Founded in 1973 by Flory Barnett with support from David Rockefeller, Sr. and Chase Manhattan Bank, New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), and other local business and civic leaders, LMCC is built on the premise that artists are pillars of resilience and inspiration and therefore are vital to New York City. Over the past decade, demand for LMCC’s programs has flourished, and in response, we have grown in programmatic scope, community impact, and capacity. This momentum has enabled us to forge meaningful connections with individual artists, arts groups, public officials, community groups, property owners and developers, and other employers as well as stakeholders in the downtown and cultural landscapes at large.
LMCC grew with the Financial District, cultivating art and culture in and around the World Trade Center presenting lunchtime concerts and evening performances on the plaza, installations in the lobby windows of banks (the Art Lobby project), and outdoor sculpture exhibitions.
We expanded our reach boroughwide with our Manhattan Arts Grants: Manhattan Community Arts Fund began in 1984; The Fund for Creative Communities began in 1998; and Creative Curricula began in 2003. By the end of the 1990s, we had not only moved our offices into the World Trade Center, we had transformed it into a cultural anchor: World Views offered studio space to artists in the upper floors of the North Tower; Evening Stars brought free dance to the WTC Plaza; and exhibition spaces throughout the complex showcased the work of artists of all disciplines.
On September 11, we lost our home, performance venue, studio and exhibition spaces, and nearly 30 years of archives when the World Trade Center was destroyed. Most significantly, we lost an artist-in-residence, Michael Richards, who perished along with thousands of others. The World Views residents were nearing the end of their session, and had been working feverishly towards the culminating open studio event. Michael had spent the night working in his 92nd floor studio, where he was creating a sculpture inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, which bore an eerie resemblance to that day’s tragedy.
Without a permanent office, LMCC moved nomadically for the next several years before finally finding a new home at our current address on Maiden Lane. With our residency studios destroyed, we were fortunate to receive an outpouring of generosity following the attacks. Donations from real estate owners allowed us to create New Views, a site-specific residency in DUMBO, Brooklyn and at the World Financial Center. And the City of Paris helped establish a special six-month residency in Paris, France for New York City-based visual artists, a program that continues today. In addition, several exhibitions were mounted, and a book was published, featuring artists who participated in LMCC’s residency programs in the World Trade Center to honor, celebrate, commemorate, and archive their work, and ours. From December 2001 to January 2002, the New Museum presented World Views: Open Studio Exhibition, a group show of work by the Summer 2001 World Views artists-in-residence. And in 2002, a non-traditional, hands-on exhibition titled Microviews: Artists’ Documents of the World Trade Center focused on everyday documents of the World Trade Center architecture and environs collected by artists during their residencies. In 2004, LMCC published Site Matters: The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s World Trade Center Artists Residency, 1997–2001, a book that chronicles LMCC’s residency programs in the World Trade Center and includes documentation of work by the more than 130 artists who participated in our residency programs from 1997–2001.
The losses directly affected the focus of other new programs. The Michael Richards Fund provided support for emerging visual artists from the Caribbean or of Caribbean descent. Cities, Art, & Recovery considered how people remember and rebuild after tragedy and how the arts have been crucial to such recovery. Our Gulf Coast Residency offered a temporary residency in Lower Manhattan for 15 artists displaced by Hurricane Katrina. In 2005, we received a $5 million grant over 3 years from The September 11th Fund to support and sustain the arts community in Lower Manhattan. With this support, we launched the Downtown Cultural Grants initiative, comprising six new programs that provided grants to support arts and culture south of Canal Street and in Chinatown. These programs proved critical to the ongoing recovery and growth of the Lower Manhattan cultural community. For the tenth anniversary of 9/11, LMCC presented InSite: Art + Commemoration, an initiative that invited artistic response to a decade of recovery and change in Lower Manhattan through exhibitions, performances, poetry and ideas.
In February 2011, LMCC took over as the lead partner of the River To River Festival, assuming responsibility from the Alliance for Downtown New York for producing the annual free summer arts festival in Lower Manhattan. Along with original partners the Alliance for Downtown New York and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the festival was conceived as a way to revitalize Lower Manhattan after 9/11. Since its inception it has continued to grow and develop into a cultural institution, drawing over 100,000 people each year to venues in Lower Manhattan.
Through all of this change, we remain committed to the belief that the arts and artists play a vital role in communities throughout New York City. Our Artist Residency Programs carry on the spirit of World Views; we distribute approximately $500,000 to artists and organizations through our Manhattan Arts Grants, our Professional Development Programs offer training and workshops to artists and arts groups, and our Public Engagement Initiatives continue to stoke the cultural life of the city.