November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Art and Poetry at Ground Zero

Empire State Building, 1 WTC, Chrysler Building ©Sacha Webley, 2012©2012 Sacha Webley

Empire State Building, 1 WTC, Chrysler Building 

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 At Ground Zero,

a convergence of the arts

by  Dr. José Rodeiro
Contributing Art Editor

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work.

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1855

On April 30, 2012, a rare convergence of the arts occurred in and around Ground Zero, as 1 WTC surpassed the Empire State Building as New York City’s tallest building. This architectural triumph garnered worldwide attention for the building itself, those who built it, and the project’s primary consulting architect, David M. Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, LLP. Taking place simultaneously was a poetry reading organized by Meriam Lobel, curator at Tribute World Trade Center’s Visitor Center (TWTC-VC), and involving among others, poets Alan Britt and Peter Messana, student Emma Kuby-Vasta, photographer Charles Hayes and students from William McKinley Intermediate School 259, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Elysian Charter School, Hoboken, N.J. Art exhibits and more – all in memory and honor of the victims and heroes of 9/11.

@ Charles Hayes Photo 2012

Meriam Lobel

But an additional historical take on that day makes 2012 something special, as 2:00 p.m., April 30, took it’s place in New York’s architectural foot-race. This was not the first time the Empire State Building contended to be NYC’s tallest building. During the Great Depression, art was – amidst deep economic fears and afflictions – generally regarded as unessential – perhaps, a bit like today’s post-2007 Great Recession. Then, as now, several gargantuan architectural projects materialized.  In 1930, the Empire State Building withstood a height challenge by the Chrysler Building’s planners, especially its principal owner, Walter P. Chrysler. As 1930 unfolded, both Art Deco edifices went head to head striving to become New York City’s Tallest Building. In the end, the Empire State Building won by adding a lightning rod at its peak, to reach a height of 1,454 feet, while the Chrysler Building topped out at a mere 1,046 feet.

In 1972, until its demise in 2001, Minoru Yamasaki’s original World Trade Center twin-towers challenged and surpassed the Empire State Building, to take the title of New York’s tallest buildings.  In light of this spirited history, completed 1WTC will reach 1,776 feet,  honoring the year of the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence, and earning it the nickname Freedom Tower.

 

Alan Britt and audience at Tribute Center poetry reading.©2012 Charles Hayes

Alan Britt and audience at Tribute Center poetry reading.

So, while construction workers added steel according to blueprints, in order to guide architectural ideas to fruition, the force of human imagination revealed itself in poetry, art and song.  In A Defence of Poetry, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley argues that civilization owes its genesis to art.  As Canadian-born, Los Angeles-based architect Frank Gehry said,  “In the end, the character of a civilization is encased in its structures.” With this in mind, Lobel wisely encourages young people from area schools to utilize The Tribute WTC Visitor Center as a place to experience human creativity, especially the resurgence of art and life after 9/11.

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About the author:

Ragazine.CC’s contributing art editor, Dr. José Rodeiro, is Coordinator of Art History, Art Dept., New Jersey City University, Jersey City, New Jersey.  You can read more about him in “About Us.” His painting is the cover illustration for Britt’s book of poems about 9/11, Alone with the Terrible Universe, reviewed elsewhere in this issue of Ragazine.CC by poet and author, Paul Sohar.