A Conversation With Anita Contini

On Wednesday, August 21, Gotham Gazette held a live chat with Anita Contini, director of memorial, cultural and civic programs for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Find out what she said during our conversation as Contini fielded questions about the memorial for the World Trade Center site.

Gotham Gazette: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for coming to Gotham Gazette’s live chat event. Our guest today is Anita Contini, director of memorial, cultural and civic programs for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Hello Ms. Contini.

Anita Contini: Hello, thank you for inviting me to be part of today's chat.


GG: Your title is "director of memorial, cultural and civic programs" for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. What does this mean? What exactly is your job?

AC: My job is to manage a process for creating a memorial for the World Trade Center, along with developing a cultural and civic program for the site.

GG: What does a "civic program" mean?

AC: Education facilities, community centers, libraries. Another specific example could be a local YMCA...

GG: You're talking about being in charge of these actual buildings?

AC: Well, it's not managing buildings, as much as creating programs both cultural and civic, that add vitality to the area, at the same time as being respectful to the memorial.

GG: When the officials involved in the rebuilding process have talked about "programs" it seems to have a different meaning from how regular people understand that to mean. What do you mean here by programs?

AC: So, your question is -- what is a program?

GG: Yes.

AC: When I talk about cultural programs, I am referring to museums, performing spaces, studios for rehearsals, etc. In terms of the memorial program, that is -- in addition to an aesthetic image of the memorial -- some programs have been education facilities, museums that deal with the artifacts of the site, a place for children to learn, a quiet place for reflection.

GG: Last night in Staten Island, at the first public hearing about the memorial there was a lot of concern and anger among the participants, many of whom are relatives of people who died on September 11. Did this reaction surprise you?

AC: No, this is very tragic, and innocent people lost their lives. It is understandable that people are angry and upset about what happened and their loss. There are lot of good things that were suggested last night, and it is important for us to hear what needs to be said so we can get a full understanding of what people want for an appropriate and respectful memorial.

GG: Most of the reaction last night was over the feeling that it is not clear who will be in charge. For example, Nick Chiarchiaro, who lost his wife and niece in the attacks, asked "Who is Oz? Who is that person behind the curtain? Is that someone here?" You were there, is that you?

AC: I am part of the process. My responsibility first is to listen and understand. I have a responsibility to protect the integrity of this process to create an inspiring and remarkable memorial and to have input from all stakeholders.


GG: What exactly is the process to create a memorial?

AC: There are many steps. First, we must develop a mission statement that incorporates input from many people. Second, we must ensure that the memorial process is integrated fully with the overall planning process for the site. In addition, we must review all best practices from other memorials around the world. Work with the planners to identify a fitting site for the memorial. Another concrete step is to form a Memorial Selection Committee. To identify a complete memorial program, and establish criteria for an open, international competition.

GG: What is the timeline? Spell out the timeline for each of these steps.

AC: I think that many of these steps are currently underway. In reference to the criteria and announcing the international competition, we see that happening at the beginning of 2003. Our anticipated deadline for the Memorial Selection Committee to announce the finalist fof the design of the memorial is September 2003. However, the quality of the memorial will drive the timeline. The timeline will not drive the quality of the memorial. We must be thoughtful.

GG: You just talked about the memorial process being integrated with the overall rebuilding process. Raffaele Pandozy asks, shouldn't the memorial come first?

AC: The planning process has begun...and that's why it's important to start the memorial process now and not wait. To integrate the memorial into the site planning will ensure that the best memorial isn't an afterthought.

GG: This is a point that many people have brought up, so we would like your clarification. They believe that the memorial should be completed before any other buildings are put on the site. Is that something that has been ruled out?

AC: There is no date for buildling. Currently, there is a temporary PATH station being created, and the 1-9 [subway line] is being reconnected. Apart from these two projects, and a viewing wall that will be soon erected around the site, everything else is in the planning stage.

GG: Have you ruled out making a committment to building the memorial first before any buildings go on the site?

AC: This is a process. Nothing is ruled out. We've heard that not only should the memorial be a priority, but what type of appropriate buildings should surround the memorial, such as cultural buildings. It is important to think about these cultural facilities in order to make the process a holistic one.


GG: You talked about the memorial selection committee. Janna Olson asks, How will you determine who will sit on the selection committee choosing the official memorial?

AC: You can look at past examples of who has sat on past Memorial Selection Committees. We feel that the it can be made up of family members, cultural institutions, and others. Individuals who would add value to the process and expertise. People who will be thoughtful about what is best for the memorial.

GG: How much say do people like victims’ family members, lower Manhattan residents and regular New Yorkers each have in making decisions about the memorial?

AC: Through our public meetings, advisory councils, Listening to the City event, many individuals have been given an opportunity to share their thoughts and we will continue to encourage an open and inclusive dialogue.

GG: Do you have a plan in case there is no consensus? In the case of the Vietnam Memorial, there is more than one memorial. Is that a possibility here?

AC: There have been many controversies surrounding memorial designs. The Vietnam memorial did not have a consensus when it was first announced. However, the majority of individuals now are drawn to it, and it is much loved by not only people in this country but people throughout the world. We will need to trust the process and in the creative vision of designer or individuals selected to create the memorial.

GG: When the Oklahoma City memorial was designed, priority was given to the victim's families. Some, like New York Observer columnist Philip Weiss, have said that this made the memorial an overly sad place, a place only to mourn. Will the September 11 memorial follow Oklahoma’s example?

AC: Our situation, and our city are unique. Each memorial needs to be relevant to its people, location and purpose. Many people feel the September 11th memorial should be a "living memorial" and a tribute to those who lost their lives. Some feel it should be a place of reflection and remembrance only. The input we receive now will be reflected back to those who submit official proposals next year.


GG: What do you mean by a "living memorial?"

AC: It's not just a place of reflection and sadness. It's a place that has facilities surrounding it such as museums and performing centers that would bring poeple, not only to remember, but to celebrate life and to celebrate our democracy.

GG: So you would not rule out the possibility of the memorial being a place of reflection and remembrance only?

AC: We hear often from many people that it should be more than a place of remembrance only. I do not want to rule out any possibilities that would provide respect and inspiration, and which would transcend us beyond grief.

GG: Lee Ielpi, a retired firefighter who lost his firefighter son, has said that he is offended to see vendors selling September 11-related goods so close to Ground Zero. Will vendors be allowed to sell on the memorial grounds after it is built? Should there be a gift shop?

AC: I am going to stay focused on the memorial and related facilities. These are valid questions, and will have to be looked at in the future.

GG: Gretchen asks, Is there any plan to coordinate with the memorials in Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania?

AC: I have had initial conversations with the Pentagon regarding their memorial plans and I will also be speaking to those involved with the Pennsylvania memorial. Those memorials, again, will be very specific to those individuals who lost their lives in those locations. Our Families Advisory Council, and many other individuals, feel that the World Trade Center memorial should be inclusive of all those who lost their lives, in all locations, during the terrorist attack on September 11th.


GG: You have been at this job exactly two weeks. How many people have submitted their ideas for a memorial?

AC: In regards to memorial submissions, I am not reviewing any submissions. In order to ensure that all applicants have the same opportunity, proposals received before the announcement of the criteria will not be considered. And if people do send in proposals, upon request these will be returned. Everyone must have the same opportunity -- this is an issue of fairness and integrity to the process. We anticipate the guidelines and criteria to be available on the LMDC website in early 2003.

GG: But how many have actually been submitted so far? There is one report that said 2,000 submissions have been sent in.

AC: You may be correct that is the number. Proposals have been sent to family members, to city officials, to architects, etc., not only to us.

GG: Valaree Wood asks: Have you thought about retaining Maya Lin, designer of the Vietnam Memorial? She has an elegant and poignant way of getting a message across.

AC: The process will be open to all internationally who wish to submit an idea that fits criteria to be issued in early 2003.

GG: There have been many temporary memorials and shrines around the city. To your knowledge, has this kind of spontaneous demonstration happened anywhere else?

AC: This did happen in Oklahoma City, this has happened when a child is lost. This occurs around the world in response to many personal tragedies, small and large. Yesterday, at our public meeting in Staten Island, I met a family member who told me that she created a memorial in her backyard. These are personal expressions.

GG: It seems as if these memorials have created a new aesthetic; that’s what some museum curators have said, and it has affected their own exhibitions. Will these kinds of tributes be incorporated into the official memorial in some way?

AC: This is a valid thought and will be looked at.

GG: Ground Zero is now the top tourist site in New York City. Are there memorials in other cities that you know of that successfully accommodate such large crowds?

AC: The Vietnam Memorial in Washington. I do not know the number of tourists who visit there. However there are also many large memorials around the world.

GG: What about bringing back the Tribute in Light? A March poll showed that 39 percent of New Yorker voters supported keeping the Tribute in Light until a permanent memorial is created. Are there plans to bring back the Tribute In Light or another temporary memorial?

AC: We have heard this a lot. Again, there is going to be a process and ideas can be sumbitted when the criteria is available.

GG: Will there be an interim memorial before the permanent one is constructed?

AC: There is an interim memorial in Battery Park which contains Fritz Koenig's Sphere as its centerpiece.

GG: What lessons for the Ground Zero memorial do you hope to learn from other memorials across the U.S. and worldwide?

AC: To maintain an open and inclusive process. To solicit many viewpoints. An to trust in the process and creative vision that will transcend from tragedy to a higher place.

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