The peril of governing art at the W.T.C.
When planners and the public began three years ago to think about what should go at the World Trade Center site, few people disagreed with the notion that there should be a memorial and cultural center in response to the terror attack. There were big disagreements on just about every other question should there be commercial buildings, how big should the memorial be, to what extent should the Twin Tower footprints be preserved, should the towers be rebuilt, etc.
Up until this summer, the idea of building cultural buildings at the site had drawn virtually no opposition. Some relatives of those killed on Sept. 11, 2001 are now raising objections to the cultural plan and in response, Gov. George Pataki has said he wants to be sure there are no politics or anti-American sentiments expressed in any of the art buildings near the memorial. Removing politics from the site is impossible banning political statements would in itself be a political statement and censoring out critical ideas about our country is a perverted way to respond if we really believe America was attacked because it is free.
The Drawing Center and International Freedom Center have both been picked to go in the building adjacent to the memorial so their missions have come under close scrutiny from family members. The Freedom Center has been receptive to the recent demands. The Drawing Center has said they will not subject themselves to censorship no institution worth having at the site would. The art center is waiting for specific content guideline proposals before commenting on what they will do next.
If there are no content restrictions, will it mean there will sometimes be exhibits and performances that will make family members, Downtowners or us uncomfortable? Might we be offended on occasion?
The cultural groups that go to the site should be led by people sensitive to the powerful and spiritual importance of the location. We dont think there is any reason to doubt whether any of these institutions are led by such people. If we are going to accept the idea of culture on the site and we wholeheartedly do then we have to accept the idea that we wont always like what we see and hear there.
Daniel Libeskinds master plan picked by Pataki over two years ago included cultural buildings as a buffer between the memorial and office buildings. Through all of the changes to the plan since then, that idea has remained.
The entire public, including family members as well as Downtown residents and workers, have a stake in everything that is built at the site and they will continue to have chances to comment on the plans. When it comes to how those killed are honored and remembered at the memorial, overwhelming deference must be given to family members to make sure their concerns are satisfied. That wont be easy since there is no consensus about the memorial.
Family members raising objections about the art elements have as much right to comment as anyone, but trying to handcuff the arts in the name of freedom is a terrible beginning. Governor Pataki should have more confidence in our democracy, which has at its core, and enshrined in the First Amendment to its Constitution, freedom of expression. Ground zero needs to be a place of true artistic and political freedom, and the governor should be countering demands for censorship, not promoting them.