One of the world’s largest art institutions is in the midst of a dramatic transformation that will actually encourage people to loiter around the complex, watch artists prepare for shows, and engage in an “architectural strip tease.”
Question: What conception of Lincoln Center do you feel needs to change most?
Reynold Levy: Our whole objective of renovating, modernizing, updating Lincoln Center has been to literally open it up to make people feel welcome. Not just people who come to Lincoln Center regularly, but strangers, tourists from around the U.S. and from around the world. Forty-five percent of New Yorkers were not born in the United States, let alone born in New York City. We want them to feel as home at Lincoln Center and as welcome at Lincoln Center as anyone else. And so, the whole effort or redevelopment to create new spaces where people can hang out and relax whether they're coming to an event or not, to have food and drink at a whole variety of price points, to green the campus, create park-like settings all over the 16 acres of precious space, to Wi-Fi the campus, to engage in what our architect Liz Diller calls an architectural strip tease. Remove the Travertine, replace it with glass so you can actually see inside these building and see artists create their work and not wonder what's going inside that Travertine.
That’s all been part of an effort to open up Lincoln Center even more and it’s reflected as well in very intense efforts to reach into the public schools of New York City and bring art into the schools and bring elementary and secondary school students onto our campus. So, we’ve used 21st century technology toward that end. There will be all kinds of appliances outdoors. Screens that you can look in that will tell you what's on at Lincoln Center, how to access a ticket at Lincoln Center.
And we’ve just opened up a free atrium. The David Rubenstein Atrium, free to the public, which allows us to be the only performing arts center in the world that offers a discount ticket facility day of. So, you can walk into the atrium and buy a discount ticket to anything going on at Lincoln Center.
We have 4000 more seats than Madison Square Garden and we have much better seasons. And we also have discount tickets. But, that’s another place, the atrium, we can just hang out, enjoy free performances, enjoy food and beverage provided by Tom Colicchio at Witchcraft, buy a premium priced ticket, buy a discount ticket, read a newspaper, have a cup of coffee and be part of Lincoln Center.
Question: Has there been any opposition to renovating the Lincoln Center?
Reynold Levy: You know, when we - when I arrived at Lincoln Center eight years ago, we made it our business to listen carefully to anyone who cared about the future of Lincoln Center. Good government groups, neighborhood perseveration groups, landmarks groups, the community board, elected and appointed officials. Our door was open to their concerns. We are a public institution. Lincoln Center is of great interest to the public and I don’t think there's a place on earth that exercises the first amendment more vigorously than Upper West Siders. And so, I think as a result of listening very carefully and incorporating into our thinking, into our planning, the views of our neighbors. Developers, restaurateurs, retailer, people live in condominiums, co-ops. Whether they were organized or not, incorporating their thoughts into our plans or explaining why we couldn’t accommodate their plans has really made this relatively hassle free.
We’ve been simply delighted by the support that we’ve gotten throughout this process and it has been remarkably smooth and we have a terrific staff and a terrific board that’s really joined me in keeping our doors wide open and in listening carefully to the community and respecting their views. Even at time we couldn’t agree with them, but when we couldn’t we explained the whys and wherefores and by and large we’ve received a lot of applause and a lot of thank yous for what we’ve done to transform Lincoln Center. So, it’s been a - it’s been a terrific experience.
Question: What are some of the main challenges in running Lincoln Center?
Reynold Levy: Well, we have been one of the largest construction projects in New York City and we’re getting - we’re not about a year and a quarter before completion of $1.2 billion worth of work. So, one of the major challenges has been monitoring that construction project because while the project’s been going on, Lincoln Center’s been open for business. We haven’t closed anything except Alice Tully Hall when we were remodeling it.
And so, our patrons, five million of them, have had to find their way to shows and productions and educational institution, the Julliard School, the School of American Ballet, throughout this construction period in a very dense city. Second has been raising the money to pay for all this construction. That’s been a major challenge and while I’m very optimistic about our ability to do that even through a recession, the economic climate has definitely made doing so more challenging. Third, we think of ourselves as the highest quality performing arts institution in the world and that means that everyone spends an enormous amount of time and energy in engaging artists and in creating an environment in which they can do their best work. And that means lots of rehearsal time, it means a lot of attention to production values. Maintaining that quality is no small thing. It’s as challenging as it is in a university or in a great newspaper or in a great hospital.
And so, I would say those are the three principle major challenges. renovating, your staff, enlarging the board of directors to encompass the best kind of cross section of our country are two important ingredients that help you to meet those other challenges and you pay lots of attention to that as well.