As Education staff look ahead to the opening of the Whitney’s new building in the Meatpacking District in 2015, we are beginning the exciting process of reaching out to our future community. Following dozens of exploratory conversations with local stakeholders, we hosted the first official meeting of the Whitney Education Community Advisory Network (WECAN) on April 26. WECAN is a group of local residents, teachers, parents, and representatives from social service providers and community based organizations in the Whitney’s future neighborhood in downtown Manhattan. Through the creation of WECAN, we are seeking to involve our neighbors in an ongoing dialogue exploring ways that the Whitney can become an essential resource for this diverse and dynamic community. In the coming years, the network will meet bimonthly to engage in a series of conversations about the Whitney’s role in the new neighborhood and our educational programming.
After our first meeting, WECAN is off to a great start. We were joined by representatives from Hudson Guild, Greenwich House, the LGBT Center, Fulton Houses, Westbeth Artists Housing, the Lab School, PS 3, PS 33, Community Board 2, and more.To begin our conversation, Kathryn Potts, Associate Director and Helena Rubenstein Chair of Education shared fascinating stories about the history of the Whitney and its downtown origins—Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney founded the Whitney Studio Club in Greenwich Village in 1914, and the Museum first opened its doors on West 8th Street in 1931. Together, the members of WECAN discussed their own connections to and memories of the changing neighborhood, as well as their experiences with the Whitney.
George Cominskie, President, Westbeth Artists Residents Council: “I was there when the Meatpacking District was much different. Our building was the site where the Guardian Angels used to patrol the neighborhood, because we actually had to hire a van to go around the neighborhood in the late 1980s, because the cars were broken into every night. We had Guardian Angels and citizen patrols going around the neighborhood. It was that bad!”
Denise Collins, Community Board 2 Social Service and Education Committee Member: “The neighborhood has changed so much over probably in the last fifteen to twenty years that I’ve been experiencing it, half of that living in it. While you are part of that change, I think you have a unique opportunity to help preserve what is was through the artists and through the people who lead you back home. I could not be more excited.”
Andrea Newman, Director of Development, Public Relation & Communications, Greenwich House: "As a young child, I have a very distinct memory of the first time I went to the Whitney, so it’s very exciting for me to participate in this project, because of my love for the Museum itself, just on an individual level. . .It’s always like coming home to me, to the Museum.”
During our meeting, WECAN members expressed great excitement and enthusiasm for the Museum’s move downtown. At the same time, they acknowledged that we have real work to do together in the coming years to ensure that the Whitney is a real resource to its local community. We look forward to continuing the conversation with WECAN at our next meeting in June!
By Liza Zapol, Community Programs Fellow and Danielle Linzer, Manager of Access and Community Programs