, a printed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln, and a letter from 1942 in which FDR affirms  that “questions of race, creed and color have no place in determining who are to man our ships.” Accompanying the documents will be a portrait of Washington by Rembrandt Peale, a photograph of Lincoln taken by George B. Ayres in 1860, and a sketch of FDR by the Indian artist S. N. Swamy.

In the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, documents from New-York Historical’s collection will focus on the creation of the presidency and executive branch of government. On view will be notes from the Rufus King Papers, one of the few extant collections of notes on the Constitutional Convention debate, in which delegates discussed the nature of the proposed executive branch in 1787; a letter written by John Adams in 1789 in which he voices concerns about the remaining presence of “a dangerous Aristocracy” in the new government; and a letter from Washington responding to Robert R. Livingston’s request for an appointment to the first cabinet in 1789.

We the People Special Installation
Artist Nari Ward will be on site at New-York Historical creating a new artwork, titled We the People (N-YHS Version), using hundreds of shoelaces to spell out the opening line of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. We the People explores how the art object can serve to call attention to our shared connection to American history as well as issues of identity and politics that remain relevant in this country today. By enlarging this powerful phrase, Ward asks the viewers to contemplate its meaning in order to examine the legal and emotional implications associated with the rights of a U.S. citizen. Museum visitors and school children from across the city are encouraged to donate shoelaces for the project. Between now and February 1, visitors who donate their shoe laces will receive a new pair and discounted Museum admission. Visitors will also be encouraged to complete the sentence “We the people…” and add to a Preamble Wall, in place from February 20–26. From February 20–24, visitors can watch the artist and his team at work before the completed piece is unveiled on February 25. Acquisition of We the People generously underwritten by Diana and Joe DiMenna.

Presidential Quizzes: Test your Presidential Knowledge!
Every week through Presidents’ Day, visitors can take a new quiz about the presidency at the Museum and online to gain a deeper understanding of the history of the presidency and what it means to be president. Quiz questions will roll out on a loop on a digital screen at the Museum entrance as well as on an interactive tablet and on New-York Historical’s website where visitors can choose from multiple choice answers.  

Public Programs and Talks
Throughout winter 2017 and into the spring, a series of public programs will feature historians and experts as they delve into fascinating aspects of the presidency and its history over the past two centuries. On January 12, historians Sean Wilentz and Douglas Brinkley will discuss how American presidents such as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt used their leadership of the executive branch to effect lasting impact on our nation’s moral and political traditions. On February 13, celebrated presidential historians will reflect on the end the 2016 campaign season, exploring how presidents, candidates, and elections have evolved from the time of Theodore Roosevelt to the present day. On February 21, noted journalist Bob Woodward will sit down for an intimate discussion of his iconic career, including his investigation into the Watergate Scandal that led to Richard Nixon’s resignation. On March 9, a panel moderated by Leslie Stahl will explore the role of women in the White House in a talk that celebrates how women have affected the executive branch and our nation as a whole. For a full list of public programs and speakers, visit nyhistory.org/programs.

Family Programs
Every weekend from January 28–February 26, young visitors will have the opportunity to meet and interact with Living Historians portraying various presidents, cabinet members, first ladies, and other relevant historical figures. Interactive activities during the Presidents’ Day school break will offer families an inspiring way to learn together about U.S. presidents. Kids can create craft projects inspired by presidential portraits and complete the sentence “We the people…” as they watch Nari Ward construct his shoelace art installation. On Monday, February 20, Big Quiz Thing will host president-themed trivia games at the Museum, and on select days throughout the week, young visitors can meet and chat with reenactors portraying presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe and first lady Martha Washington.

About the New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s pre-eminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.

About the Dimenna Children’s History Museum
The DiMenna Children’s History Museum is a museum-within-a-museum that explores New York and American history through the eyes of children of the past. Occupying the New-York Historical Society’s entire lower level, it includes character-based pavilions, the Barbara K. Lipman Children’s History Library, interactive exhibits, and games. The DiMenna Children’s History Museum encourages children to identify with the people whose enterprise and creativity changed the course of our history. It also hosts a series of family programs, from Sunday story hours to arts and crafts. All ages can enjoy and learn in the DiMenna Children’s History Museum, but the exhibits are targeted at age 8-13.

Press Contacts
Ines Aslan
New-York Historical Society

Julia Esposito
Polskin Arts & Communications Counselors

Photo credit:
Rembrandt Peale. George Washington, ca. 1852. Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History
Matthew “Levee” Chavez. Subway Therapy, 2016. Photo courtesy Glenn Castellano, New-York Historical Society. Subway Therapy concept and curation by Matthew "Levee " Chavez. www.subwaytherapy.com
Unidentified maker. George Washington inaugural armchair, 1788-89. New-York  Historical Society, Gift of Edmund B. Southwick

Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Creative: Tronvig Group