The 'Soft Power' of the 9/11 Memorial Museum

A woman looks up at an illuminated slurry wall in Foundation Hall.
(Photo: Amy Dreher)

In "Cities, Museums and Soft Power," Ngaire Blankenberg and Gail Lord demonstrate why and how museums and cities are using their “soft power” to address some of the most important issues of our time. What is soft power? Soft power is the exercise of influence through attraction, persuasion and agenda-setting rather than military or economic coercion.

The soft power of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum is reflected through its ability to bring people together from all over the world now and throughout the building and rebuilding process. It is reflected through its ability to create a conversation and a place for learning. Through education and promoting understanding, it has the power to change the conversation.

Museums have a profound impact on rebuilding communities – the 9/11 Memorial and Museum is a strong example of how a place once marked by sadness and fear has become a place for contemplation and healing. The memorial and museum comprise a “social commons” – a place of ongoing dialogue about the history, magnitude and global impact of the events of September 11, 2001, and a portal to information that contributes to changing perspectives on these events. The objectivity of the displays encourage reflection and debate on so many pressing issues of today.

Lord Cultural Resources was honored to have been an integral part of the team planning the cultural elements of the World Trade Center. Our institutional and collections work was based on the recommendations of the Memorial Museum Advisory Committee, informed by public comment from family members of victims, survivors, residents, first responders, historians, preservationists and curators.

At the recent annual Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums Building Museums Conference, 9/11 Memorial Museum Director Alice Greenwald and Executive Vice President of Design, Construction and Facilities Lou Mendes, along with Mark Wagner, an associate partner at Davis Brody Bond, spoke about the challenges and successes throughout the building process. With attendance at already more than 2.5 million people, it is clear that this is a place where people want to see and, perhaps more importantly, feel the soft power.

 By Gail Lord, Co-President of Lord Cultural Resources, and Lauren Merkel, Senior Consultant at Lord Cultural Resources

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