For several months now the New York City Central Labor Council and Local 802 have been discussing the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site and the role that the cultural institutions and entertainment businesses might ultimately play in that project. As articulated by CLC President Brian McLaughlin, the labor movement’s comprehensive vision would include a diverse cultural community, the continued presence of the financial services industry, residential space for workers of modest incomes, a variety of retail establishments and renovation of the downtown transportation facilities.
Kate Levin, commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, recently testified before City Council on this subject. What follows are excerpts from her testimony:
“New Yorkers now widely recognize that culture will be a critical component of the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan. It is worth pointing to a survey released by the organization Wall Street Rising in August of 2002. The survey found that entertainment and cultural opportunities top the list of new businesses residents of Lower Manhattan say they need. In addition, respondents most frequently cited the creation of more cultural and entertainment facilities as the single most important improvement for the revitalization of Lower Manhattan.
“A cultural working group is currently exploring strategies for creating a sustainable cultural community where a wide range of cultural organizations, both large and small, can exist alongside studio, rehearsal, and residential space. Our approach to cultural development is twofold: strengthen what already exists and generate new opportunities. The ultimate objective is to create cultural density while ensuring that the opportunities we create do not compete with, but complement each other, and therefore serve the needs of the entire city. . .
“If we want to create a 24-7 cultural community, we know we must create a variety of around-the-clock cultural opportunities: museums and historic sites for daytime visitors, performing arts for evening outings, and studio and rehearsal spaces for use at all times. The clock is a useful analytic tool for discerning what we want Lower Manhattan to become – a place not only for consuming art, but for producing it as well. It is worth noting that as recently as the 1960’s, Lower Manhattan was home to some of the major American artists of the 20th Century. At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I believe that this rich history offers the potential for identifying Lower Manhattan as a community for artists and cultural institutions.
“Such a community must also be supported by the related commercial infrastructure, such as café’s, clubs, galleries, and a transportation network that makes all of our cultural amenities accessible. Public art can also play an essential role in attracting residents and tourists alike, as we saw last summer when both ABNY and Wall Street Rising programmed several public art exhibits throughout Lower Manhattan. We will work with these and other organizations to create temporary and permanent art installations that enrich the neighborhood.”
The New York City Opera is currently exploring the possibilities of a downtown move. While it was recently announced that the LMDC is also seeking bids from major cultural institutions outside the city and country, I believe the New York City Opera would be the ideal institution to serve as the cornerstone for the cultural community Ms. Levin describes.
A comprehensive report on the 95th AFM Convention, which was held June 23-25, will appear in the next issue.