World Trade Center Gets an Arts Expert, May Lose an Arts Center

WTC's own arts maven. (NY Social Diary)

Art, once seen as a central piece of the World Trade Center redevelopment, has become much of an afterthought at this point. Even the giant mall planned for the site is a bigger priority, though that makes some sense, since the one destroyed on 9/11 was one of the most popular on the planet at the time. That and it will actually help generate revenue for the Port Authority, an increasingly important issue as the cost of the complex continues to grow. The surprisingly serene memorial may qualify as culture, but otherwise the site is almost all commerce at this point.

The Port is taking a step toward enlivening things by tapping Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel as a public art consultant for the World Trade Center. Part of her job will be to figure out exactly what art would be appropriate for the site, and where, but the exact aspects of the consultation is still being worked out.

“Barbaralee’s extensive insight and knowledge will be of tremendous value to us as construction of One World Trade Center approaches completion,” Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye said in a release. “I am confident her experience will serve the agency well in advancing this important aspect of One World Trade Center development, and I very much look forward to working with her.”

The first director for cultural affairs in the city and once the longest serving member of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Ms. Diamonstein-Spielvogel has installed art projects everywhere from Bryant Park to the White House, and she helped bring the Metropolitan Opera to Central Park in the 1980s. She is currently the vice-chair of the New York Council on the Arts, an appointee of Governor Andrew Cuomo (who also oversees the Port).

Public art has become an important part of both public and private development projects, and many government buildings feature work created through percent for the arts programs. Larry Silverstein’s 7 World Trade Center is a prime example of private investment, with a Jenny Holzer media wall in the lobby and a Jeff Koons “balloon” flower in a plaza across the street.

Whether the public can expect the same from the Port Authority remains to be seen. At the World Trade Center, no agency money will be spent for the acquisition of art, but there is a clear willingness from others to pitch in—Ms. Diamonstein Spielvogel is donating her time pro bono to the agency.

Were she to ask for compensation, that might be a lot to ask for considering the Port Authority will not even pony up for the long-planned Frank Gehry-designed performing arts center. According to the Post, the Port is still trying to limit its costs at the World Trade Center, including refusing to contribute any further funds to the performance space.

Whether this means a curtain call is actually “becoming more and more remote,” as the Post alleges, seems like an overstatement. There is $155 million in funds from the LMDC, and though that leaves $295 million more to raise, it simply means the backers, including Mayor Bloomberg, cannot turn to the Port for help, which they had been hoping for.

There are rumors the Joyce Theater is thinking of moving elsewhere, following a similar departure by the Signature Theater Company, which just opened its new space in Midtown. Perhaps that should inspire the cultural center’s backers to go out and find additional tenants to strengthen the building’s appeal beyond the niche dancing of the Joyce. We know an opera company in need of a home.

mchaban [at] | @MC_NYC World Trade Center Gets an Arts Expert, May Lose an Arts Center