Volume 18 • Issue 43 | March 10 - 16, 2006

Map of L.M.D.C. cultural grants

Arts groups cash in on L.M.D.C. cash

By Ronda Kaysen

It was standing room only inside the ornate, oak-paneled Collectors Reception Room inside the National Museum of the American Indian on Wednesday. Leaders of some of Downtown’s most notable arts institutions stood shoulder to shoulder with representatives from fledgling Downtown arts groups. After four and a half years of waiting, redevelopment funds had finally been delivered to cultural groups Downtown.

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert
Sigourney Weaver, a board member of the Flea Theater, co-founded by her husband, Jim Simpson, was happy to hear the Tribeca theater is going to get $500,000 in Lower Manhattan Development Corporation money.
“It’s so exciting, it really is!” said Ruth Abram, president of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum to Community Board 1 Chairperson Julie Menin. The Tenement Museum had just received up to $1 million in capital funds from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to build an Irish family apartment from the 1860s and a German saloon from the 1870’s at its Orchard St. museum.

“It’s a big chunk of change,” Manhattan Youth Executive Director Bob Townley told Downtown Express. His after-school and summer program received up to $400,000 to build a 12,000 sq. ft. arts and cultural space within a new community center under construction in Tribeca.

The L.M.D.C. announced $27.4 million in grants for 63 cultural groups below Houston on Wednesday, disseminating funds for capital projects, planning projects, events and programming. Many of the groups squeezed into the museum—which was itself a recipient of $1.5 million for an education pavilion—had learned the news the night before.

“We are thrilled beyond belief and so grateful and so honored,” said actress Sigourney Weaver, board member of the Flea Theater, an off-off Broadway theater on White St. that received up to $500,000 in capital funds to replace the furnace, improve the bathrooms and perhaps build a greenroom for performers. “It’s an investment in our people, in our hearts, in our minds,” she told the room full of recipients.

Last November, the L.M.D.C. announced it would provide $35 million for Downtown cultural institutions and up to $10 million for a new museum for the Drawing Center, a museum originally slated for the World Trade Center cultural center. The Drawing Center bowed out of plans for the Trade Center last summer after sustaining fierce criticism from some victims’ family groups and the media that its art was too provocative for a location so close to the memorial. It is now considering building a new museum at the South Street Seaport. Governor Pataki later removed the International Freedom Center, another museum planned for the Snohetta-designed cultural building, after it endured similar criticism.

Cultural institutions and cultural advocates have largely criticized the redevelopment effort, insisting culture has taken a back seat to the memorial in the years since 9/11. When the Drawing Center and the Freedom Center vanished from the Snohetta building and the Memorial Foundation announced that it would only begin funding a Performing Arts Center planned for the Trade Center site after the memorial was fully funded, criticism of the commitment to culture intensified. The cultural grants set some of those concerns to rest for the time being.

“We will create a cultural network that our city, indeed the nation, can be proud of,” said L.M.D.C. president Stefan Pryor to cheers and loud applause. “We will have a cultural revival Downtown.”

L.M.D.C. doled out funds to organizations around the neighborhood, including up to $400,000 in capital funds for the Church Street School for Music and Art to move to a larger space nearby. The Battery Conservancy received up to $500,000 to build a children’s carousel near the Bosque in Battery Park. The Poets House, a poetry library and archive in Soho that is relocating to a new space in Battery Park City, received up to $800,000 in capital funds. The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, an arts advocacy group that lost its offices and one of its artists on 9/11 received up to $1.5 million to purchase its present home at 125 Maiden Lane. And 3-Legged Dog, a performance group that also lost its home on 9/11 and is rebuilding a new space in Greenwich South, received up to $1.5 million for programming support.

“Following the terrible events of Sept. 11 we were really brought to our knees,” said Lisa Phillips, executive director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art. “We emerged from that with tremendous determination to rebuild and to pursue a vision for the future… We also decided at that time to recommit to Downtown.” The museum received up to $2 million for construction of its new museum in the Bowery.

For many of the recipients, the announcement was the culmination of a years-long effort to rebuild arts in the area. “This is a great moment for me, it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Madelyn Wils, former president and C.E.O. of the Tribeca Film Institute, told Downtown Express. The Institute received $600,000 for its “Drive-in,” a free, outdoor screening of films as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. Wils, an L.M.D.C. board member, was a vocal advocate for culture Downtown when she chaired Community Board 1.

Wednesday’s announcement was a rare moment of celebration in a redevelopment process that has been marred by setbacks and often characterized as painstaking and protracted. “There is no question that this is an up day,” said L.M.D.C. chairperson John Whitehead. “This is one of the best up days I’ve had in the past four and a half years.”

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com


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