The National September 11 Memorial Museum opened on May 21, 2014, marking the culmination of an eight-year odyssey. The collaborative process of envisioning this Museum involved curators, educators, exhibition developers, architects, landmark preservationists, representatives of various constituencies (among them, family members of victims, survivors of the attacks, first responders, former recovery workers, and lower Manhattan residents and business owners, all with a vested interest in what this Museum should and would present), and exhibition designers and media producers charged with translating all of the various imperatives into a cogent and meaningful experience.
The Museum’s core exhibitions are located at bedrock, seven stories below ground, allowing visitors to be in the very space where the Twin Towers once stood. Not simply located at the site of the attacks, the Museum occupies a space defined by in-situ historic remnants. Because federal preservation law mandated that those remnants be publicly accessible, the Museum has been built in a contemporary archaeological site whose authenticity of place has been fully integrated with the narrative that unfolds within it. Where most museums are buildings that house artifacts, this Museum has been built within an artifact.
There are two main exhibition spaces. In Memoriam, the memorial exhibition, is located on the footprint of the South Tower. The exhibition commemorates the 2,983 men, women, and children killed in the 9/11 attacks and the bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993, honoring them for how they lived their lives rather than for how they died. The historical exhibition, located on the footprint of the North Tower, examines the day of the attacks, what preceded them, and how 9/11 continues to shape our world.
Our visitors have a voice in this Museum, reinforcing the idea that each of us is engaged in the making of history. Whether telling one’s own 9/11 story, recording a remembrance for someone who was killed in the attacks, or adding an opinion about some of the more challenging questions raised by 9/11, visitors can contribute their own stories to the Museum in our on-site recording studio. What they record will be added to the Museum archive, and excerpts may be integrated into media exhibits on an ongoing basis.
The core creative team responsible for the 9/11 Museum spent years deliberating over how to shape a memorial museum that would offer a safe environment in which to explore difficult history. While the events of 9/11 are the foundation of the experience, the Museum does more than facilitate learning. It is a place where an encounter with history connects visitors to the shared human impacts of this event, transforming what can seem like the anonymous abstractions of terrorism and mass murder into a very personal sense of loss.
As much about "9/12" as it is about 9/11, the Museum provides a case study in how ordinary people acted in extraordinary circumstances, their acts of kindness, compassion and generosity of spirit demonstrating the profoundly constructive effect we can have on each other’s lives by the choices we make, even in the face of unspeakable destruction. The 9/11 Memorial Museum takes you on a journey into the heart of memory as an agent of transformation, empowering each of us to seek a deeper understanding of what it means to be a human being living in an interdependent world at the start of the 21st century.
Alice M. Greenwald
Director, Memorial Museum & Executive Vice President, Exhibitions, Collections & Education
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