Humanizing the World Trade Center
Flory Barnett, a savvy fundraiser with a penchant for the arts wanted to humanize the Financial District. Shortly after the completion of 1 World Trade Center in 1972, she started an arts council, giving workers in the area reasons to leave the office for lunch. In 1973, with generous support from David Rockefeller through Chase Manhattan Bank, and the New York State Council on the Arts, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council was born into the non-profit world.
LMCC grew with the Financial District, cultivating art and culture in and around the World Trade Center. From lunch time concerts and evening performances on the plaza, to installations in the lobby windows of banks (the Art Lobby project), to outdoor sculpture exhibitions, the Council transformed Lower Manhattan into a cultural destination more important than the sum of its parts.
By the end of the 1990s, we had not only moved our offices into the World Trade Center, we had transformed it into a cultural anchor: World Views offered studio space to artists in the upper floors of the North Tower; Evening Stars brought free dance to the WTC Plaza; and exhibition spaces throughout the complex showcased the work of artists of all disciplines.
September 11, 2001
On September 11, we lost our home, performance venue, studio and exhibition spaces, and nearly 30 years of archives when the World Trade Center was destroyed.
Most significantly, we lost an artist-in-residence, Michael Richards, who perished along with thousands of others. The World Views residents were nearing the end of their session, and had been working feverishly towards the culminating open studio event. Michael had spent the night working his 92nd floor studio, where he was creating a sculpture inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, which bore an eerie resemblance to that day's tragedy.
What Comes After
Without a permanent office, LMCC moved nomadically for the next several years before finally finding a new home at our current address on Maiden Lane.
With our residency studios destroyed, we were fortunate to receive an outpouring of generosity following the attacks. Donations from real estate owners allowed us to create New Views, a site-specific residency in DUMBO, Brooklyn and at the World Financial Center. And the City of Paris helped establish a special six-month residency in Paris, France for New York City-based visual artists, a program that continues today.
In addition, several exhibitions were mounted, and a book was published, featuring artists who participated in LMCC's residency programs in the World Trade Center to honor, celebrate, commemorate, and archive their work, and ours. From December 2001 to January 2002, the New Museum presented World Views: Open Studio Exhibition, a group show of work by the Summer 2001 World Views artists-in-residence. And in 2002, a non-traditional, hands-on exhibition titled Microviews: Artists’ Documents of the World Trade Center focused on everyday documents of the World Trade Center architecture and environs taken by artists during their residencies. In 2004, LMCC published Site Matters: The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s World Trade Center Artists Residency, 1997-2001, a book that chronicles LMCC's residency programs in the World Trade Center and includes documentation of work by the more than 130 artists who participated in our residency programs from 1997-2001.
The losses directly affected the focus of other new programs. The Michael Richards Fund provided support for emerging visual artists from the Caribbean or of Caribbean descent. Cities, Art, & Recovery considered how people remember and rebuild after tragedy and how the arts have been crucial to such recovery. Our Gulf Coast Residency offered a temporary residency in Lower Manhattan for 15 artists displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
In 2005, we received a $5 million grant over 3 years from The September 11th Fund to support and sustain the arts community in Lower Manhattan. With this support, we launched the Downtown Cultural Grants initiative, comprising six new programs that provided grants to support arts and culture south of Canal Street and in Chinatown. These programs proved critical to the ongoing recovery and growth of the Lower Manhattan cultural community.
Through all of this change, our mission remains consistent: we believe the arts and artists play a vital role in maintaining the spirit of downtown. Our Workspace and Swing Space programs carry on the spirit of World Views; we distribute more than $550,000 to artists and organizations through our Manhattan arts grants; our public programming continues to stoke the cultural life of the city; and our Training, Networking, and Talks offer professional development programs to artists and arts groups.
For the tenth anniversary of 9/11 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) presented InSite: Art + Commemoration, an initiative that invited artistic response to a decade of recovery and change in Lower Manhattan through exhibitions, performances, poetry and ideas.
The Present and Future
In February 2011, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC) announced that it took over as the lead partner of The River To River® Festival, assuming responsibility from the Alliance for Downtown New York for producing the annual free summer arts festival in Lower Manhattan.
Along with original partners the Alliance for Downtown New York and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the festival was conceived as a way to revitalize Lower Manhattan after 9/11. Over the past nine years it has become a cultural institution, drawing over 100,000 people each year to venues in Lower Manhattan.
LMCC remains committed to being the leading voice for arts and culture Downtown and throughout the borough.