9/11 Museum reverses decision to scrap this year’s Tribute in Light

Full Beam Ahead

9/11 Museum reverses decision to scrap this year’s Tribute in Light

This year’s Tribute in Light is a go. (Mateo Catanese/Unsplash)

The National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City submitted an abrupt about-face earlier this weekend after deciding that the annual Tribute in Light will indeed grace the night sky over Lower Manhattan next month as was originally planned.

Just two days earlier, the museum had announced it would cancel this year’s staging of the ephemeral, bird-disorienting public art installation in which 88 high-powered, strategically positioned spotlights are beamed upwards to create two spectral pillars, visible from dozens of miles away, that evoke the felled twin towers of the World Trade Center. The reason for scrapping the installation was due to, no surprise, the coronavirus crisis.

Like many, if not at all, museums and cultural institutions, the 9/11 Memorial & Museum has faced significant economic woes during the pandemic due to its months-long closure, and producing Tribute in Light doesn’t come cheap. Costs aside, the museum had also publicly expressed logistical and safety concerns regarding the installation, which requires about a week and a dedicated team of 40 workers to assemble according to the New York Times.

“Tribute in Light, the world’s beloved twin beams of light, will not shine over lower Manhattan as part of this year’s 9/11 commemoration,” wrote the museum in an initial statement. “This incredibly difficult decision was reached in consultation with our partners after concluding the health risks during the pandemic.” This will the eighth year that the museum has produced Tribute in Light, which was originally a venture headed by the Municipal Art Society.

Although made in the best interest of public health and safety, the cancelation was greeted with backlash including, but not limited to, multiple petitions imploring the museum to reconsider the decision. Even after the reversal, the New York Post ran a strongly-worded op-ed decrying the outrageous” decision and claiming that funding the installation, even during a global health crisis, should have never been an issue.

Whatever the case, the initial uproar prompted conversations between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Alice M. Greenwald, the museum’s president and CEO. Not long after the conversation, both the museum and Cuomo announced that the annual light show, a somber yet spectacular memorial to the lives lost during the 9/11 terror attacks, would, in fact, would go on.

“For the last eight years the 9/11 Memorial & Museum has produced the Tribute in Light and we recognize the profound meaning it has for so many New Yorkers. This year, its message of hope, endurance, and resilience are more important than ever,” explained Greenwald in a follow-up statement announcing the reversal. “In the last 24 hours we’ve had conversations with many interested parties and believe we will be able to stage the tribute in a safe and appropriate fashion.”

Greenwald went on to thank Cuomo, the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., and elusive-as-of-late billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for their “assistance in offsetting the increased costs associated with the health and safety considerations around the tribute this year and the technical support of so many that will enable the tribute to be a continuing source of comfort to families and an inspiration to the world going forward.”

It’s unclear how much the state, Bloomberg, and the LMDC pitched in—financially or in terms of other resources—to allow Tribute in Light to proceed with all the needed health and safety measures in place.

The installation, as is custom, will go live at dusk on the morning of September 11 and be extinguished the following morning. A noted by CBS News, other events held to remember those who perished on 9/11, namely the gathering of the victims’ families at the memorial plaza, will proceed like during previous years but with social distancing protocols in place for the ceremony. The naming of the victims will also be broadcast via a recording in lieu of being read in-person by loved ones.