LOWER MANHATTAN — Like many other cultural and historical institutions, the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum was dealt a financial blow due to the pandemic. Now, it’s facing budget cuts and staff layoffs.
But museum leadership told PIX11 News they are forging ahead with commemorating the 20th anniversary, of the Sept. 11 attacks this year.
The museum is considered the nation’s preeminent institution to examine what happened on 9/11 and its lasting impact on the country. At the heart of it, it serves to honor every one of the nearly 3,000 precious lives lost.
“This is where history happened, it’s a sacred site,” said Alice Greenwald, president and CEO of the Memorial and Museum. “It’s a sacred place of loss, but it also represents resilience and renewal and hope and unity.”
The memorial — with its twin reflecting pools and etched names of those who died — opened in September, 2011. The museum, which tells the history of 9/11 through artifacts and personal stories, opened in May of 2014.
But as we approach the milestone 20th anniversary of that tragic day, the center is dealing with budget cuts, brought on by the pandemic and the city’s ensuing shutdown and the slow return of tourists.
“We don’t have an endowment, our business model was based on the revenue we could generate from admissions; when we closed our doors, our business model collapsed over night,” said Greenwald. “We had to make some hard decisions like so many organizations: we had to cut expenses, like cutting personnel, and that was probably the most heartbreaking thing I’ve had to do.”
Before the pandemic, the museum saw 8,500 daily visitors. Right after it reopened, it dwindled to several hundred a day. More recently, it’s ticked back up to around 4,500 a day.
Museum administrators did apply for and receive PPE, but the damage was done.
“Like so many institutions, we pivoted to the virtual realm,” said Greenwald. “We were trying to maintain our pre-pandemic budget and the resources simply were not there.”
But Greenwald said the 20th anniversary commemorative events will still feature the traditional reading of names and the Tribute in Light display.
“The core and the heart of our mission is commemoration,” said Greenwald. “We are a memorial institution, and while our resources are less and our staff is smaller, we will not forgo our obligation to remember; our commemoration this year will go forward.”
However, some aspects of the museum have been amended.
A planned traveling exhibit is now an online downloadable poster exhibition.
Other education content geared towards children has also been launched on a digital platform.
“Some of the activities we hoped to be doing in this 20th anniversary we’ve had to put on pause,” she said. “That will not be forever.”