Volume 18 • Issue 31 | December 16 - 22, 2005


A winning coalition for W.T.C. arts and culture

If you believe that arts and culture have an important role to play at the W.T.C., it’s time to stand up and say so.

Governor Pataki once believed that, and spoke glowingly about how a strong arts and cultural component at the W.T.C. reflected the excitement and diversity of New York City and would help to reenergize Lower Manhattan. He threw his weight behind the Libeskind master plan which had art and cultural institutions constituting a vital buffer between a powerful memorial and resurgent commercial activities.

But if you love the idea of arts and culture at the W.T.C., you lost. The first round is over. Gov. George Pataki meekly reversed position and now supports a more narrow vision of the future W.T.C. espoused by 9/11 family groups. The effective land grab at the World Trade Center site is complete and the large memorial has been expanded to a place now commonly referred to as the “memorial quadrant,” which has a larger memorial pushing up against a site plan with office towers, and retail stores.

The battle is now to see if a cultural center can be built on the rest of the site.

There may be a Performing Arts Center if the WTC Memorial Foundation ever gets around to figuring out how to pay for it. Gretchen Dykstra, the president of the Memorial Foundation, keeps missing opportunities to reiterate that arts and culture are an essential component of the vision. She needs more board members, and stakeholders who live and work Downtown; and she needs to stop talking about relegating cultural fundraising to a nebulous second phase.

Community Board 1 should be applauded for affirming the need for arts and culture, but they need to keep up the pressure beyond their recently passed resolution.

Mike Bloomberg is one of the city’s most generous champions of the arts, so we were disappointed when the mayor told us this week about placing speech limits on arts groups at the site. “Freedom” is not just another word to slap on a building – it’s a value worth protecting, particularly across the street from a memorial honoring those killed because they lived in a free society. We believe in his heart, Bloomberg believes this and we hope to see him direct his appointees on the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation board to insist on expanding the permanent cultural space on the site.

The proposed Freedom Tower will certainly be able to accommodate cultural spaces and maybe artist-studio programs, at least temporarily until tenants fill up the building. The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council had such programs in the Twin Towers and its leader, Tom Healy, has been one of the strongest voices for arts at the new W.T.C.

He needs more support from all of the business leaders, high-profile artists, civic leaders, residents and elected officials who want to see a cultural center as much as we do. Julie Menin, chairperson of C.B. 1, is the newest member of the Memorial Foundation. We expect to see her press the case for making the Performing Arts Center a top priority.

We admire and respect the principled resignations of Roland Betts and Agnes Gund from the boards of the L.M.D.C. and foundation over the assault on W.T.C. arts. Tom Bernstein, co-founder of the International Freedom Center, also left the foundation after his museum was thrown off its site. These three’s connections and expertise are invaluable and we hope to see them remain active in the fight.

There is a broad coalition of people and groups who support arts at the W.T.C., but they are not united, and have been too passive up until now. They must stand up now, and join with one another, or they will be rolled again.


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