By Katie McFadden
The fate of Tribute Park’s central piece is up in the air. On Wednesday, August 9, NYC Parks’ Arts & Antiquities division met with Community Board 14’s Parks and Public Safety Committee to discuss the potential future of local stained glass artist Patrick Clark’s center mosaic compass that has been a part of the 9/11 Tribute Park since it opened in 2005.
When Tribute Park was being designed after the horrific events of September 11, 2001, in which more than 70 local residents were killed, Clark had won a contest to create some of the park’s most significant pieces. Among those was the central piece, a round structure made of stone recovered from Ground Zero, featuring a navigator star made up of more than 44,000 pieces of glass, which points to the site of the World Trade Center from its position in Tribute Park. Upon making and installing the piece, Clark enlisted the help of those who it affected most, 9/11 families, for their input and assistance when it was installed in 2005. Over the last 18 years, severe damage and neglect has resulted in the piece being covered in tarp for the annual 9/11 ceremony for the past few years.
Last Wednesday, Jonathan Kuhn, Director of NYC Parks’ Arts & Antiquities division came to the Parks Committee meeting at the Knights of Columbus to present the agency’s recommendation for the art piece. Kuhn explained his understanding of the significance of the park and its art pieces being a tribute to those who died on 9/11. “This is an emotional thing for all concerned,” he said. Kuhn blamed the damage to the piece on the elements, especially saltwater damage from Hurricane Sandy. When Tribute Park and its pieces were built, the Parks’ Arts & Antiquities division, which oversees the artwork in city parks, was not in existence, and Kuhn said they likely would have advised against a mosaic being put in the park. “When we became aware of the mosaic, we looked at this and it was relatively stable for a long time. But we don’t recommend inground mosaics that are skyward facing for a variety of reasons, mainly rainwater, and this site has issues of being near the waterfront and sea,” Kuhn said. He mentioned how Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and its ripple effects have impacted many city parks over time due to being inundated with saltwater. When Tribute Park was awarded FEMA funding for its restoration in 2015, the mosaic was not identified as an aspect that needed work, but in 2017, the piece started to heavily deteriorate. “The mosaic exhibited accelerated loss, something that we predicted might happen and it did,” he said.
In 2020, the Arts & Antiquities division assessed the mosaic to make recommendations to Friends of Tribute Park, the nonprofit organization that oversees the park in partnership with NYC Parks but determined that repairs to the original piece would not be sustainable and recommended recreating the piece in more durable materials. In 2021, they brought in professional mosaic artist Steve Miotto to assess the conditions, who confirmed NYC Parks’ findings. So at Wednesday’s meeting, Kuhn had two recommendations. “We recommend either rebuilding the medallion in alternate, more durable materials with permission from the artist, or commissioning a new work at the site that would convey the same sentiment,” he said. Both options would result in the removal of the current piece as is, while granting Clark the right to retain the original materials if he wants them.
Kuhn reiterated that they would prefer to recreate Clark’s piece, adding that they hope to do this as soon as possible. “We would prefer to create what’s there in more durable materials but if that’s not an option, we’d like to move forward as quickly as possible to commission a graphic designer or artist to create something in the same footprint,” he said. With the option to recreate the piece, Kuhn explained that something like granite would be used to replicate Clark’s idea, but the piece wouldn’t have the 40K+ pieces of glass that it was originally made with to create the mosaic.
Members of the CB14 Parks Committee requested that Clark present his thoughts on the matter. Clark said that ultimately, the decision should not be up to him, but rather those who have the most interest in the park—the 9/11 families. “The best thing would be to form a committee of 9/11 families and Rockaway community members and have them decide or make a recommendation on what can happen to it,” he said.
However, Clark also expressed concerns over how his mosaic piece had been handled in the past. “I have concerns because I heard the mosaic was maintained, but my finding was that it was not maintained whatsoever. It would be durable if it was properly maintained,” Clark said. He added that for many years, he reached out to Friends of Tribute Park, explaining that it needed to be maintained with grout sealer, and that it didn’t start decaying until after Hurricane Sandy. But, when $2.5 million in FEMA funding was allocated to the renovation of the park, his artworks, including the mosaic and the dome gazebo, were not included in that renovation. “These were neglected. If Parks reached out at some point over the last 10 years and asked if there was something they can do to maintain it, it would still be in the same condition,” Clark said. “What happens now? It’s not up to me, not up to Community Board 14, I think it’s up to the community to decide what do we want to do.”
There were some heated arguments among Clark and members of Friends of Tribute Park and others over who was to blame for the mosaic allegedly being neglected, with some FoTR members explaining that there was some maintenance done to the piece, but ultimately it was determined that NYC Parks calls the shots on what happens in the park, as it is their property, and the discussion at hand is what should happen moving forward.
Many agreed with Clark that the 9/11 families and community should be involved in the discussion, and proposed having a town hall, or inviting the public to come to the next general Community Board 14 meeting in September to share their thoughts during public speaking. Others argued that having so much community involvement could potentially delay the process of what happens with the mosaic even longer, so some suggested that Clark should give permission for his design to be used to recreate it in a more durable material. Clark reiterated that he would be open to it, but it should be up to the 9/11 families to decide.
Others asked whether or not NYC Parks would maintain a new art piece, since they will ultimately have the power to decide what goes into the park. Kuhn said, “We’re working with Friends of Tribute Park on this, but the City of New York is responsible. Whether they actually do the maintenance or not, I don’t know,” he said, adding that other major art pieces in the city have endowments dedicated to funding their upkeep.
As not enough members of the Parks and Public Safety Committee were present at Wednesday’s meeting, they could not have a quorum to vote on any formal recommendations as to what should be done with the mosaic, so discussions are ongoing. It is expected to be discussed at the general CB14 meeting on September 12 at 7:15 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus. Those who wish to speak publicly must sign up before the meeting begins.