‘Heaven Over Rockaway’
Local Artist’s Design Selected For 9/11 Tribute
By Gary G. Toms
The Rockaway community will finally have a tribute to honor the memory of those who died on September 11. Members of the Design Committee - a panel of community members, which has been working on this process for more than a year, recently selected the sculpture that will serve as a tribute to the Rockaway residents that were lost on that day.
The winning sculpture, designed by local artist Patrick Clark, was selected out of thirteen finalists, which was scaled down from a group of nearly fifty submissions. It will be installed in the new "Tribute Park" site at Beach Channel Drive and Beach 116 Street. The piece is expected to be dedicated on September 11, 2003. The sculpture will be inscribed with the names of all Rockaway and Broad Channel residents who perished in the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Public comments played a huge role in the overall selection process, according to Liz Sulik, Executive Director of the Rockaway Chamber of Commerce.
"I was very happy about the selection process, largely because there was an enormous amount of input and enthusiasm from members of the Rockaway community. It was a true collaborative between the community, artists, and Community Board 14. It was not contentious at all."
Sulik said that there were a number of determining factors in making the final selection, and that the committee was most interested in picking a piece that came across as a tribute, as opposed to a memorial.
"When we held the open house to feature the artists and their works, what I was most impressed with was the fact that the artists who spoke conveyed that this was truly done from the heart," said Sulik.
While everyone involved in the selection process was thrilled at the outcome of the contest, several artists introduced a point of controversy by stating the judging process was "rigged."
"The person they chose is a member of the Rockaway Artists Alliance, which was involved in the judging process. I have a problem with that," said an artist who declined to have their name mentioned.
The Wave questioned Sulik about the claim, and she wasted no time in offering a response.
"It was no secret that special consideration would be given to artists from this community. Moreover, during the initial stages of the competition, the artists remained anonymous, and each piece was looked at for it’s own merit," said the Chamber member.
"The decision to choose Patrick Clark was in no way influenced by the fact that he is a member of the RAA or sits on the Board of Directors for the Chamber of Commerce. We believe the process was not flawed in any way, and that it was extremely fair."
Sulik reminded The Wave that substantial input from the community (letters and Emails) was taken into consideration when the choice was made. She then submitted samples to The Wave.
"Not only did people pick their favorite piece, they offered explanations as to why a particular design was chosen."
John Lepore, the Chamber of Commerce President, was also involved with the judging, and he agrees that the system used was unbiased.
"Surprisingly, I did not consider the artists at all. I used a totally different approach," said Lepore.
"I looked around and tried to envision what would truly move the community. I was more concerned with choosing something that would have an impact. I firmly believe that much like myself, people chose the piece, not the artist. The process was very democratic, and I too am happy with the outcome."
Sulik and Lepore told The Wave that no matter what, in competitions there will always be people who are not happy about the selection process.
When The Wave spoke to the confirmed winner he was very excited about having his work chosen by the committee.
"I am really thrilled, honored and moved by the committee’s decision," said Clark.
Being selected has special significance for Clark. He lives in the house owned by Eric Allen, a local firefighter that died in the September 11 attacks. He also lives directly across the street from where the tribute will be placed.
"Being named the winner has touched me in a special way. Eric was my friend. He let me make stained glass for his house when I was struggling and could not pay rent. He was there when I needed help, and I’ll never forget that. Being selected gives me the opportunity to honor him and the many others who lost their lives. I wanted to give something beautiful, "a monument of light," to this community in honor of the victims."
Clark views his contribution as a celebration of life, as opposed to a memorial.
"We are mourning their loss, but celebrating their lives with color and light. The idea of glass and crystal symbolizes heaven and light. Once the sunlight hits the dome, the brilliant colors will be a symbol of the presence of those lost."
Several community leaders and residents have expressed concerns over possible vandalism and extreme weather conditions causing damage to the piece, but Sulik says that a security system will be installed in the park, and that the work would be cleaned on a regular basis.
"I also want to go on record and say that other agencies planning to erect similar tributes are turning to us for assistance. The Council on Arts and Humanity of Staten Island has contacted us to help them with their $2 million project," said Sulik.
"We have also received calls from Berlin (Germany), Ohio and other areas who want to use us as a model. What we have managed to do here in Rockaway, in honoring the victims of September 11, seems to be having a far-reaching affect."