Alice M. Greenwald, 69, the president and chief executive of the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in Lower Manhattan, on Thursday announced that she expects to leave the institution in 2022, after 16 years there.
In 2006, Greenwald became the director of the museum, which honors victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and contextualizes the traumatic events of that day. Previously, she oversaw programs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. She entered the role in New York wearing a hard hat and holding an olive branch: Ground zero was still a construction site, and the plans of two cultural organizations for the premises had fallen through when outspoken 9/11 family groups denounced them.
Greenwald navigated the anger of those early years. More recently, she was criticized by some historians for what they called the museum’s narrow view of the attacks and their aftermath. Former employees said that her administration was monitoring research and limiting free speech at the site.
“Everyone had a legitimate point of view, and often those legitimate points of view were not compatible,” Greenwald said in an interview on Wednesday, adding that she considered the museum one of her life’s greatest accomplishments. “This was a project of empathetic listening.”
Former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who serves as the institution’s chairman, said in a statement, “Even with all the challenges of the pandemic, she’s put the memorial and museum on solid ground to build for the future, and continue growing our audiences, and we’re very grateful for that.”
During the pandemic, Greenwald slashed operating expenses by 50 percent from $80 million, partially through furloughs and layoffs. Those measures, alongside donations and a federal loan, helped stabilize the museum, which expects to end 2021 with more than a $21 million positive cash balance. But admissions are still less than what they were. Greenwald said daily attendance is now close to 5,000 visitors, compared with the 8,500 visitors on an average day in 2019.
But with the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind the museum, Greenwald said she felt comfortable leaving for the opportunity to spend more time with her grandchildren. The board, which was informed of her departure on Thursday afternoon, must now begin searching for her replacement. Greenwald plans to continue acting as president and chief executive until someone else is hired.
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