Arts advocates are concerned with a slew of issues - including low city funding for non-profit arts organizations; too few arts programs in the schools; lack of support for individual artists; lack of access for the public - but the only arts-connected issue that has gotten any attention in the campaign is the latest battle in the culture wars. This time, it is happening at Ground Zero.
Two cultural institutions had been invited to be part of the new World Trade Center complex. One, the Drawing Center, is a small downtown museum founded in 1977. The other, the International Freedom Center, was conceived for the site. Critics, including a few family members of 9/11 victims, started labeling past Drawing Center exhibitions as anti-American, and expressed their suspicion that future Freedom Center exhibitions would be as well. They also said that it would not be appropriate to have anything on the site that was not about September 11th, 2001.
The governor sided with the critics, demanding an "absolute guarantee" that no future exhibition or lecture would be anti-American or offend anyone, and the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation gave in effect an ultimatum that the two cultural institutions had to work out a plan for any future content with the 9/11 families who had objected.
The Drawing Center found this condition unacceptable and withdrew. The Freedom Center has until September 23rd to come to an agreement.
At a forum of the Democratic mayoral candidates held on August 16th, 2005 at Jazz at Lincoln Center, when asked about the controversy, they gave vague answers (three mentioned the word "diversity") or truncated answers (two quickly changed the subject) that seemed to indicate a tilt towards allowing the critics to determine the contents of future lectures and exhibitions at the Freedom Center.
When asked about the Freedom Center, Ferrer said; "I think there should be a diversity of views, exhibits, and activities in the Freedom Center. But I think that they have to be guided by a sense that we lost 3,000 people and families and this entire city have been deeply affected."
When asked about the Freedom Center, Fields said; "Diversity of culture. Diversity that represents this great city. And clearly a memorial that reflects what happened there, keeping in the forefront of all our minds. And working with the families to decide all those details."
When asked about the Freedom Center, Miller said; "I think clearly there needs to be more done to make sure we are reaching out to the families. I think what really ought to be part of the Freedom Center is the Freedom Tower. And we ought to be rebuilding lower Manhattan. It is national disgrace how little has been done to rebuild, not just the memorial, but to rebuild in terms of the businesses and the heart of the plan to re-energize lower Manhattan."
When asked about the Freedom Center, Weiner said; "Three and a half years ago, Mike Bloomberg was sworn in near the still smoking wreckage of Ground Zero and said he would rebuild it. He hasn't done it. We should be talking about a Freedom Center that represents a diversity of views. But we have to keep a close eye for the victims for whom that area is a shrine."
Bloomberg objected to the actions of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in regards to the Freedom Center and the Drawing Center, saying that, while he was "sympathetic" to the loss of life, "the question is what is the best memorial to them, whether you build something to the future or something that looks back. I always thought we should do both... If we are a democracy and we are going to have an inclusive process, we should stick with inclusive processes."
Long-Term Issues Facing The Arts In NYC
Arguments pro and con for The International Freedom Center from the Wall Street Journal
Daily News editorial calling for "oversight mechanism that would monitor the suitability of all exhibits in the future."
NY Times editorial blasting Governor Pataki for failing to stand up for "the quintessentially American principle of free speech and the role of culture, in this most cultural of cities, in helping us understand 9/11."