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Freedom Center, Drawing Center in Jeopardy at Ground Zero

After complaints from World Trade Center victims’ family groups, a “request for appropriateness” from Governor George Pataki, and a new ultimatum from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, the status of the two tenants at Ground Zero’s Cultural Center is in doubt.

Family groups have assailed the Drawing Center (DC) and International Freedom Center (IFC) for potentially presenting exhibits that families feel would be inappropriate for Ground Zero [Record, August, 2005, page 26]. In response, John C. Whitehead, chairman of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation said at the August 11 board meeting that the IFC would have to present exhibit plans to the board on September 23 for approval.

Fraser Seitel, a spokesman for the Drawing Center, now located in Soho, says, “Drawing Center officials are looking at other options on the possibility that the Drawing Center won’t be invited to be in the Snøhetta building.” He adds, “the DC could have decided to move out of the building. It has not done that. In fact its hope remains that it continues to remain invited to be in the building.” But he continues, “The Drawing Center, as a cultural institution, obviously has to stand for artistic freedom. And that’s something it can’t compromise.”

The IFC released a statement in early August saying “we remain fully and enthusiastically committed to creating the International Freedom Center--in Snohetta's inspiring building on the World Trade Center site--as an integral part of the living memorial to September 11.”

Family groups, for their part, say they never asked for censorship, just better choices for the site. Monica Iken, the founder of family group September’s Mission, says, “This is not the place you want to have political discussions or debates of any sort because people died there.”

Snøhetta, whose design for the building was unveiled in May 2005, is reportedly reducing its size by about 30 percent. Snøhetta principal Craig Dykers says the reduction is to meet budget restraints and to “have the correct relationship to the memorial voids.”

Kevin Lerner