An art therapy project that began as a citywide effort to help children cope with the 9-11 attack blossomed into an international creative event. In September, an art therapist’s call for self-portraits from New York City’s children was heard throughout the world. By December, more than 3,000 children from 22 countries submitted self-portraits that volunteers assembled into a 160-by-20 foot mural of the New York City skyline.

Larry Silverstein hosts the exhibition opening of the World Trade Center Children’s Mural on Tuesday, March 19 at his office building at 120 Broadway, also known as The Equitable Building. The mural will be on display in the building lobby until Friday, June 7.

“This wonderful project is very dear to my heart for obvious reasons, and I’m delighted that I was able to create an appropriate setting for it here in lower Manhattan,” stated Mr. Silverstein, who also serves on NYU’s Board of Trustees.

The project was the brainchild of Marygrace Berberian, an art therapist at P.S. 51 and faculty member in the Graduate Art Therapy program in The Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. In the days following the attack, parents and city teachers recounted how children drew the Twin Towers as part of their grieving process, Ms. Berberian said.

Ms. Berberian, who was in one of the towers when the first plane hit and struggling with her own trauma, knew that art could also be a part of the healing process for children, as well as herself. “Children needed an outlet to express their grief and validate their sense of selves,” she said. “I know, from my own practice, that artistic expression can help children gain a sense of control amidst feelings of helplessness in ways that are non-threatening and gratifying.”

In addition to their artwork, some children sent in written statements along with their portraits, expressing sorrow, grief, pleading for peace and understanding, said Berberian, who is working on a degree in social work at NYU. Initially, Berberian’s intent was to assemble the children’s artwork into a collage recreating the Twin Towers. However, the Christian Children’s Fund (CCF) and America Online joined the effort and promoted the project nationally and internationally. Soon, children’s self-portraits flooded into the city and the scale of the mural grew from the Twin Towers into an image of New York City’s skyline. Over several weekends throughout the months of January and February, volunteers assembled the mural at NYU.

The CCF’s efforts alone brought in more than 1,300 portraits from children around the world. CCF is a non-sectarian organization assisting 4.6 million children and families in 31 countries. John F. Schultz, CCF president, explains why these children were eager to participate in the mural project.

“Children in CCF-affiliated projects all over the world heard about the September 11 attack on America. Some may have even seen it on a community television set. CCF-sponsored children are linked closely, in a very heartfelt way, to the U.S. through the CCF donors and sponsors with whom they correspond,” Mr. Schultz said.

“Many of the children immediately wrote to their sponsors offering their condolences and expressing their concerns. So when we asked children if they would send us a portrait of themselves to show solidarity with the children of New York, the response was immediate and overwhelming. Many of these children have seen terrorism and war first hand, and their feelings for the children of New York and all of the U.S. were genuine and deep.”

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