Staten Island's Hidden Treasures: Tibetan Museum Celebrates Region

by Amanda Farinacci,, May 26, 2008

New York, USA -- From Staten Island to Shangri-La, it's no stone's throw to Tibet from the Lighthouse Hill museum that celebrates art from that region.

But Staten Island did not seem to be an unlikely place to house the Jacques Marchais Museum of Tibetan Art when it was first opened back in 1947, because founder Jacques Marchais was looking for farmland that was a commuting distance from Midtown Manhattan.

In the mid-40s, Marchais felt Lighthouse Avenue was the perfect spot.

"It's a place that is so quiet you don't even feel like you're in New York City," said Meg Ventrudo of the area.

That was exactly the feel Marchais wanted to create when she chose to design the museum in the mirror of the Polota Palace, where the Dala Lama once lived.

Featuring Tibetan Buddhist art, Marchais wanted a place where people could better understand Eastern religion, Eastern philosophy, and Tibetan art.

"There are bigger places, bigger museums, but they don't have something particular to Tibet," said Buddhist monk Bhante Kondanna. "This is the only place that even architecture-wise you can see that. And environment you can see, the parade of flags and everything, if you go down the cliff, it looks like Tibet. The famous picture of Potola Palace, it looks like that. That's why I always say it's a mini-Tibet."

Buddhist mediation classes are offered on the weekends, and Buddhist monks offer lectures. The museum attracts about 6,000 visitors a year, including school children and college students doing research projects.

It also attracts visitors from out of town, who say traveling to the museum from Manhattan is worth it.

"I knew it was here, but I also knew it took a little extra, a ride on the bus, to get here, so on previous trips, I always went for the easier things," said visitor Roberta Whipple of Illinois.

A new photo exhibit will open next March, featuring more than 30 snapshots of life in Tibet today.