Hamptons Scene: DiMennas’ $5 Million Gift Builds History Museum

DiMenna Children's History Museum
Joe and Diana DiMenna, whose $5 million gift is helping to create a children's history museum at the New-York Historical Society. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

The topic of conversation Thursday night in one Hamptons household was how to talk to your kids about Sept. 11.

“School starts the sixth or seventh, and then it’s the anniversary,” said Diana DiMenna, host of the event with her husband, Joe DiMenna, managing director at Zweig-DiMenna Associates LLC. “We wanted to give people a chance to get ahead of this so our kids aren’t traumatized.”

Seated on bamboo chairs in the living room, parents aired their concerns in the company of Louise Mirrer, president of the New-York Historical Society, and Kenneth Jackson, a history professor at Columbia University.

Robin Dubin Avram, a board member of the Lincoln Center Institute, said her children had trouble understanding why there is hatred toward America.

“I don’t know,” responded Jackson. “History isn’t fair. It doesn’t follow any internal logic.”

One parent suggested focusing on resilience, another on the courage of New York’s firemen.

The event took place under the auspices of the DiMenna Children’s History Museum, which will open on Nov. 11 at the New-York Historical Society. It’s part of a 3-year, $65 million renovation at the historical society.

The DiMennas made a $5 million gift to create the museum, which will introduce children to historical figures including George Washington and Alexander Hamilton.

The main exhibition area takes children from the late 17th century to the early 20th century. The events of Sept. 11 will be represented by a fireman who appears on a timeline of New York City.

Little Tax Collectors

In the Hamilton pavilion, children can play a computer game where they compete to collect taxes on whiskey and tobacco. The object of the game, developed by Unified Field, is to collect the most taxes the fastest.

“You move through a historical map of New York,” said Alice Stevenson, who started as director of the museum one week ago. “There are citizens roving around you need to avoid --that reinforces the idea that it was difficult to collect the taxes.”

Stevenson said she is grateful to be working with Diana DiMenna. “She knows every detail of the project, from micro to macro. And she’s so enthusiastic. Every time I have a conversation with her I’m ready to go back into the battlefield.”

Diana DiMenna said she was involved in the museum as “a patriot, a mother and a philanthropist.”

‘Gigantic Hole’

“I’ve been to every planning meeting. I was thrilled to roll up my sleeves,” she said. “The lack of a family museum to learn about history was a gigantic hole in the cultural landscape of New York.”

One of her visions is to hold programs like the one last night, geared toward parents.

“It’s not just history teachers who teach history,” she said. “We have to get our heads around talking about difficult things.”

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE