On a winter Saturday, families gather in the Samuels Teaching Studio at Lincoln Center Education (LCE). Led by LCE Teaching Artist Lisa Green, children and their caregivers try their hand at creating expressive pantomimes to the stirring music of Tchaikovsky, layering movements to tell a story without words. The kids are naturals, showing off their unmistakable talents and erupting into giggles at their parents' well-intentioned efforts. Through it all, Green shares stories about the history of ballet, dance icons of color, and how the art form is evolving toward greater diversity and inclusion. What might be ample fun for one day is just a prelude to the main event, a matinee performance of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker® by New York City Ballet. It's tough to put a price on an experience like this, but Lincoln Center is up to the challenge. How about $5 per ticket?

This is Family-Linc, LCE's pioneering initiative designed to reduce barriers to the arts by offering discount tickets and engagement activities for New York City families who might not otherwise have access to Lincoln Center.

Emerging from the institution's core belief that the arts are for everyone, Family-Linc was launched in 2014 and currently serves more than 500 families throughout the city. LaKisha Corbett and her daughter London have been with the program since the beginning, first learning about it through London's after-school program at Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. "I've always been interested in the arts," Corbett says. "That's something that my grandmother has instilled in me, and I wanted to share that with London."

Parents' motivations for enrolling their families in the program vary widely, but common themes emerge. "I want [my children] to be well rounded, to have all kinds of experiences. I want them to be able to enjoy all kinds of things, to see beauty in many things," says one parent surveyed last year by cultural consultancy WolfBrown. Many view the performing arts as a way for their children to gain positive recognition, build self-esteem, and broaden their world view. "We got a chance to see The King and I [at Lincoln Center Theater]. What [my daughter] liked most about it was how they made the stage come to life. And she also liked the children. She got to see familiar faces, kids her age, kids of color, performing on the stage," Corbett recalls. "Oh, and she loves The Nutcracker. She always talks about the Rat King and the Sugar Plum Fairy."

What makes Family-Linc distinctive is its holistic approach to arts engagement. Although nearly 90 percent of Family-Linc participants surveyed in 2017 reported that more low-cost and free cultural events would allow them to attend more performances with their families, cost isn't the only barrier to the arts. For many New York City families, social barriers—such as lack of awareness of upcoming events, anxiety surrounding a new experience, and a sense of "not belonging"—contribute to infrequent attendance. So Family-Linc goes beyond merely offering discount tickets, adding wraparound programs that let families make the most of new arts experiences and empower them to build arts-going habits that continue long after the curtains fall.

Family-Linc goes beyond merely offering discount tickets, adding wraparound programs that let families make the most of new arts experiences.

Orientations at the beginning of each season help families prepare to visit Lincoln Center, know what to expect from a performance, and become familiar with the Lincoln Center campus so they'll recognize landmarks like the Revson Fountain and President's Bridge. Artist-led workshops, activities, and backstage tours before performances give families a chance to be creative and make memories together and to get to know other families participating in the program. Of her approach to leading a Family-Linc workshop, Lisa Green says, "I believe that the arts connect us in ways that strengthen our humanity. My work has always been about making movement accessible to everyone, and this program gives me the chance to guide families in finding a deeper connection to movement, to arts of all kinds, and to each other. Through our work in Family-Linc, families get to understand what they’re seeing on stages in new and meaningful ways." Corbett concurs: "The workshops prepared us for what to anticipate. The children get so much out of it, as well as the adults. There are so many things that you can pick up and learn that you never thought were possible."

Family-Linc's carefully curated season is designed to offer a wide range of experiences across Lincoln Center's campus for all ages and interests. In 2017–2018, jazz aficionados and neophytes alike explore the work of Benny Goodman, Mary Lou Williams, Miriam Makeba, and Nina Simone at Jazz at Lincoln Center. New York Philharmonic's Young People's Concerts range from the music of Mozart to Duke Ellington. At the Chamber Music Society, kids get to Meet the Music! and get their hands dirty at a musical instrument petting zoo. And this month, they'll experience the magic of Broadway in Lincoln Center Theater's new production of Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady. Social gatherings, visual arts workshops, and other experiences round out a robust year of offerings designed to make the arts more accessible and enriching.

By helping families overcome financial, geographical, and social barriers to accessing the arts, Family-Linc makes a difference in the lives of thousands of New Yorkers. Yet there's always more to be done to keep lowering barriers, build strong community partnerships, and give parents the tools they need to be a part of the creative development of their children.

The value of the arts—magical and ephemeral as they are—is notoriously tricky to measure. But if you see the face of a child twirling across the stage in the Land of Sweets, casting shadows in a pop-up puppet theater, or hearing the first low tones of a cello in her own hands, then that value becomes clear.


Rebecca E. Popp is assistant director of Institutional Marketing and Outreach at Lincoln Center.

Family-Linc is made possible by Shelly and George Lazarus.
Additional support is provided by First Republic Bank and Ardian Foundation.

Learn more at LincolnCenterEducation.org.