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Nonprofit Raises Money to Keep 9/11 Tribute Lights Glowing

By Julie Shapiro | August 18, 2011 6:10pm

LOWER MANHATTAN — The twin Tribute in Light beams that illuminate New York's skyline on the anniversary of 9/11 are in danger of fading forever.  

The Municipal Arts Society, which runs the annual display, only has enough grant money left to put the show on one more time, for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, Vice President Christine Krische said.

To keep Tribute in Light going, the Municipal Art Society just launched a fundraising drive to make the tribute permanent. The nonprofit arts group hopes to raise an endowment of $15 million over the next couple of years.

"It's become a symbol of that day," Krische said of the blue beams. "It's the one thing everyone in New York and miles away can participate in. It's a communal thing."

Tribute in Light started in March 2002, on the six-month anniversary of 9/11, and the beams have returned each September on the evening of the anniversary, tracing the ghost of the Twin Towers in blue light against the sky. The display fades each Sept. 12 at dawn.

The powerful beams require an enormous amount of infrastructure, including 88 individual lights the size of refrigerators, which each have to be adjusted manually to ensure they mimic the shape and orientation of the original towers.

Tribute in Light costs roughly $500,000 a year to run and has had many sponsors in the past, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which has contributed more than $3 million. But those grants have now run out.

In addition to soliciting new large donors, the MAS will also ask New Yorkers to chip in $10 through a text message donation. That campaign will go live early next month, Krische said.

As the Municipal Art Society works to make Tribute in Light permanent, the group will also explore moving the lights to another location. In the past, they have been projected from the roof of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Battery Parking Garage and had to be disassembled and reassembled each year.

Julie Menin, chairwoman of lower Manhattan's Community Board 1 and also a board member of the MAS and the LMDC, said the power of Tribute in Light lies in its universality.

"The majority of New Yorkers do not have access to the memorial on the 11th [because it is only open to victims' relatives]," Menin said in an e-mail, "so the Tribute in Light plays an important function as it is visible for all New Yorkers to see and reflect on the terrible events of 9/11 and the void that is left."

Krische said she is confident the MAS fundraising campaign will succeed.

"People care about [Tribute in Light] and want it to remain," Krische said. "I think the financial support will follow."