The two Hungarians not only played music, they were themselves the music – in every nerve – down to their fingertips.

Adelheid von Schorn on Reményi and Liszt

Increasing Arts Participation and Meeting Community Needs: A Lincoln Center Case Study

24 May 2015

Lesley Rosenthal, general counsel to the New York Lincoln Center speaks about how a leading American cultural corporation reacts to the social demands of the 21st century.

A year ago, in the Liszt Academy Concert Magazine we asked managing director of Concertgebouw Amsterdam Simon Reinink what innovative tools he employs to bring audiences in and how one of Europe’s leading concert venues shapes processes in the classical music market, while just a few months ago Norman Lebrecht, one of the most influential music critics in the world, held an exclusive lecture in the Sir Georg Solti Chamber Hall entitled ‘After the crash: how to make more music with less money?’ examining the relationship between the global classical music industry and social media. Continuing the series, we now publish an article written – at the request of the communications directorate of the Liszt Academy – by Lesley Rosenthal, general counsel to the New York Lincoln Center. This professional working at the most prestigious arts centre in the US speaks about how she attempts to bring art closer to people, and how a leading American cultural corporation reacts to the social demands of the 21st century.

Imre Szabó Stein, director of communications, editor-in-chief


Lesley Rosenthal


Increasing Arts Participation and Meeting Community Needs

According to a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts, common barriers to arts participation in the United States include:

  • Lack of time, particularly for people with children under age six.
  • Difficulty getting to the location, particularly for retirees, older adults, and adults with physical disabilities.
  • Social isolation - “no one to go with.”

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City has undertaken or expanded several significant initiatives under the leadership of its President, Jed Bernstein, and its Executive Director for Education, Russell Granet, to break down barriers to arts participation.  Hopefully, these programs will inspire similar efforts around the globe.


Programming for Families

In an effort to address the lack of time for arts participation that particularly confronts parents of young children, Lincoln Center has begun a major expansion of our family programming: 

Spring Fling

One example of our new family programming is “Spring Fling,” an indoor and outdoor free festival in May, showcasing arts offerings programmed for children throughout the year.  Activities and entertainment include a sing-a-long at the Revson Fountain; an instrumental “petting zoo” in which members of the New York Philharmonic allow children to hear, touch and try their instruments; a scavenger hunt for children to explore the 16-acre arts complex; hands-on art projects presented in partnership with the Children’s Museum of Manhattan; clowns from the Big Apple Circus; an interactive Dance-Along Story Time event; performances by The Little Orchestra Society; arts-themed films; and a dance lesson. 


Poet Linc

Poet Linc is an annual spoken word program inaugurated three years ago that brings together motivated teenagers from across New York City to create a dynamic artistic community. In this community, some young poets, are experienced poetry slam competitors and others are new to the art form. Over eight weeks, they are given professional mentors to introduce them to new genres and guide their development, safe space to express their  words, thoughts and feelings, and opportunities to showcase their work – on the stage at Lincoln Center, in a published anthology, and back in their communities. Poet Linc works in partnership with Urban Word NYC and the NYC Youth Poet Laureate Program.


Family Linc

Launched in December 2014, Family Linc is a new program designed to encourage families with financial, geographic or other barriers to the arts to attend performances in dance, theater, orchestral music, and opera at Lincoln Center. In partnership with social service agencies across the city, Lincoln Center is offering prime orchestra-level seats at weekend performances by Lincoln Center constituent organizations at deeply discounted ticket prices ($10 each). In addition to attending performances, families participate in orientations back in the home boroughs, special tours of the campus, talks with Lincoln Center artists, and hands-on pre-performance workshops to deepen their engagement.

To inform the Family-Linc initiative, Lincoln Center conferred with the Borough Presidents of New York and partnered with over a dozen community based organizations including: Children's Aid Society, Safe Horizons, Bronx Fathers Taking Action, United Neighborhood Houses, BronxWorks, DreamYard, and New Visions for Public Schools. To date, the families have prepared for and attended performances of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker by the New York City Ballet, the new revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King & I at the Lincoln Center Theater, and other programs by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, The New York Philharmonic, and Jazz At Lincoln Center.  The goal is to have 250 participating families from the five boroughs attend two shows.

Notes Lincoln Center President, Jed Bernstein, "Lincoln Center and its wonderful performances and programs belong to all the residents of New York City. Family Linc is a way for city kids and their parents to experience the arts, to learn, and have a great time together as a family."


Lincoln Center Beyond Its Physical Boundaries

Senior citizens, those with physical challenges, and those abroad have new opportunities to participate in Lincoln Center offerings as well. 

Lincoln Center Local Free Library Screenings

Beginning in 2014, Lincoln Center has partnered with Brooklyn Public Library, Queens Library, and The New York City Public Library to bring free screenings of world-class performances to reach audiences right in their own neighborhood libraries throughout all five boroughs. By developing digital streaming software, Lincoln Center is able to share its growing catalog of beautiful high-definition concert videos to thousands of New Yorkers who aren’t able to make it to campus for live events. Librarians are given training and support in how to host and promote their screening events and are able to choose the genres and artists that are most appealing to their communities.  The current season of Lincoln Cente­­r Local: Free Screenings, running from January to August  2015, offers viewings of performances from Lincoln Center Out of DoorsAmerican Songbook, Lincoln Center Theater, and the New York Philharmonic. 


Boro Linc

The Boro Linc series brings performances, workshops, and family-oriented programs by Lincoln Center resident organizations free of charge to communities which have limited access to the artistic treasure trove contained on Lincoln Center's campus. The program launches with a richly productive association with La Casita Maria Center for Arts & Education in The Bronx. From March to June 2015, New York City Ballet, Chamber Music Society, New York Philharmonic, The Metropolitan Opera, Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Juilliard School, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, and Lincoln Center Education will present more than twenty events at Casita Maria. 

Events include an exhibition called Orquesta en su Casa, Latino Popular Music in the Early Sound Era; movement workshops by the New York City Ballet for children ages 4-7 and 8-12; storytellers from Lincoln Center Education, and a Metropolitan Opera workshop that introduces Mozart’s The Magic Flute to opera newcomers through hands-on activities. 

Participants are encouraged to return each week to experience Lincoln Center’s diverse offerings, contribute to the Boro Linc Community Mural, create arts and crafts, enter to win door prizes, and learn about ways to keep enjoying the arts together.


Expanded Digital Media Offerings

Building on the success of its Emmy Award-winning public television program, Live from Lincoln Center, in recent years Lincoln Center has significantly increased its investments in digital media.  In 2013 it launched a new online video portal showcasing world-class artists such as Audra McDonald, Joshua Bell, Josh Groban, Iván Fischer, and more.  The media gallery,, is a new destination for discovering high-quality video content showcasing artists, performances and other events.  It features more than 90 videos, including short- and long-form interviews with a wide range of world-class artists spanning genres including classical music and jazz, opera, dance, theater and cinema.  In 2014 and 2015, Lincoln Center dramatically increased live-streams of its free outdoor programming, featuring an eclectic mix of performances, including country music star Rosanne Cash, jazz diva Cassandra Wilson, an “Afro-futurist” concert honoring the legendary Nigerian firebrand Fela Anikulapo Kuti, and the Kronos Quartet.


Armed Forces Network

In pursuit of its mission to provide preeminent performing arts education and programming, Lincoln Center has partnered with the Armed Forces Network in an effort to extend the live performance experience to those who serve our country. The Armed Forces Network (AFN) is a worldwide radio and television broadcast network that serves American servicemen and women, Department of Defense and other U.S. government civilians and their families stationed at bases overseas, as well as U.S. Navy ships at sea. Through this partnership, in 2015 and beyond, Lincoln Center plans to provide high quality performances for broadcast on the AFN network.  Programs under consideration include the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra, Audra McDonald in Concert, Patina Miller in Concert, and Latin Beat.


Arts Together:  Reversing Urban Anomie and Reaching Those In Need of Social Support

Lincoln Center is also working to address the NEA’s third stated barrier to arts participation:  “no one to go with.” 

Lincoln Center Out of Doors

Through free outdoor concerts at the Guggenheim Bandshell at Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center attracts up to 200,000 members of the public in the summertime.  The programs have taken place for over 40 years, but in recent seasons, concerts have been more purposely programed to build communities, not just to entertain.  Lincoln Center’s public programming curators plan for up to four different acts to coincide on a single day so that disparate communities join together in a single audience to interact with one another, not just the music of their own heritage. Working with community partners such as the Caribbean Cultural Council, the Chinese American Arts Council, Ponderosa Stomp from New Orleans, and the Center for Traditional Music and Dance, Lincoln Center Out of Doors introduces neighbor to neighbor, reversing the “urban anomie” that afflicts so many city dwellers.

Midsummer Night Swing

For over 25 years, New York's hottest outdoor dance party has attracted audiences to swing under the stars to the electrifying sounds of the best local, national, and international artists.  Dance lessons are included in the low-cost admission, and styles range from Lindy Hop to merengue, the Charleston and the hustle.  Participants enjoy dancing with partners they brought and partners they just met. The pictures and videos posted by Swing audiences on Lincoln Center’s social media pages are a kaleidoscope of joyful human expression from every walk of life.  Social dance brings together families, neighbors and perfect strangers for an evening of creative expression and participation. 


Youth in Homeless Shelters

In addition to bringing together different communities, the arts are an important means of engaging those most disenfranchised on the margins of society.

Lincoln Center is partnering with local social service agencies to provide arts programming to children ages 6-12 who reside in homeless shelters, offering children and families living in temporary housing evenings of performances and workshops with Lincoln Center Education Teaching Artists.

The children’s responses to these programs are particularly moving:

  • “I never expected people from Lincoln Center would come speak to us and perform.  I am really inspired after today.” – Therasa, age 11
  • “I was surprised that people from Lincoln Center came and told stories about people living in Africa.” – Eric, age 10
  • “The storyteller told honest stories and made me feel nice.” – Sonia, age 8
  • “I was excited to write a song with real singers and a band.” – Maliaki, age 7
  • “I like hearing the music and eating pizza with famous singers.” – Zion, age 6

Incarcerated Youth Program

Lincoln Center partners with Passages Academy, which provides educational instruction and counseling for students ages 18 and younger in secure and non-secure detention and placement settings, to offer and involvement in the arts to incarcerated youth.  The goal of this partnership is to allow participants to feel a sense of accomplishment, so that they have a greater chance of success when they re-enter their communities and schools.  The program includes half-day instructional sessions with two teaching artists and a storyteller.  Students also write and perform their own stories. 


Theater Experiences for Autistic Children

Lincoln Center Education has commissioned Up and Away, an immersive theatrical production with music specifically created for young people on the autism spectrum and their caregivers.  This project will launch in the fall of 2015 in collaboration with Trusty Sidekick Theater Company.  Featuring puppetry, live music, and interactive play, young audiences with autism and their families will experience the wonder of live theater in a safe and accessible environment.


Making Arts Access Sustainable and Replicable

With new programs like Family Linc, Poet Linc, Lincoln Center Local, Boro Linc, digital media initiatives and our other community engagement activities, Lincoln Center is building and supporting programs for those who would not have the opportunity to benefit from the arts due to socio-economic, geographical, age and other accessibility barriers.  “We believe that the arts are a vital cornerstone for every vibrant, strong, and prosperous community,” said President Bernstein of Lincoln Center. 

These expanded community-centric offerings are funded through a combination of private and corporate philanthropy, free-will donations by those who are able, gratis and low-cost licenses by artists and composers, and modest City government subsidy. A common theme in making the programs successful has been finding viable, well-established local partners, such as the Children’s Museum of Manhattan, the public libraries, Amsterdam Houses Tenant Association, Bronx Fathers Taking Action, and United Neighborhood Houses, to help facilitate introductions into the local communities and the underserved populations we seek to reach.

It would be interesting to study whether the three factors identified by the National Endowment for the Arts – young children, physical accessibility, and social isolation – are important barriers to arts participation in other countries as well.  If so, Lincoln Center’s pilot programs and strategies may provide valuable clues elsewhere to help improve rates of arts participation and, through the arts, address other pressing social needs.

Lesley Rosenthal