Board of Directors
Lower Manhattan Development Corporation
One Liberty Plaza, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10006
Dear Mr. Whitehead-
On behalf of the National Coalition Against Censorship, the Brennan Center for Justice, the College Art Association, PEN American Center and other organizations and individuals concerned with democracy, civil liberties, and the arts I am writing to urge you to reconsider the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation’s recent decision to impose content constraints on future tenants of the World Trade Center’s Snøhetta cultural center.
It is our understanding that The Drawing Center and the International Freedom Center, cultural organizations invited to occupy space at Ground Zero, were pressed by Governor Pataki to guarantee that their programming would never “denigrate” America or offend the families of 9/11 victims. It was clear from the controversy, which led to the ultimatum, that “denigrating” America and offending victims’ families meant criticizing government policies. The LMDC then went further and asked to review the “detailed plans, program and governance structure” of the IFC – presumably to ensure that no content will be featured that could potentially be deemed “unpatriotic” and offend some groups.
As a State-City corporation, the LMDC is bound by the First Amendment, which prohibits it from discriminating against political viewpoints. The demand that organizations occupying space in the new cultural center exclude any criticism of the United States from their programming violates fundamental constitutional principles. What is more, it is a policy totally at odds with the very American freedoms to which the rebuilding of the World Trade Center is dedicated.
The censorship standards asserted by Governor Pataki not only trample free speech values; they are unworkable. Creative expression is rarely absolutely “safe:” if every time someone claims offense an artwork is removed, a speaker disinvited, a program canceled or a book taken off the shelves, there will be precious little left. The promise never to “blame America” could, depending on the political viewpoint and attitudes of members of the “Take Back the Memorial Campaign” or any other vocal group, preclude educational exhibits that tell the history of slavery and civil rights, the disenfranchisement of women and the subsequent suffrage movement, or the political repression of the McCarthy period and subsequent legal campaigns for free speech.
Ultimately, no amount of government control will satisfy those who believe that the space should be exclusively and narrowly focused on commemorating those who died. But New Yorkers made the decision to have a cultural center after much deliberation, believing that honoring the dead should not mean silencing the living. A cultural center, which cherishes debate, criticism, even controversy takes nothing away from the Memorial next to it – on the contrary, it will help us understand the past so as to build a better future.
We urge you to show respect for the U.S. Constitution, for New Yorkers, and for all those who believe that this country is a beacon of freedom, and open the World Trade Center’s cultural center to the free exploration of artistic and intellectual ideas.
Arts Program Director, NCAC
On behalf of:
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
Artists Network of Refuse and Resist!
Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law
College Art Association
Feminists for Free Expression
The First Amendment Project
Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MN)
National Association Of Artists’ Organizations
National Coalition Against Censorship
New York Foundation for the Arts
Outsider Art Center, Minneapolis, MN
PEN American Center
Edmund Cardoni, Executive Director, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, Buffalo, NY
Martha Wilson, Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc., New York, NY
Ned Kaufman, Ph.D., Graduate Program in Historic Preservation, Pratt Institute, New York, NY
Kathleen Gilrain, Smack Mellon Studios, Brooklyn, NY
Dona Warner, Dieu Donné Papermill, New York, NY
Governor George E. Pataki
Albany, NY 12224
Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg
New York, NY 10007
New York City Commissioner of Cultural Affairs
330 West 42nd Street
New York, New York 10036
New York State Council on the Arts
175 Varick Street
New York, NY 10014-4604