The timing could not have been any better. Construction of the Universal Hip Hop Museum would start in July. Its completion was scheduled for 2023. The grand opening would mark the 50th anniversary of the musical genre and culture born in the Bronx.
However, a preview exhibit at the Bronx Terminal Market had to be shut down in March. And Rocky Bucano, the museum’s executive director, says the groundbreaking never happened. The museum will not be ready for visitors in time for the milestone.
“The universe was perfectly aligned before COVID-19,” he said.
The museum is supposed to be part of a $65 million development at the Point in the south Bronx. The project includes space for nonprofit organizations and affordable housing. Part of the funding will come from the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
The coronavirus has triggered a delay in construction projects across the city, including the Point. It is the largest of those planned to begin in 2020.
Still, Bucano sees a bright side.
“We are building a museum that will be pandemic-proof, because now, we are incorporating everything that’s the new normal—social distancing, how to position exhibits, how many exhibits should be in a space, what kind of exhibits,” he said.
The museum formed a partnership with a new start-up tech company. They will provide digital health screens that look like metal detectors. When visitors walk through them, they will be scanned for COVID-19 symptoms.
“The next pandemic can be right around the corner. We don’t want to be stuck like other cultural institutions are stuck right now, having to reconfigure their entire experience,” said Bucano.
The experience will still celebrate the elements of hip hop: lyricism, breakdancing, graffiti, beatboxing, MCing and DJing.
The delay is proving beneficial in other ways. Months of protests, and a national movement for social and racial justice, have inspired people and corporations to seek out ways to promote equality.
“Because hip hop has always been about celebrating Black life and talking about issues that relate to the community we serve, I think the UHHH is in best position to help a lot of those companies who want to invest in underserved communities,” said the museum's executive director.
The groundbreaking has been moved to late October, and the museum is now projected to open in 2024.