9/11Arts: A Decade Later

MA in Art Therapy

9/11Arts: A Decade Later

Note:  We are still open to new participants. Please contact the Directors, below, for information.

In 2008 we began an art therapy group for 9/11 First Responders. The project was originally conceived in partnership with John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, now known as the first responder who incited Capitol Hill to pass the $4.2 billion Zadroga Bill. As the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01 approaches, NYU and the FealGood Foundation continue working with 9/11 affected populations, with the explicit intent of gathering artwork to present at exhibit venues in NYC and Washington DC.    

Before discussing the arts project, it will be useful to present the background context of the project and its special meaning for New York University. NYU, located in Southern Manhattan, was profoundly affected by the events of 9/11/2001. Our campus afforded a spectacular view of the twin towers, and most of us were staring at the skyline when the second plane hit. Our downtown dormitories were evacuated by emergency personnel the same afternoon, with hundreds of students shepherded to Coles gymnasium, in a whirlwind of toxic white ash. The rubble continued to smolder for some six months, suffusing the air of our classrooms and art studios.

In response to the terrorist attacks -- as soon as we regained our equilibrium -- we began organizing a symposium titled The Creative Arts Therapies’ Response to 9/11. The symposium was held at NYU on the first anniversary of the attack. Several NYU arts faculty, including music and drama therapists, lectured on their clinical work with 9/11 trauma survivors.

Our program faculty has remained dedicated to 9/11 survivors and the healing arts since our Symposium of 2002. As a few notable examples, Marygrace Berberian founded and directed The World Trade Center Children’s Mural Project (2001). (See the NYU press release.)  Stephanie Wise founded and directed the Saturday Project:  Art Therapy for Children, for Ground Zero area residents (2001-2003). Christina Grosso worked on NYC's Project Liberty, where she provided therapy and psychoeducation to children and families experiencing trauma following 9/11 (2002). Rebecca DiSunno founded the art therapy program called Camp Good Grief, for children grieving loss of significant others in the terrorist attacks. Several more examples, including publications and media presentations, can be found on our faculty page (and among our program alumni). Allied NYU Departments have also produced major 911 exhibitions including substantial catalogues.

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11/2001 approaches, we are committed to documenting the role of the arts -- both art therapy and traditional studio art sessions -- in helping and healing First Responders, and others directly affected by 9/11. In planning exhibits of art created by those most affected, we sense a purpose and meaning beyond what we initially set out to accomplish. These artworks seem to express something that a decade of photojournalism cannot capture. They express something unspoken, perhaps the primordial impact of 9/11, frozen in our visual memory and trapped in our churning viscera. Yet at the same time that these artworks replay trauma, they also rework and refashion it. As chaos becomes externalized, in symbolic media, the traumatic imagery begins to transform. What these artworks ultimately represent is the process of trauma and recovery itself, which profoundly articulates the collective spirit of our times in this Country. It is the arts, over the millennia and across continents, that most brilliantly reflect the human spirit, shaping and guiding our consciousness in the best and the worst of times.

Arts Sessions and Call for Participation

We do have some art ready for exhibit, and some exhibitry venues reserved -- such as the first floor gallery of our Art Therapy building. We are in the process of scheduling a new cycle of group art sessions, using various arts media, for diverse 9/11 populations. Sessions begin on April 1, and will include Saturday afternoons. We would like to invite more first responders and their families to participate in our art groups.  This includes families who have lost a loved one to 9/11 (at the time, or since that time, as with James Zadroga).

Download flyer with information for new participants.

Project Personnel


Dr. Ikuko Acosta
Director, NYU Art Therapy Program

Dr. Tom Ettinger
Coordinator, Forensic Psychology MA specialization, NYU (2006-); Police Psychologist, Port Authority Police Department of NY/NJ (2007-); Fellow, New Media Lab, Georgia Tech  (2004-2006); Editor, Psychology and the Arts, APA (1996-2000).

Clinical Supervisors:
Kim Nolan, LCAT
Ailish Coughlan, LCAT

Betty Winkler, LCAT (assistant to Ikuko Acosta)
Jordan Lewis, U.S. Army, 2002-2010 (assistant to Tom Etttinger)

John Feal and the FealGood Foundation
others: TBA

Edith A. and Herbert H. Lehman Foundation
The Werner Dannheisser Testamentary Trust
Department of Art and Art Professions, Steinhardt School, NYU

How you can help:
Pass this project website on to First Responders, their families, and other stakeholders.
Can you donate funds to 911Arts?
Can you donate gifts in kind, such as art materials, picture frames, or photography equipment?
Can you secure a great exhibit space for September 11, 2011?
Got any great ideas?

Contact Information:
Dr. Ikuko Acosta
Dr. Tom Ettinger 
John Feal

A picture gallery will be posted shortly on www.911arts.org.