There is something open at the W.T.C.
By Jennifer Adams
As Lower Manhattan is undergoing a historic shift to a 24/7 mixed community with an increasing residential population, the Tribute Center is welcoming visitors on a quiet street on the south side of the W.T.C. site. Thousands of visitors speaking hundreds of languages are on a pilgrimage to find the “World Trade Center” among the canyons of Wall St. Visitor information booths and concierges across the city are sharing the second best kept secret in Lower Manhattan, (Century 21 being of course the best kept secret) the Tribute WTC Visitor Center. Next to the firehouse on Liberty St. — in the shadow of cranes and dump trucks working furiously — students and everyday people from around the world find a piece of personal history to hold in their hearts at the Tribute Center.
Since opening in September 2006, the Tribute Center has welcomed over 800,000 visitors from across America and over 120 countries and territories. This summer the center hit a milestone, serving over 50,000 people on personal tours and launching an audio tour in six different languages.
At the Tribute Center a community has grown from family members who lost loved ones, survivors, residents, recovery workers, and volunteers have constructively channeled their emotions to positively impact the world by sharing their stories. Through “Person-to-Person History” the Tribute Center links visitors to the community that is healing and rebuilding everyday. Over 240 volunteers have been trained to share their personal experience with visitors. Tribute volunteers who lead tours often promote a way visitors can help in rebuilding Lower Manhattan, “have lunch or shop here before you go!” Visitors are happy to hear ways they can help by enjoying an afternoon glass of wine or lunch by the water in the World Financial Center.
While the completion of the complex may be years away and we are still missing the 50,000 employees who worked here, there is a new feeling of resurgence. People from around the world are coming to pay Tribute. When I turn around and look up to the sky I can no longer see the top of World Trade 1 or count down twenty floors from the top to see if I left my office light on. What I can see in the sky over Lower Manhattan is the resurgence of a neighborhood that is more diverse, greener, and stronger.
In 2008, the Tribute Center and the National September 11 Memorial Museum completed a joint visitor study to find out who are these people coming to the World Trade Center site, what do they know, and what are they looking to find. We found that the personal connection with living history is an experience that helps visitors emotionally comprehend the events and changes taking place. Tribute Center staff are working to shape programming and content that will compliment the National September 11 Memorial Museum’s future exhibitions. We are working on many sustainable projects that, with the memorial, will help continue the healing process of our community and convey the meaning of remembrance to future generations.
The Tribute Center is composed of five galleries. People’s individual experiences are revealed in memorable short stories told in their own voices. First celebrating the community and culture of the World Trade Center, the exhibitions lead visitors through the events of February 26, 1993, September 11, 2001 and the extraordinary rescue and recovery efforts. In the Tribute Gallery visitors are invited to pay tribute to a living memorial of over 1,400 images and personal artifacts donated by family members who lost loved ones. The final gallery shares excerpts from interviews that reveal how individuals moved from despair to hope and promise. Visitors are also invited to share their own thoughts and experiences and to reflect upon how the recovery efforts and beyond led to an awareness of unity and a renewed spirit of community. Over 75,000 visitor cards have been collected creating an international dialogue reflecting the visitors’ pilgrimage to the World Trade Center and through the Tribute Center.
If you have not ventured into the Tribute Center, I encourage you to come see the exhibitions, attend a public program or volunteer to share your story. Visit www.tributewtc.org/programs/public_programs.php to find more information.
Jennifer Adams is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center.