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In Astoria, Moving Ahead With Images

In Astoria, Moving Ahead With Images

The Wall Street Journal 4/26/2011


“Are there any information or entertainment devices out there that don’t have a screen?” asked Carl Goodman, the newly appointed executive director of the Museum of the Moving Image, from his bright, sparsely furnished office overlooking 35th Avenue in Astoria. Mr. Goodman was reflecting on the increasing ubiquity of the institute’s curatorial topic. Having just completed a massive $67 million renovation, Moving Image is now substantially better equipped to address the primacy of “the art, history, technique, and technology of film, television, and digital media,” per the organization’s website.

On March 1, following the scheduled departure of its founding director, Rochelle Slovin, Mr. Goodman was promoted from his post as the institute’s senior deputy director. He will now oversee the museum’s greatly expanded public galleries, enhanced educational programs, and redesigned film and digital screening facilities—in all, 47,000 additional square feet of space in the city-owned building that has housed the museum since its 1988 opening.

As only the second director in Moving Image’s history, Mr. Goodman has keenly felt the influence of Ms. Slovin (universally referred to as “Shelly” by the museum’s staff) since taking over. “In my few weeks sitting in this room I have often wondered, ‘How would Shelly have reacted to this?'” Mr. Goodman said.

The 44-year-old Philadelphia native came to Moving Image in 1989, having studied electronic music and philosophy at Wesleyan University. “My way into film was through music,” he said. “Music went digital well before images did and there’s a rich history of musicians experimenting with computers. I’d studied electronic music, so at a very early age I’d learned that digital technology can be used to create, not just to calculate.”

Sensing a paradigm shift in the making, Ms. Slovin applied Mr. Goodman’s prior experience to a new agenda, appointing him curator of digital media in 1992. “I asked Carl to take a year and learn everything there is to learn about what the computer is doing to the moving image and to explore that relationship,” she said.

It was, Mr. Goodman noted, a case of being in the right place at the right time. “I owe my existence here to the fact that Shelly saw that there was something going on with digital technology that has to do with our subject.”

That embrace of evolving digital technology remains a key aspect of Moving Image’s unique identity. The facility’s continued existence, meanwhile, depends on public and private contributions administered by the Museum’s Board of Trustees, chaired by Herbert S. Schlosser. According to Ms. Slovin, leading a united administrative approach to meet the increased expense of a comprehensive facility is a central responsibility for the new director.

“That’s Carl’s big challenge,” she said. “Artistically speaking, the museum has a wonderful reputation, but there’s the artistic part, and then there’s the practical day-to-day part. Infrastructure is not perhaps a very sexy topic of conversation, but it’s extremely important for the future and is going to require a redoubled commitment from the board of trustees of the museum.”

Mr. Goodman said that the bottom-line realities of Moving Image’s operations and potential growth under his leadership are also tied to its landlord and major supporter—New York City, which provided $54.7 million for the site renovation. “This building is an asset owned by the city,” he said. “It belongs to them and we are its custodians. This is budget season and its important to us that the city understand that for every dollar that gets spent on the museum—whether it’s from the public or other sources—we generate money for the city.”

Although Moving Image is positioned well outside the geographic mainstream of Manhattan’s Museum Row, Mr. Goodman credits Astoria’s slower developmental pace with helping the museum to realize its remodeling goal amid a period of city-wide financial hardship.

“Nobody over-built here,” he said. “The retrenchment and the closed stores and the empty condos that you’re seeing elsewhere didn’t happen in Astoria because growth here was incremental.”

Besides, he said, the museum’s Queens location has skewed its destination allure more globally (“I feel like we’re known internationally better than we’re known locally”), and, with programs ranging from youth workshops to 3D screenings to forthcoming exhibits on Jim Henson and “Real Virtuality,” it doesn’t suffer as much as comparable institutions from a shrinking youth audience. “I come from a background in music, so I know that it’s a topic of great concern to those institutions trafficking in opera and orchestral music,” Mr. Goodman said. “Our innate appeal to younger audiences is an institutional appeal. It’s not studied. We don’t sit around asking, ‘How do we appeal to younger audiences?'”

Of course, it’s not just kid’s stuff, either. Mr. Goodman cited an upcoming Mother’s Day marathon screening of HBO’s recent adaptation of “Mildred Pierce” as evidence of Moving Image’s multi-limbed embrace of film, TV, digital media, exhibition and education. “We’re digitally projecting a television show based on a movie based on a book in a film theater,” he said. “That’s where we are today.”