National Museum of American Jewish History files for bankruptcy

Exterior of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

(CNN)The National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, according to court documents.

The museum -- which was founded in 1976 and is a Smithsonian affiliate -- announced it will continue operating while undergoing reorganization, according to a news release issued Monday.
"The future is only likely to get better and brighter," interim CEO Misha Galperin told CNN on Monday. "It's a very important, historic place where the nation was born and we're here to tell the nation what American Jews are grateful for, what was done for us in America and what we in turn contributed to the United States."
    Galperin said most of the museum's $30 million in debt stems from loans the museum took out to fund the construction of its new building on Independence Mall between 2008 -- at the height of the economic recession -- and 2010, when the building was completed. Outside funding levels declined sharply due to the recession, necessitating the loans, officials said.
    "[Funding] didn't return until the levels of pre-2008 until about a year ago," Galperin said. "In order to finish construction, the museum had to borrow money and we were hopeful we could repay the money. We never could."

    Amid a sea of changes, sticking to basic successes

    Despite the museum's reorganization, there will be no layoffs or changes in staffing, Galperin said. He said the museum believes it can continue thriving largely on outside contributions, whether from corporations or philanthropic donors.
    The museum's permanent gallery is free to the public, but the museum charges for its special exhibitions that only last a limited time. Its newest special exhibit, the "Evidence Room" -- which will display artifacts and the architectural layout of Auschwitz to show its impact on Jewish genocide -- is still on schedule to open on April 17.
    One of its more recent exhibits centered on Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It charged $9 per visitor in honor of her famous quote, in which she said the number of women on the Supreme Court should be nine.
    "We've had wonderful success both in terms of visitorship and economically," Galperin said.
    "[We have] even more programming and outreach online and plan to keep on going. We're not anticipating any fundamental change to the nature of what we do."
    Attendance, while not audited yet in the museum's 2019 fiscal year, rose from 76,700 to 82,950 from 2018, according to director of communications and public engagement Emily August. The museum has already welcomed 69,436 visitors in the first six months of the 2020 fiscal year, according to August.
      With attendance back on the rise and interest increasing, Galperin said, the bankruptcy protection will only help the museum in the long run.
      "It's a good first step for us and we're open for business," he said.