International Foundation For Art Research (IFAR)
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September 11th:

Proceedings of an IFAR Symposium on
February 28, 2002

The Downtown Institutional Impact page 2

by John Haworth


Fast forward to 9/11: Our building is four blocks from Ground Zero. Fortunately, our facilities staff moved swiftly to clear the building systems and close the air vents, thus minimizing infiltration and damage to our collection on exhibit. As an institution dealing with "organic" materials (textiles, Plains Shirts and so forth), our concern about dust and possible environmental contaminants was very high. In addition, because we are an institution with a Native American cultural base, the respect of traditions, including ceremonial protocols, informs the way we work. Major concerns about the air quality in lower Manhattan are well reported. We relied officially on the Environmental Protection Agency reports, which were posted throughout the museum in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Post 9/11, there was a massive neighborhood clean up, and inside our building, there was an extraordinary cleaning effort, as if we were asbestos contaminated (which we were not). Our landlord, the General Services Administration, cleaned the historic interior on a highly professional level. A Seth Eastman watercolor exhibit was on view 9/11 in an open area that was, fortunately, out of harm's way. (The exhibit was extended thanks to our lending partner, the Afton Press in Minnesota). The Reginald Marsh murals and the Tiffany work in the Collector's Office was all fine. The Rotunda and Collector's Office were part of a massive interior clean-up effort.


Our security measures have been stepped up significantly since 9/11. Security officers now do routine bag checks, and magnetometers have been installed. We are working very hard, however, to ensure that the visitor experience will continue to be positive and engaging. We are training not only the security officers, but also other staff members who interact directly with the public. The Smithsonian has an extensive design review process to deal with Fire Safety, egress and signage—and all of these issues are being given considerable attention. How shall I say this? We've always been focused on these matters, but now, even more so.


Staff responses to 9/11 on various issues were diverse—from perceptions about air quality and security, to how best to address individual employee issues and overall staff morale in the context of such difficult circumstances. Indeed, staff members at all levels had a broad range of responses! From a management perspective, dealing with those concerns—along with the urgency of all that was going on last Fall—was complicated and extremely challenging.

On September 11th, one staff member was near the World Trade Center and was hit by building debris. Another person was coming to work from New Jersey and was in the PATH train station at time of impact. Another had a child in a neighborhood school. Others have had terrible commuting problems for months (and still do). Some staff have lost what counselors might refer to as a "sense of boundaries and what is appropriate." Others responded to 9/11 by going overboard with communication, while still others became unusually silent. Many people were in a "panic" mode for weeks. Overall, the staff has been strong, capable, professional and dedicated to the museum's mission throughout these difficult months.

The museum welcomed the staff back with a special lunch and had regular and frequent meetings, especially those first few weeks after 9/11. Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services with both one-on-one and group counseling have been provided. All of this has been extremely tiring and has tested my own capacities as a museum professional and manager. There have been departmental jurisdiction questions, complicated by our residing in a building with other tenants (for example, the General Services Administration, Federal Protective Services, and Bankruptcy Courts). We are still ironing out how best to handle a myriad of policies to address emergency responses, fire drills, disaster preparedness plans (which take into account both people and collections) and even the protocols of employee telephone trees, the need for quality time for staff with discussions, and, of course, trying our best to listen to one another's concerns and issues.


I was asked by IFAR to address what lessons were learned as a result of 9/11:

  • From watching visitors, I have learned that people really are "paying attention"; they are really looking at our exhibits on a far deeper level with greater focus and concentration. That's good!
  • I have learned that staff considerations should always inform what we do and how we do it.
  • I have come to appreciate more fully who has the commitment to do museum work, and especially, who is committed to the public service role that museums have.

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