Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union

When museums, theaters, and other arts institutions were offered the chance to move to Ground Zero, they jumped at it. Between June and September, 113 organizations responded to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's general request for proposals for the cultural spaces on the. A report (in pdf format) released this week gives a clearer picture of the three cultural spaces for the site -- an underground museum, a performing arts center, and one or two 'cultural buildings.' It also narrows down the list of institutions it is considering to run these spaces.

Just as these organizations are eager to move downtown, New Yorkers are eager to have them. In a survey last summer, 69 percent of people "strongly agreed" that building cultural facilities at Ground Zero was important. The governor and the mayor have voiced their support for the creation of a cultural district downtown. Even developer Larry Silverstein, who has long been accused of caring for nothing but the sanctity of office space, has said he would like to see an arts center at Ground Zero.

Using culture to revitalize Lower Manhattan has been around since long before 9/11. According to Sharon Zukin, author of The Cultures of Cities the business improvement district for Lower Manhattan has been trying to bring cultural institutions downtown for at least fifteen years, following the model of Times Square, where theaters and non-profit arts groups were used to revamp the area.

Zukin claims that this strategy has become common worldwide. "Culture used to be seen as a by-product of wealth," she said. "Now culture is seen as a generator of wealth. And therefore, governments, businesses and various organizations pursue culture in a much more determined and ambitious way that they have in previous generations."

The report released this week named the fifteen institutions that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is considering for the cultural areas at Ground Zero, though it did not describe the institutions' proposals for these sites. By April, the agency expects to choose who will fill the three main cultural areas proposed for the site. Each area may be run by a single organization, or several organizations. After that, funding for the buildings and architectural designs will be worked out.

The three cultural sites proposed for Ground Zero are:

The Memorial Center -- an underground museum on the memorial site, sized between 50,000 to 70,000 square feet. Its mission will be to tell the individual stories of the victims of the 1993 and 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and present the contributions of the rescue, recovery, and relief workers after 9/11. Artifacts from the attacks will be displayed here. Advisory boards comprised of victims' family members and community leaders will work with the public and museum directors, curators, and conservators to develop content.

• The Museum of the City of New York, The New York Historical Society, and the New York State Museum will be discussing developing content for and how to curate this site with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.

• Project Rebirth and Sound Portraits Productions/Story Corps. will be speaking with the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation about developing concepts for special events at the memorial center.

Performing Arts Center -- a 100,000 to 200,000 square foot building located due east of the Freedom Tower, on the northwest corner of Fulton and Greenwich Streets. It will house either a single organization operating a large theater program, or several organizations operating theaters of various sizes within the same complex.

• The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is considering asking the Joyce Theater Company, the New York City Opera, the Signature Theatre Company, the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra and Tribeca Film Institute to operate in this space.

Cultural Buildings -- One or two on the southwest corner of Fulton and Greenwich Streets. Several uses are being considered for these buildings, which will create a total of 200,000 to 250,000 square feet of useable space. Possibilities include a museum focusing on the World Trade Center site, exhibits focused on international culture, educational institutions focusing on children, and a space for civic organizations to facilitate public discussion.

• The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will be speaking with the Children's Museum Of The Arts, The Drawing Center, The Museum Of Freedom and the New York Hall Of Science about developing this site. The buildings may also offer space to international public programs and educational events from organizations like the 92nd Street Y.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation will also be considering institutions not on the 'short list.' To read the full report, which includes a list of all 113 cultural institutions that responded to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation's call for proposals, click here (in pdf format).