Leslie Koch, President Of The Perelman Center, On ‘How We Come Back As Lower Manhattan And As A City’
Fifteen years ago, former Trust for Governors Island president and chief executive Leslie Koch helped transform a largely empty stretch of land full of military structures into one of New York’s most celebrated outdoor spaces. She is now the driving force behind the much-anticipated Ronald O. Perelman Center. While the multidisciplinary performing arts venue is still under construction, the Downtown Alliance spoke with Koch about its significance, and supporting arts and culture institutions amid the pandemic.
What Can We Expect From The Perelman Center Once It’s Open To The Public?
The Perelman Center completes the vision for the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site, which began with the master plan in 2003 to have performance as part of the life of the site, and the life of Downtown Manhattan. Just as the 9/11 Memorial & Museum memorialize what happened and the Trade Center campus is a bustling place of work and shopping in normal times, the Perelman Center will add the element of performance. We will celebrate all that is New York in the fields of dance, music, theater and everything that happens live.
After 9/11, an incredibly comprehensive civic involvement process culminated in a master plan that was published in 2003. And in that master plan was the dedication of part of the World Trade Center campus site for a performing arts center. We actually began raising the steel for the building that’s now under construction in September 2019, and now the building has topped out, which means it’s reached its full height. Then we’re pouring concrete. It’s both a symbol of the revitalization of Lower Manhattan after 9/11, and now that we’re experiencing the pandemic, it’s again a symbol of New York’s renaissance, 20 years later, as we all collectively face new challenges in 2021.
What Challenges Has Come To Your Attention While Developing The Center During The Pandemic?
One of the reasons we live in cities is because of culture and the ability to gather in public spaces. So the challenge for the performing arts center is the challenge we all face together, which is, how we come back as Lower Manhattan andas a city. New York really embodies the role of culture, not only in economic development but in what makes New York New York, as a place to live, as a place to work and as a place to visit. We’re universally recognized around the world as one of if not the leading cultural capitals, and we have all learned as individuals what we’ve missed in not being able to fully participate, certainly in the performing arts, if not culture more broadly, during the pandemic.
Why Is It So Important To Support Arts Institutions Right Now, And How Can We Do It?
When we think about what makes a city a city, the arts are part of what makes us a people. At this time, we’re also deeply concerned about the basic needs and civil liberties of our fellow New Yorkers. There are many competing demands for attention and our support, and I think that as we all work together with the vaccine coming online, and then the rebuilding of New York, that we not forget the role that the arts plays in making us human, as we reach into our pockets ourselves as individuals to support our neighbors in what has been a really challenging time.
What’s Your Favorite Thing To Do Downtown?
The street that I miss is Cortlandt Alley, because it’s part of the World Trade Center campus and it’s such a beautiful spot. To me it’s a sign of how Lower Manhattan came back in ways that were beyond my hopes and imagination. I think of Cortlandt Alley, as much as Tower One, as a memorial to New York coming back in a new way after 9/11. That’s what gives me confidence that we’ll come back again.
photo: Perelman Performing Arts Center