The "Tribute WTC Visitors Center" is made up of five gallery exhibits, put together by numerous local artists and sponsors from around the metropolitan area.
Among the commissioned artists was Chris Nowlan of North Bergen, who has his studio in the Arts Silk Mill Building in Union City.
"I felt very honored," said Nowlan. "A lot of my art is about capturing experiences and what it means to be human. It's about the meaning of life and what it means to be alive in the face of such tragedy."
Hope out of tragedy
Nowlan was approached last month to participate in the displays for the Tribute Center, and was asked to create a piece incorporating ceramic tiles donated by Our Name is Mud/Make Creative Studios in Greenwich Village.
"As a way of preserving the memory, the [ceramic store] allowed individuals to create individual tiles to express their feelings and thoughts about 9/11," said Nowlan. "They wanted to incorporate these in the exhibit and asked me to come up with a way to display it visually."
Just after Sept. 11, 2001, the ceramic tiles had hung on a fence along 12th Street and Seventh Avenue, near St. Vincent's Hospital. Visitors from all over the world who had come to Ground Zero, as well as the families of the 9/11 victims, created the images on the tiles.
"They reflect the basic good nature of the people, and victory of light over darkness," said Nowlan.
In order to best blend his artistic vision with the display, Nowlan revisited the site to get a better sense of its meaning.
"I went to the site by St. Vincent's Hospital, and it was such a powerful place," said Nowlan. "It had really become part of the community."
Nowlan decided on a simple design of a blue frame background with the tiles secured to it, which took him about a week to construct at his Union City studio.
The piece has no title, and is made up of about 64 tiles, chosen from the hundreds available, now on display in Gallery 5 at the tribute.
"If I were to name it, it would be along the lines of "Where Their Spirits and Our Best Intentions Meet," said Nowlan.
The voices of 9/11
In addition to Nowlan's contributions, another Union City local, Meriam Lobel, took on the task to bring the tribute's vision to reality.
Gallery 2 is a series of quotes and testimonials from over 1,200 survivors and family members of 9/11 victims created by Lobel, who is the exhibit and program developer and former artistic director of the Park Theatre in Union City.
"I was signed to develop the concept for the exhibit," said Lobel. "I really think it's appropriate and people will be able to go in and share in the experience."
Lobel had been asked to join the project and help coordinate a way to tell the story by utilizing the voices of survivors and family members in print and audio, which are heard in sections of the center.
Lobel had recently finished a similar historical preservation project in Union City entitled "Cultural Thread," which documented the town's history in the embroidery industry.
"It's an ongoing project," said Lobel. "People's thoughts about 9/11 continue to evolve and we hope to include that in the exhibit as well."
On hand at the ribbon cutting ceremony last Wednesday for the Tribute WTC Center were New York Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, among other dignitaries.
"When you go inside, you are going to experience and understand what [Tribute Center] means," said Pataki. "You can never forget the courage with which New Yorkers responded."
"This just shows that good things may take time but they are worth pursuing," said Bloomberg. "This creates a sacred place of remembrance right here, right now until the [WTC] Memorial Museum opens in 2009."
Since 9/11, thousands of tourists have come specifically to see the Ground Zero site and the center will now assist in preserving the history.
"[Ground Zero] will forever be sacred American ground," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. "I urge all Americans to come to the tribute center and remember."