After nearly two decades, a cube-shaped cultural space has arrived next to the 9/11 memorial in lower Manhattan. The $500 million Perelman Performing Arts Center (PAC) opened last week and boasts a jam-packed schedule of dance, theater, and music shows with a smattering of visual art.

The space kicked off with a concert series focused on the idea of “refuge.” Upcoming acts include a jazz piano competition, a reimagined version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats that incorporates elements of New York City ballroom culture, and conversations with celebrities. Kerry Washington and Jada Pinkett Smith will make appearances in the next few months, as will — perhaps improbably — Barbara Pierce Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, the two daughters of former US President George W. Bush. Most event tickets start at $39, but some events are free and the building is open to the public.

Jean Shin’s “Water’s Echo” (2023) is on permanent view in the restaurant. (photo Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)
Jean Shin, “Water’s Echo” (2023), mother of pearl shell buttons, thread, and canvas mounted on wood panel, 16 feet x 5 feet x 5 inches (photo by Jean Shin, courtesy the artist)
Studio assistant Rachel Gee (left) and intern Rachel Czarnik (right) create “Water’s Echo” in the studio (photo by Jean Shin, courtesy the artist)

Among those offerings that visitors can experience without buying a ticket is artist Jean Shin’s stunning commission “Water’s Echo” (2023), which hangs on permanent display in the PAC restaurant, Metropolis. The 16-foot-wide, shimmering wall installation is made of thousands of sewn-together mother-of-pearl buttons.

Shin explained to Hyperallergic that the work is a “reimagining of the New York waterways.” The topographic map depicts the Hudson River, its estuaries, and the Atlantic Ocean. The site is the home of the Lenape people and a place that used to be called “Oyster Island” by the Dutch.

“By installing this piece at PAC, I am returning the beautiful remains of endangered and threatened species to a shoreline where marine life once thrived,” Shin said. “As audiences come to see performances at the Word Trade Center site, I invite them to be moved by its many histories of loss and regeneration, including ecological restoration.”

The entrance to the Perelman Performing Arts Center (photo Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)
Corridors wrap around the outside of the building. (photo Elaine Velie/Hyperallergic)

The striking structure that houses the PAC is covered with almost 5,000 marble tiles attached to glass, which filter the sun into a warm orange light that floods the interior. At night, the opaque surface makes the structure appear to glow from within. A vertigo-inducing public roof deck extends into the shadows of some of New York’s tallest buildings. Inside, three theaters seat up to 799 people. Moveable walls allow the trio of venues to be reconfigured into a total of 11 different spaces.

The idea for the performing arts center was conceived in 2003 as a way to revitalize the neighborhood in the wake of 9/11. The slow-going project repeatedly shifted its vision and form: Architect Frank Gehry was tapped to design space at one point, but in 2014 the board decided against his idea, a series of stacked box-shaped buildings. In November 2015, PAC leadership settled on the marble cube plan by the Brooklyn-based firm REX.

Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who donated $130 million to the project, will serve as the center’s board chair. He also heads the board of the 9/11 memorial.

Billionaire Ron Perelman, whose name adorns the PAC’s exterior, provided $75 million for the project. Like most members of the ultra-wealthy, Perelman has a questionable spending history: He reportedly donated $125,000 to Trump’s 2020 campaign. 

Last October, Hyperallergic reported on the PAC’s endorsement of its soon-to-be neighbor, the residential 5 World Trade Center skyscraper. At the time, community members were outraged that the tower would include only 300 affordable units. The building project was approved this summer, and 400 of its 1,200 homes will be designated as affordable.

While the vast majority of PAC’s programmatic offerings fall into the category of performing arts, a photography exhibition curated by the Lenape Center opens tomorrow, September 26, and will be up through October 9. A selection of 12 works by filmmaker Devin Pickering will depict the traditional corn mask pole at different times of day over the course of three months, ultimately tracking the progression of daylight and time and the change of seasons. The Lenape Center’s co-founder and executive director Joe Baker told Hyperallergic that the photographs capture “the story of the return of ancestral Lenape seeds to the homeland.” The exhibition, titled Kishux, will be free and open to the public.

The theaters have moveable walls that allow them to be reconfigured. (photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy Perelman Performing Arts Center)
Jean Shin at the installation of “Water’s Echo” (photo by Jamie Watts, courtesy the artist and Bloomberg Philanthropies)

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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