Human Interest How the 9/11 Museum Continues to Pay Tribute to Lives Lost: It's 'About Healing and Renewal' This year marks the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks that changed the United States By Janine Henni Janine Henni Twitter Janine Henni is a Royals Staff Writer for PEOPLE Digital, covering modern monarchies and the world's most famous families. Like Queen Elizabeth, she loves horses and a great tiara moment. People Editorial Guidelines Published on September 11, 2021 10:00 AM Share Tweet Pin Email Photo: Amy Dreher America will forever remember the tragedies of September 11th, 2001, the history of which is safeguarded by the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in New York City in perpetuity. Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Allison Blais, executive vice president and chief strategy and operations officer for the memorial and museum, spoke with PEOPLE about the site's critical mission and how the institution has evolved over time. "The memorial and the museum stand is a symbol of remembrance, but they're also about healing and renewal and hope in the aftermath of tragedy," Blais shared. "There are stories of leadership, courage, sacrifice and service housed within the exhibitions. They're powerful reminders that even in the face of the most unfathomable adversity and heartbreaking loss of life, are the capacity for hope, and our potential for resilience, will see us through." Before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Blais said that about 7 million people paid their respects at the 10-year-old outdoor memorial each year, while about 3.3 million explored the museum annually following its opening in 2014. The annual commemoration at the memorial on Sept. 11 is the "heart" of their ethos, however, Blais shared. The service honors the 2,977 people killed in the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the plane crash in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. 9/11 Memorial & Museum "Every year for the past 20 years, we've invited their families together at the memorial and read the names of their loved ones out loud. It's a heartbreakingly beautiful ceremony, there are moments of silence for the moments of the impact of the planes and the times that the towers collapsed," Blais said. "There's an honor guard, a children's choir singing the national anthem and other musical performances." See PEOPLE's Incredible 20-Year Journey Documenting the Children Whose Dads Died on 9/11 The 9/11 Memorial & Museum also produces the annual Tribute in Light, shooting twin beams thousands of feet high into the night sky where the Twin Towers once stood. This year, other skyscrapers in Manhattan, including the Empire State Building, will join the tribute by lighting their facades or spires in a "memorial" sky blue, Blais revealed. Jin Lee "We hope to show how connected we are and brighten the night sky through this light of remembrance," she explained. On the evolution of the museum itself, the Blais described some of the displays as open-ended and ever-changing. "The museum tells the story of history still being written, so we ask our visitors to help write that history through initiatives like our recording booths, where people can record their memories, or answer some of the ongoing questions that still exist in the post 9/11 world," she said. Jin Lee According to Blais, a visit to 9/11 Memorial & Museum is truly inspiring "to the depths of your heart and soul." "The stories that we tell include some of the most selfless acts by our first responders, but also by strangers helping strangers. It's an experience of what limitless compassion can look like," she said. "The story is not just about the events of the day, of 9/11. It's about these inspiring stories and the ongoing implications of the attacks in our lives even today." Jin Lee Visitors to the museum can enhance their experience with an extensive slew of programming, from general education to exhibits geared toward kids, families and more. To stay connected with the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum amplified its online voice with an online video series called "Stories of Hope." The 'Almost Unbelievable' Moment George W. Bush Learned About 9/11: 'I Could See That Horror' "It was important to us to emphasize what 9/11 could teach us about being in a moment of adversity like this," Blais said of how the space shifted gears. "So many of us know people who have suffered and died from COVID, including a crushing number of 9/11 heroes who were made more vulnerable to it because of their work on the frontlines." Ben Hider On the milestone 20th anniversary this year, the memorial and museum has invited people around the world to join a simple gesture of active remembrance on Instagram. Wherever they are in the world, users are asked to take a photo of the sky on Sept. 11, posting it with a personal message and the hashtag #NeverForget9/11. "That's inspired by that memory that so many Americans have of the clear blue sky on the morning of the attacks in 2001. It was what pilots called the 'severe clear' across the country, a term for a bright blue sky with seemingly unlimited visibility," Blais explained. "So this Instagram initiative is a way to take a moment to remember and show that there's hope and resilience, and, in a way, that we're all in this together underneath the same big sky."