Perelman Performing Arts Center NYC Unveiled at Opening Press Event & Ribbon Ceremony

Welcoming the Cultural Centerpiece of the World Trade Center Site

By Jennifer Pyron

(Photo credit: Natalie Miller)

The official opening of the new Perelman Performing Arts Center NYC (PAC NYC) is on September 19th with performances including “Watch Night,” an opera opening on Nov 3-18, 2023, co-conceived, directed, and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, libretto by Marc Bamuthi Joseph and composed by Brooklyn born and bred artist Tamar-kali.

Prior to this opening, OperaWire had the opportunity to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony on September 13th to learn more about what makes PAC NYC the only arts center of its kind.

Transcendental Bonding Through Art & Culture

“There’s never been a major performing arts center in lower Manhattan. The Perelman Performing Arts Center is changing that in spectacular fashion. It is a one of a kind home for theater, music, opera, film and more. With flexible performance spaces that open up new possibilities for art and audiences, it also includes public spaces for community use and programming and rentable spaces for all kinds of special events. This space will also have free entertainment for anyone who walks in to experience everyday. This is a performance center for everybody,” said NYC’s 108th Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Board Chair of PAC NYC and the 9/11 Memorial Museum.

Bloomberg’s vision of bringing this space to life is part of his legacy as a philanthropist dedicated to developing access to the arts and cultural centers of NYC for the world to enjoy. But, this particular project did not come easy. In fact, it began when plans were announced by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC) in 2004 after the September 11th attacks in 2001 destroyed NYC’s life, spirit and overall businesses, making this the area to focus on developing ways to heal and rebuild the hearts of locals and beyond. All eyes were on NYC then, and all eyes continue to be on NYC now.

(Photo credit: Iwan Baan)

Paula Grant Berry, 9/11 Memorial Museum Board Member, spoke about what this area meant to her 22 years ago and what it means to her today. “Time moves on but September 11th always comes back. I lost my husband David and each time I come to this site my feelings keep changing. At first, a rawness filled with inescapable loss and longing. But now, after more than two decades, and this may sound a little odd, I am also filled with something more hopeful. This site makes me feel proud and at times it fills me with moments of joy.

“I’m so grateful that by working together we have built three essential monuments to make sure the world never forgets. A place for people to breathe– the Memorial. A place for people to learn what happened that day– the Museum. And, as of right now, we have the performing arts center– a place to celebrate life. It’s taken a long time for this day to come, but honestly I’m not sure it could have happened nor should have happened any sooner. Because now I feel that while we will always remember what happened here in the past, it’s time to build some new memories. This performing arts center will remind us why we live,” said Berry.

Designing a Cultural Legacy That Rises Above

The original designs that began in 2004 for PAC NYC did not make it past 2014, and this is when everything began to change for its timeline. In 2015, architects Joshua Ramus (REX) and Davis Brody Bond were selected to create something new and extraordinary. Their floating marble cube design catalyzed an exciting ripple effect of interest and intrigue that made the ongoing project resemble what some might call a magical conjuring.

The design’s approximately 5,000 translucent marble tiles from Portugal were laminated into insulated glass units. The cube contains three principal venues, the John E. Zuccotti Theater (seats up to 450 people), the Mike Nichols Theater (seats up to 250 people) and the Doris Duke Theater (seats up to 99 people). REX’s design is also in collaboration with theater consultant Charcoalblue and Threshold Acoustics. A visually levitating nightlight lantern with a cascading design of eyes for the world to see. From the inside, the tiles absorb natural light and imitate what looks like the delicate wings of a newly emerged monarch butterfly. Fresh from its cocoon, embarking on its first flight.

(Photo credit: Iwan Baan)

On June 29, 2016 billionaire and philanthropist Ronald O. Perelman donated $75 million to the construction and endowment of today’s PACNYC. Perelman spoke at the opening ceremony about how he resonates with Mike Bloomberg, who donated $150 million, and his leadership behind this project.

“We would not be sitting here if it were not for Mike Bloomberg,” said Perelman. “I think from the beginning, Mike and I agreed that the arts are more than just entertainment. They are the only common language that the world speaks. Through the arts, hopefully we can open up dialogue with peoples around the world and eliminate the hatred, violence and destruction that has faced us throughout time.”

Governor Kathy Hochul was also at the ceremony and shared what this new space means for NYC.

“This space is a cathedral for the best,” said Governor Hochul. “We need places like this to give us that sense of hope again. That we are going to be ok.”

She also discussed how NYC has overcome many tragic events, but how 9/11 remains to be the greatest test of all time.

“This is a defining moment for New Yorkers. Life is coming back and people want to be here.” Governor Hochul closed her remarks when she said, “this space is the embodiment of the New York spirit that will endure forever. We are going to share this space with the world and bring the most fascinating people to its 60 stages. What we do, the rest of the world wants to do. We are New York,” said Governor Hochul.

Mayor Eric Adams supported Governor Hochul’s welcoming speech and spoke about how he views this as a way for NYC to stand the test of time through a shared healing experience.

“The arts and cultural institution is more than hearing the sounds or seeing the sights. It renews our spirit. It starts the healing process that we are all experiencing and have never gotten over. This is a significant moment for all of us and the more artistic places we open and relationships of creativity break down those barriers, the more we open ourselves to others, the more we open ourselves to ourselves,” said Mayor Adams.

Sharing a Live Performance Space With the World

There were two performances that took place during the ceremony, initially planned for outdoors; however the rain did not permit this to happen. Luckily, this change of plans made all the difference for attendees to be in the intimate space of the lobby area and to experience firsthand the acoustics and ambience of the small stage located just before one takes an elevator or stairs up to the theaters. Bloomberg announced this lobby stage as a place where free entertainment would be available to everyone. It is also just outside of chef Marcus Samuelsson‘s new restaurant, so one can grab a bite to eat and relax.

Bloomberg welcomed the first act to the stage. Soprano Larisa Martinez and violinist Joshua Bell performed Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” with pianist and host of NPR’s “From the Top” Peter Dugan. Martinez’s voice was amplified in the intimate space for this performance, but this did not take away from her captivating presence. She managed her voice well and at times, I felt she would have sounded more rich in timbre without the mics. Overall, her voice is naturally full-bodied and grounded in mezzo qualities. Her warmth and middle-voice precision is captivating. Martinez’s classical beauty is unlimited as a soprano and this is what makes her unique. Her voice can interpret a wide range of repertoire without sounding like it fits into a particular box. Instead, she makes a path of her own by means of nuanced agility and flexibility.

I also really enjoyed Joshua Bell’s violin and Peter Dugan’s piano with Martinez’s voice. Never once did it feel like any one part was separate from the other. Everyone exuded an ingenuity that showed thoughtful awareness and dynamism for such a familiar piece as Bernstein’s “Somewhere,” and in the intimate lobby space. This performance was special and very much deserved to be heard at this historic gathering.

(Photo credit: Natalie Miller)

Executive Director of PAC NYC Khady Kamara and Artistic Director Bill Rauch then welcomed Tony Award Winning actor and singer Gavin Creel as the final performance of the ceremony. Also featured were artists from the Joffrey Ballet School. Everyone held ribbons that eventually came together and showcased PAC NYC as one ribbon unifying all. This is a space where unity, inclusion and curiosity will hopefully remain the focus, indefinitely. I was reminded of what Paula Berry said at the opening of this gathering and reflected on how impactful PAC NYC’s architecture, mission and core values resonate a higher purpose for all to share.

“Out of the ashes, something new, something wonderful has risen. This is a symbol of our strength, love and faith in the human spirit,” said Berry. PAC NYC is a place for all the world to come together and honor the power of the arts, and the universal language of transcendence.