You don’t have to look up the institution’s authorizing legislation to grasp that the New York State Museum is tasked with a broad cultural and educational mandate. A walk through the museum itself, with its wildly diverse exhibits dedicated to the geography, biology, history, art and culture of New York state, is sufficient. This mandate imposes a special responsibility when it comes to remembering 9/11, and tomorrow (Sept. 9), the museum will open its major 9/11 exhibit, New York Remembers.
Mark Schaming, the NYSM’s director of exhibitions, describes this responsibility: “The weight of this being the 10th anniversary is always there.”
Within a few months of 9/11, the museum opened the ongoing exhibit World Trade Center: Rescue, Recovery, Response, which remains an instructive, moving remembrance of the events of that day. The anniversary would present the challenge of telling a larger story—one that’s been covered extensively by the national and international media.
“We were looking at it in a number of ways,” Schaming says. “We decided we would add to the permanent gallery, and we thought we could use the West Gallery for an art exhibition as some way of looking at 9/11.”
A representation of the international response to 9/11 has been added to the permanent exhibit; the West Gallery show takes visitors back to the world of Sept. 10, 2001.
“We found that there were these artists who worked in a studio in the north tower,” he adds, “and we thought it would be interesting to go back and look at art that was made in the tower, [art] that would reflect the place, and art that reflected the towers themselves.”
That program, administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, began in 1997 and occupied space on the 91st and 92nd floors of Tower One. This art created in the WTC is presented as Reflecting on 9/11: Before the Fall.
An art studio that was directly opposite the World Trade Center is the source of the cedarliberty Project, a large multimedia installation. It’s a video piece from an artist, Elena del Rivero, whose studio was essentially destroyed when the south tower fell.
“She went back in and set up video cameras to look out her studio windows,” Schaming says. The exhibit is “five large TV screens showing video [of the view from] the artist’s studio, from the six-month recovery period—and it’s riveting.”
The centerpiece of New York Remembers is Documenting a Decade: From September 11, 2001 to Today. The museum invited New Yorkers to submit photos that would “document the post-9/11 world.”
“We’ve had a very strong response,” Schaming says. “We did an exhibition called Wish You Were Here, where we went out to the public and asked them to send their favorite pictures of New York state. We got thousands and thousands of pictures.”
And the response to the call for 9/11-related photographs?
“We got a large number right away. . . . We’re checking the e-mail every day to see what’s coming in, and add new images to the gallery,” Schaming says. “We’re putting together a monitor that’s going to rotate these pieces very much like Wish You Were Here, and then the wall [of images] will grow. And then there’s the Flickr account, online.”
“We think it’s a great way for the public to literally participate in an exhibition,” Schaming says.
“We’re also installing a very large artifact in the lobby of the museum,” Schaming adds, “which is a ladder from an FDNY truck.”
These exhibits are what you can see in Albany, but the NYSM’s mission is larger than that. And so there is the New York Remembers Project, which is dedicated to creating traveling 9/11 exhibits.
“We’ve developed,” Schaming says, “with the governor’s office, 31 exhibitions that have gone out all over the state.”
On a recent afternoon, Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited the New York State Museum to unveil the official state 9/11 flag, which will greet visitors at the rebuilt ground zero site.
“We were pleased to be part of that as well,” says Schaming. “Gov. Cuomo feels very strongly that every New Yorker should know what happened on Sept. 11.”
When asked what special events might coincide with New York Remembers, which will be on view through April 28, 2012, Schaming says, “We’ve been so busy, we’re just catching up with programming now.”
Thursday (Sept. 8) at 7 PM in the museum’s Huxley Theater, Capitol Pressroom host Susan Arbetter will moderate a discussion about how “we have changed—as individuals, New Yorkers, and Americans—in the 10 years since 9/11.” The panel will include journalist Paul Grondahl, historian Kenneth T. Jackson, political scientist Victor Asal, editor and journalist Jamie Tarabay, and Schaming.
“In the next week we’ll be announcing some of the other programs we’ll have coming up as well.”