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On October 3, members of the Whitney Education Community Advisory Network (WECAN) toured the Whitney’s new building site in the Meatpacking District. WECAN is a group of local residents, teachers, parents, and representatives from community-based organizations in the Whitney’s future neighborhood. WECAN participants have been working with Whitney Education for the last year and a half, helping us to learn more about the needs and interests of our new community, and becoming invaluable friends and colleagues in the process.
The group was guided on the site by Project Director Bill Maloney. Set to open in 2015, the new building is an active construction site, so everyone donned hard hats and carefully navigated the raw spaces that are rapidly taking shape as galleries, terraces, theaters, gathering places, and more.
“It’s thrilling to see the work in progress,” shared Pamala Rogers, who is Director of Expressive Arts Programs at Pure Vision Arts, a local studio and gallery for artists with autism and other developmental disabilities. Of particular interest to WECAN members was the lobby gallery, a space that will showcase works from the Whitney’s collection and be open to the public free of charge. They also marveled at the outdoor terraces (where some could spot their homes and workplaces) and the 18,000 square-foot fifth floor gallery, which will be the largest column-free exhibition space in New York City. “The scale is amazing when you walk into the big gallery” said Meg Lyons, a teacher at P.S. 33 in Chelsea, one of the Whitney’s partnership schools. Jim Furlong, Director of Arts at the Hudson Guild Community Center in Chelsea, exclaimed “I could just envision the space filled with artwork.”
In the basement, Maloney pointed out the height where the water levels rose to during superstorm Sandy. The WECAN team was impressed by the extensive flood mitigation plans which have since been adopted for new building, a process led by German hydroengineering firm WTM in collaboration with storm-modeling specialists at the Franzius Institute at Hanover University. A year later, Sandy still looms large in the memories of WECAN members, many of whom were severely affected by the storm.
The day after the tour, P.S. 33 teacher Meg Lyons sent an email to Whitney Education sharing her excitement and enthusiasm: “I just can't wait for the Museum to open! My students were beyond thrilled to see a picture of their teacher at the construction site in a 'Whitney 2015' hard hat. Très chic!” Over the coming year we will continue to meet with and expand the WECAN network as we refine plans for our opening events and inaugural year of programming.
By Liza Zapol, Community Programs Fellow