On September 18, 9/11, 2001, the nation paid its first respects to our fallen, ill, and wounded, survivors, first responders, and those killed in the attacks. The people of New York City had paid a terrible price.
Today, New York City is reaping the benefits of its cultural resilience. President Donald Trump’s recent executive order reviving the federal protections for cultural institutions, including a reinstatement of the National Endowment for the Arts, sends a crucial message to America’s cultural leaders and patrons: Your investment in New York and culture will not be forgotten.
That certainty, unfortunately, is lacking in Congress.
The bill to which Trump attached his executive order, the Public Spaces Protection Act (PL 10-16), languishes in Congress. Not only does it fail to protect your $50 billion in receipts in Manhattan’s cultural districts—including 7,000 commercial establishments and more than a thousand educational and cultural institutions—but it protects federal taxpayers from millions of dollars in additional funding.
This incongruity undermines our ability to continue rebuilding after the attacks. Our ability to revitalize these districts is dependent on our ability to ensure that federal funding is available.
On top of this, our institutions face catastrophic threats to our very survival. With the opioid epidemic claiming hundreds of thousands of victims every year, mass shootings hitting at the doors of our institutions, and the slide toward more racial and religious division—all of which are fueled by hatred and fear, not tolerance and understanding—we cannot afford to falter.
But it’s not only art and culture that are under attack. We’re also seeing an escalation in threats to religious freedom. One Congressional report noted that “for-profit institutions such as art museums, conferences, and concert halls may now be targets for hostile, anti-Semitic groups.” We are in a dangerous national moment. The freedoms that have defined who we are as Americans are threatened by our ignorance, our bad habits, and our misguided fear.
Exemplifying this countervailing courage is New York City. With the remaining remnants of the World Trade Center destroyed, the obvious question was whether New York would let itself be wounded again—this time by physical or spiritual trauma—but New York has proved yet again that it is the world’s safest city. It won’t give in to those who would tear down all the things that bind it to its profound history, its privilege, and its indispensable role in the world.
In New York, we know how resilient art and culture are. The growth of our cultural district, community organizations, the city’s arts curriculum, and our schools has not only served to rebuild us, but it has enabled millions of New Yorkers to find their places in the world, to connect with their art, and to understand their history and place in it.
The last decade is being remembered as a decade of great leaps forward for culture in America—thanks in no small part to the support of federal funds. It is time to heed the President’s call for Americans to rally behind New York and Culture.
– Matthew Duffy is Executive Director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Daniel Schwartz is executive director of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.