By Trudy Whitman
In August, the New York Times ran a follow-up article on Park51, the beleaguered Islamic center that developer Sharif El-Gamal proposed last year for a site on Park Place near the World Trade Center.
The story is familiar to many: After strong protest, both physical and virtual, the plans for the community center and mosque have been slowed down and scaled back. The original design called for a 15-story, $100-million structure that included a pool and a theater. But after the furor, things changed. El-Gamal was quoted in the Times article as saying, “If the community only wants four or five floors, it’s going to be four or five floors.” Meanwhile, there is quiet fundraising going on and some classes and planned exhibits at the site. But basically, it appears, it’s back to the drawing board.
A Brooklyn name popped out at the end of the Times article; Danny Goldfield is a Cobble Hill photographer who is about to mount an exhibit of his work, NYChildren Photography, at Park51. I interviewed him for this newspaper in 2007. At that time, he was a man on a mission; he wanted to photograph a child living in New York City that hailed from every nation on Earth.
Goldfield began his quest in 2004 as a reaction to worldwide rifts that had widened as a result of 9/11. When we last spoke, he had 56 countries to go out of 192 entities defined by the United Nations as countries. Twenty-three remain today. I discovered this when Goldfield and I sat down last week for another chat.
The notion of the Park51 exhibit was hatched when a friend of Goldfield’s — a community organizer involved in working out a solution to the Park51 controversy — asked him to come along to a meeting of stakeholders. There El-Gamal and Goldfield met and “found a commonality,” he explained. They both believed in reaching out and getting to know neighbors as individuals. So the developer invited the photographer to be the first exhibitor at the cultural center.
A show of Goldfield’s photographs, NYChildren Photography, will be hung at Park51 beginning September 21. There is an opening reception that day from 6:30 to 10 p.m., with refreshments, live music, and free admission. The show was intentionally scheduled to open on the International Day of Peace — the day that members of the U.N.’s General Assembly gather to begin a new session. The exhibit took a year to organize and fund, with most of the backing coming from $70,000 raised through Kickstarter, a crowd-funding website.
At the time of our first interview, the photographer told me he envisioned a book and a culminating exhibit, but it is unlikely he imagined a show in such a tender and relevant location as Park51. There have been other shows, but this “venue will make it interesting,” Goldfield mused. The book, NYChildren: A child from every country, was published in 2010 and is available at dannygoldfield.com, Amazon.com, and at BookCourt, 163 Court Street. It is an affecting collection of color portraits shot in natural light.
Meanwhile, Goldfield continues his search for children from the remaining countries, which include Andorra, Benin, Micronesia, Qatar, Solomon Island, and Vanuatu. (Go to dannygoldfield.com for the complete list.) Those eligible for the project are twelve years or younger and live in one of the city’s five boroughs. They were either born here or are the offspring of two parents who come from the same foreign nation. Danny Goldfield can be reached at 718 858-4242 or email@example.com.