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Feb 03 2020

More Artifacts Recovered After Fire at Museum of Chinese in America

by Kylie Yeung

New York’s Museum of Chinese in America has managed to salvage more than expected after a fire at the building where the institution’s archives were housed. Image via New York City Fire Department’s Twitter.

The five-alarm fire that broke out on January 24 in the building that stored the archives of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) in New York had the institution’s president, Nancy Yao Maasbach, fearing the worst for its historical collections. But recovery efforts since January 29 have brought good news as some 200 boxes have been recovered in better condition than expected.

As first reported by the Gothamist, the fire started at around 8:45 PM on the fourth floor of the five-story building at 70 Mulberry Street, in the Lower East Side, and spread upward to the roof. Nine firefighters and one civilian were reportedly injured in the blaze. Although the fire did not reach the MOCA storage area on the second floor, the entirety of the museum’s collection was vulnerable to water damage, mold growth, and soot.

The recovery process began on the following Wednesday, and at a press conference that same day, Yao Maasbach announced that of the 200 boxes recovered, about 25 boxes had immediately been sent to a facility in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to be stabilized and freeze-dried. “We are so excited to share that it looks like everything we took out of the building this morning is very much salvageable,” she stated, adding that some of the recovered boxes were found in good condition and only required repackaging. The potential damage from water and soot also appeared to be less severe than initially estimated.

Since the fire, MOCA has set up a GoFundMe page, raising more than USD 100,000 in six days to aid the recovery process. Artists, gallerists, and art organizations in Chinatown have launched plans for a charity auction and benefit exhibition for the museum.

MOCA opened 40 years ago at the Mulberry Street building before the site was repurposed as a storage space upon the museum’s relocation to 215 Centre Street in 2009. About half of the archives had been digitized, but many items of historical and cultural significance, including donations by Chinese-American families, such as clothing, menus from Chinatown’s earliest restaurants, handwritten letters, and tickets for ship passage, were stored in the building.

Kylie Yeung is an editorial intern of ArtAsiaPacific.

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