Plans for the future of the former World Trade Center site are in flux as politicians,
developers, area residents and victims' families debate how to allot commercial,
office, residential and memorial space. One of the few certainties is that a
major cultural complex will be one of the anchors at the site. And arts and education
groups are vigorously competing to participate.
Libeskind design for World Trade Center site
A cultural center at the site has been part of discussions since talk about
rebuilding began. But few expected the robust competition that has emerged.
The agency overseeing the redevelopment process, the Lower Manhattan Development
Corporation (LMDC) initially envisioned at least one cultural venue, a museum
to explain the events of September 11, 2001. Almost immediately after redevelopment
discussions started, one of the city's leading cultural groups, the New York
City Opera, already in the market for a new home, announced it would consider
relocating to the site. A major dance venue, the Joyce Theater, then declared
it might move to a larger building downtown. The LMDC has invited other cultural
organizations to submit ideas.
One of the bids came from Hunter College, which is highly regarded for its
studio art program and galleries. Hunter President Jennifer Raab says she would
like to move the college's entire arts program, including performing arts and
art history, to a revitalized downtown neighborhood.
"In addition to students learning, we have this stellar faculty producing
art," he said. "So we have painters and dancers and sculptors and actors. The
theory is that it would be wonderful to bring it downtown to be an anchor.
It seemed like a wonderful opportunity for Hunter to be part of a growing new
community as well as to help that community be created in the best possible
The Museum of the City of New York submitted a joint submission with several
other city, state, and national historic societies and archives for a museum
to interpret the events of 9/11 and a previous attack on the World Trade Center
"We think the city's story is an important thing to tell there," said Sarah
Henry, program director for the Museum of the City of New York, "because people
who go to understand September 11 and to pay homage to it need a context, a
specific one of understanding the World Trade Center itself, how it got to
be there, what its broader meaning was within the city's history."
The LMDC says more than 110 groups, ranging from small non-profit theaters
to major colleges to a film festival, have submitted ideas to either relocate
to the future complex or expand to include facilities at the site. The response,
for Sarah Henry, is not surprising.
"It is going to be a highly visible, highly visited place," she said, "and
I think that in addition to that and what that can bring to their institution,
they are all people and institutions that are deeply rooted and invested in
New York and they were all devastated by what happened. There is something
truly resonant about participating in the rebuilding in even a small way."
But some observers and arts critics wonder if a cultural complex located
in what is essentially a business district can attract audiences and visitors
over the long haul, particularly after interest in the events of September
11 fades. The answer, Sarah Henry says, is yes.
"Even before September 11, there was really a cultural nexus developing downtown
in lower Manhattan," she said. "So I think if interest fades as distance lengthens,
but there still remains what there was before, which is a vital group of interesting
institutions and a redevelopment that is already underway on the waterfront
and in the parks [which] was already making that a 24-hour community."
Many of the arts groups are intrigued by the idea of working together. For
example, Jennifer Raab says Hunter College would provide space for the annual
Tribeca Film Festival, founded by actor Robert DeNiro. The film festival would,
in turn, provide a great boon to the school's film and acting students, allowing
them to participate in the festival and meet leading people in the field.
"This is really exciting to me because we have had the most wonderful conversations
with other institutions now about how you can move down to revitalize an area
together and really share resources," she said.
Equally exciting, Ms. Raab adds, is the new relationship being developed
between cultural groups and government.
"When was the last time you can think of government itself coming out and
recognizing the economic and physical development potential of the arts? One
of the great challenges of the arts community is always arguing to government
that they are a great part of making a city strong," she said. "There have
been a number of reports over the years commissioned to show what an economic
generator the arts are to New York City, to galvanize support for the arts.
So here you have the reverse. Rather than the arts community saying to the
government, 'You should help us and support us because we help the city to
have residents, to have visitors and tourism and really generate economic profit.'
Here, you have the government saying we are looking to the arts as the anchor
for a new development. It is a great turnaround."
Governments around the world are increasingly viewing cultural sites as destinations
to attract tourists and revitalize urban areas. The LMDC says it wants to transform
lower Manhattan into a "world renowned cultural epicenter" with almost 56,000
square meters devoted to cultural facilities at the former World Trade Center