Volume 17 • Issue 3 | June 11 - 17, 2004



W.T.C. culture groups picked

By Josh Rogers

Downtown Express photo by Ramin Talaie

Mayor Bloomberg, Gov. Pataki and two dancers at the event.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Edward Norton and Savion Glover were among the stars that came to the Winter Garden Thursday to announce the four arts groups picked to run the proposed cultural center at the World Trade Center site.

The Joyce dance theater, The Drawing Center, Signature Theater, and the new Freedom Center were selected by a Lower Manhattan Development Corporation panel for the arts and museum complex, which is expected to open five years from now on two parcels near Greenwich and Fulton Sts. — one located on the W.T.C. memorial.

The cost of the center is likely to be somewhere in the hundreds of millions of dollars although there is no estimate yet. It is also not yet known how much money each organization will have to raise and how much of the costs will be picked up by the L.M.D.C.

The development corporation is expected at its July 8 meeting to grant each group enough money to conduct a six-month feasibility study of the center. The L.M.D.C. will also set up challenge grants in which each group will only have to raise some of the design and construction costs.

“It will be a place where culture will forever conquer terror,” said John Whitehead, L.M.D.C. chairperson. In addition to the stars, Whitehead was also joined by Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

The plans of the four groups are:

* Signature Theater Expanding on its tradition of featuring one playwright per season since its founding in 1991, the theater would have up to seven world premieres and seven playwrights a year in three theaters of 99, 299 and 499 seats. There would be a master and emerging playwright program that has helped advance the careers of Horton Foote, Edward Albee, August Wilson and Norton, who got his professional acting start there. The theater would be in the performing arts center next to the proposed Freedom Tower. There would be a bookstore, cafe, and galleries in the main lobby. There would be additional community center space and room for arts festivals, conferences and student performances. Madelyn Wils, president of the Tribeca Film Institute, said the Tribeca Film Festival would use the center every spring and there would be a Tribeca theater festival there every fall. The first Tribeca theater festival will be staged this October, Wils said.

* Joyce International Center for Dance The Joyce would open a 900-1000 seat theater at the W.T.C. and continue to operate its spaces in Chelsea and Soho. It plans to share cafe and community space with Signature, to run student programs and to collaborate with dance companies around the world. After performing for the crowd, dancer Savion Glover told the audience that the new theater would fill a dance gap in the city. “New York has had terrific large and small theaters, but nothing in between,” said Glover.

* The Drawing Center The non-profit group founded in 1977 would move from its Soho home to a new six-gallery center at the W.T.C. There would be exhibits of historical, contemporary and emerging artists, artist panel discussions and education programs for children.

* The Freedom Center The new group was founded by Tom Bernstein, president and co-founder of Chelsea Piers, and Peter Kurnhardt, whose production company has made several PBS documentaries including “In Memoriam: New York City 9/11/01” and “Freedom: A History of the U.S.” The center would have exhibits, lectures, films, and serve as an educational resource. Archbishop Tutu, who spoke on behalf of the Freedom Center, said it will “symbolize the indomitable spirit of the people of this land, the indomitable spirit of people from other lands, of the people of this city who may have been down but certainly not out.” Speaking in the World Financial Center and a few blocks from Wall St., the Nobel laureate also said that freedom is dependent on economic equality. “Abject poverty anywhere is a threat to affluence everywhere,” Tutu said.

The groups were selected over the New York City Opera, one of the first arts organizations to express an interest in coming to the W.T.C. after 9/11. Some opposed the opera company because it required a large theater that would be hard to convert to other uses.

“New York City Opera will regret not being part of the cultural component of the memorial at the World Trade Center site,” Paul Kellog, the company’s general and artistic director, said in a statement, adding the group planned to stay at Lincoln Center in the short term. “Together with all New Yorkers we look forward to the realization of a thriving and vigorous downtown cultural community.”

Whitehead, who has been singing the opera company’s praises for over two years now, said the L.M.D.C. would look to find places Downtown for the arts groups that were finalists but not selected.

However Wils, who in addition to her film job is also an L.M.D.C. board member and chairperson of Community Board 1, said she didn’t think the opera company would be able to find a new home in Lower Manhattan. “We’re working on another [arts] building, but it isn’t the opera,” she said.
Councilmember Alan Gerson released a statement saying he wanted to work with New York City Opera to find anther place in Lower Manhattan. Gerson also praised the L.M.D.C. on its selection and called on them to develop a plan for arts in the rest of Lower Manhattan, including an international children’s center near the W.T.C. site.

The proposed cultural site building would be next to the Reflecting Absence memorial design by Michael Arad. After the announcement, Arad said he looked forward to seeing what the architects propose to build on his design. He said he is open to seeing what they come up with and is not planning to give them any advice before they go to the drawing board.

“Why would I do that,” he said. “That would be so presumptuous.”


Josh@DowntownExpress.com



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