Sharon resident has ideas
What do you do with 100,000 square feet of museum space, seven stories below ground?Michael Shulan of Sharon and New York City, creative director of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, has been working since 2006 to come up with an answer. This past Sunday, Sept. 11, marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) towers, the Pentagon and the aborted flight that crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa. Even as recovery operations were underway there was a move afoot to create a memorial to the victims. In 2005 the World Trade Center Memorial Foundation was formed and ultimately created the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the site of the WTC in New York City. The memorial was dedicated on Sunday and opened to the public on Monday, Sept. 12. The museum is slated to open a year from now in September 2012.Shulan became involved with the new museum through a project he orchestrated in the days immediately following the attacks.As Shulan told it, “On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in my studio, which was in the then-vacant storefront of my building on Prince Street, working on a book that wasn’t going well, when I heard a woman crying on the street. I went outside and from the corner across the street, I could see what millions of people around the world were discovering, that a plane had flown into the upper stories of one of the World Trade Towers and the building was on fire.“Soho was about a 20-minute walk from the World Trade Center — what was to become known as Ground Zero,” he continued. “That afternoon, I was out in the street; the police had effectively closed down the neighborhood and people were just wandering around. I started to walk south, and as I got closer to the devastation I saw many things, some that had a kind of terrible beauty.“The next morning I dug out an old photo I had in my loft of the World Trade Towers, and posted it in the window of the empty storefront. Passers-by would stop and touch it, and even photograph it, as though it were a talisman, and then as was happening in different sites around the city, people started posting notes on the window next to the photo; testimonials of their thoughts, observations, prayers for the victims.“I was very dismayed by the endless repetition of the same horrible images on television. Watching the sequence of the plane crashes and fall of the towers over and over again was very traumatizing and debilitating. It occurred to me it would be interesting to mount an open photography exhibition, to allow anyone to post their pictures.”The “here is new york” project grew from that spontaneous display. Shulan obtained permission from his building’s co-owners to use the empty storefront for two weeks and organized the exhibition with three of his friends, Charles Traub and Gilles Peress, photographers, and Alice Rose George, curator and photo editor. “We decided to hang the pictures without attribution, no credits, no captions, and because the storefront was tiled, we figured out a way to hang them on wires, we didn’t frame the pictures. Also we digitized everything. We printed all the images equally so there were no distinguishing characteristics; you couldn’t tell the difference between a submission from a schoolchild or one of the world’s leading photojournalists,” Shulan said.The exhibition was noticed by the press, was covered on TV and went viral.The show remained up in the Prince Street location for more than a year and received more than a million visitors; a website [www.hereisnewyork.org] had a billion hits in the first year; and then the exhibit traveled to more than 36 other venues around the world. It was a collaborative undertaking; more than 300 people volunteered on the exhibition; 3,000 photographers contributed their images. It was a community action. In 2006, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. (LMDC) hired Alice Greenwald to be the director of the museum project; she had been the director of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. Shulan was tapped to be the creative director. His is simultaneously a compassionate and dispassionate voice of a world-changing event. As a documentarian, his goal was simply to provide a forum to allow viewers to process what was happening. Working with the architects and directors of the museum he has helped to shape the focus of the museum. This has not been a simple task.The WTC site is still a construction zone. The museum is underground.Visitors will walk down a long ramp into the museum, which is at bedrock, seven stories below street level.“My job has been to figure out what do to with this huge space. I thought a lot about it in a lot of different ways. You’re walking back to the site, through time, you’re walking back through history, you’re walking back through memory — all of these things were proposed for the museum and have in some way been adopted.“The museum should not be a conventional history museum, because its history is not over, it’s still ongoing. We didn’t understand a lot about 9/11 at the time I was hired. We understand more now, but still there are plenty of things we don’t. “Some of the exhibitions will change over time. One of the tensions of the museum is that it’s also a memorial at the site of an atrocity, which creates sensitivities you have to respect. One of the ways that we did that, in the basement of the North Tower footprint will be the historical exhibition; in the basement of the South Tower will be an exhibition devoted to the victims. “The opportunity to work on this project has been a great challenge and really quite an honor for me. Although ‘here is new york’ was very different than the official museum will be, I’ve tried to incorporate some of its openness and collaborative spirit, two qualities that were so prevalent in New York in the aftermath of 9/11. Two qualities that in these difficult times, I think are in short supply.”The “here is new york” exhibit was archived and will be on display from this week at the International Center of Photography, the New-York Historical Society and the School of Visual Arts. For more information go to www.icp.org. www.nyhistory.org and www.schoolofvisualarts.edu.