How the Arts Helped Us Through the September 11 Tragedy

Posted by Robert Lynch On September - 9 - 2011

Robert L. Lynch

In late July 2001, Americans for the Arts held its annual conference in New York City. It was the biggest gathering we had ever had, some 1,600 leaders from the local arts agency and state arts agency worlds, including not only members of Americans for the Arts but also the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

A favorite event that we produce at these conferences is ARTventures — special off-site, educational tours that offer convention attendees the opportunity to see what arts activities are going on and meet artists in different neighborhoods and different venues throughout the city. In New York in 2001, I chose to go to our ARTventure program at the World Trade Center.

Somewhere up high on the 91st and 92nd floors of Tower One was an arts colony carved out of raw space that had been donated by the Port Authority to artists and arts organizations to create, plan, and dream. The 60 or so of us who went there that day as guests of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council got to share in those dreams and visions and gazed out the giant plate glass windows at the same blue New York sky that was serving as an inspiration to all those artists within.

On Sept 11, 2001, just a few weeks later, I was looking out the window of Americans for the Arts’ headquarters office in Washington, D.C., which looks at the White House and beyond towards the Pentagon. Suddenly I could see the plume of smoke rise from where the Pentagon was located. We had just received word both via news media and from our New York office that the Twin Towers had been hit. Some members of our New York staff were on their way to work and saw the impact. Read the rest of this entry »

One of the "100 Faces of War" portraits by Matthew Mitchell

On September 11, 2001, the Animating Democracy team was on a conference call with New York-based colleagues when a faint newscast on one of their TVs emitted something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

What started out as a call to fine tune preparations for a national convening of Animating Democracy grantees slated to be held two days later morphed inevitably into cancellation plans, then into disbelief and mourning with the rest of the country.

Two months later, we reconstituted our plan. More than 100 grantees and guests gathered in Chicago to resume our intended work of exploring the role of the arts in fostering meaningful and productive civic dialogue.

With 9/11’s still raw emotions beating in our hearts, we asked artists Marty Pottenger and Terry Dame to help us make sense of it all, particularly the questions that had begun to infiltrate the American psyche: What does it mean to be an American? What is your relationship to America right now? What course should the U.S. take?

Terry’s slow, distorted, eerie, yet beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful,” played on a homemade gamelon, created a different kind of space in which we moved ourselves physically, psychologically, and intellectually, guided by Marty’s creative facilitation around these questions.

This arts-based dialogue exemplified the potency of arts and culture to create a space, an invitation, and a spark for meaningful dialogue.

It was just what was needed as this collection of arts practitioners, leaders, and their community partners considered how they too could and would animate and strengthen democracy in their own communities around issues affecting people’s daily lives. Read the rest of this entry »