Lincoln Center: Celebrating 60 Years of Culture + Community
Eileen Willis December 20, 2018
Lincoln Center: Celebrating 60 Years of Culture + Community
This article is one in a series about Lincoln Center's 60th anniversary. For more anniversary content, see lincolncenter.org/60.
The 1956 Lincoln Square Development Plan included a proposal to create the world’s first modern performing arts center, in the heart of Manhattan. Sixty years later, it thrives, more dynamic and vibrant than ever. Home to 11 world-renowned organizations and offering performances of the highest caliber on campus and in local communities each year—including many for free—Lincoln Center has led the way in connecting people of all backgrounds with the performing arts. In fact, this commitment to connecting culture and community is a founding principle of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (LCPA), whose first president, John D. Rockefeller 3rd, affirmed that the arts “are not for the privileged few, but for the many. Their place is not on the periphery of daily life, but at its center.” Like any milestone, this anniversary gives us the opportunity to recognize the success and lasting impact of what has been achieved, and to look ahead to the next 60 years and beyond.
The Lincoln Center Campus: A (Very) Brief History
Home to The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, The Film Society of Lincoln Center, Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Juilliard School, Lincoln Center Theater, The Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Ballet, the New York Philharmonic, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, the School of American Ballet, and Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Lincoln Center’s venues have become an oasis for the culturally curious from all walks of life, whether they live up the block or across an ocean. More than six million people visit the campus each year, a powerful testament to Rockefeller’s vision of the importance of the arts in people’s lives.
In 1962, just three years after a groundbreaking ceremony presided over by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Philharmonic Hall (later Avery Fisher Hall and now David Geffen Hall) opened. Other now-famous halls followed in quick succession: The New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater) opened in 1964; the shared structure that housed the Vivian Beaumont and Mitzi E. Newhouse theaters and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (and now includes the Claire Tow Theater) opened in 1965; the Metropolitan Opera House officially opened in 1966; and the final building, home to The Juilliard School and Alice Tully Hall, opened in 1969. Continued enhancement and development have kept Lincoln Center up to date, with additions such as the David Rubenstein Atrium, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Lawn, and the Reynold Levy President’s Bridge, as well as sustainability initiatives to conserve energy and decrease the campus’s carbon footprint.
But Lincoln Center is more than a physical place, and its history is greater than a timeline of which buildings opened when. Like all architecture, no matter how iconic, our halls would be nothing without the spirit that animates them: a daily artistic celebration of the highest levels of human creativity and achievement.
A Culture of Artistic Excellence
From the opening-night program at Philharmonic Hall—which featured the New York Philharmonic conducted by Leonard Bernstein and included Mahler’s Eighth Symphony and the world premiere of Aaron Copland’s Connotations—Lincoln Center has been recognized for being home to the very best of the performing arts. In addition to the world-class offerings of each of the other constituent organizations, LCPA’s acclaimed series such as Great Performers, the White Light Festival, American Songbook, Midsummer Night Swing, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, the Mostly Mozart Festival, and the year-round programs at the David Rubenstein Atrium—as well as the Emmy Award– winning broadcast Live From Lincoln Center—have brought the greatest performing arts to the broadest possible audience.
Community: Inside and Outside the Classroom
Educational outreach centered around the performing arts has been an important part of Lincoln Center’s activities since the very beginning. Well before the first building on campus was completed, a three-year pilot program called The Lincoln Center Student Program was launched, sending music, theater, and dance ensembles to perform in local middle and high schools. As buildings on campus were completed, school groups were invited to experience the arts within the campus’s iconic halls. Since its founding in 1974, Lincoln Center Education’s engagement with schools has continued to expand, having reached a total of more than 20 million people through programs on and off campus, centered on the belief that the arts are a doorway not only to critical skills but also to leading purposeful, fulfilling lives. Indeed, again according to Rockefeller, part of Lincoln Center’s ethos is that the arts “should function not merely as another form of entertainment but, rather, should contribute significantly to our well-being and happiness.” Connecting with communities outside the classroom—through programs such as Family-Linc, LC Kids, Mentor- Linc, Community Artist Residencies, LC Moments, the Big Umbrella Festival, and more—has been just as central. These initiatives, as well as ongoing accessibility programs designed to accommodate and welcome all visitors, continue Lincoln Center’s tradition of removing barriers to the arts for all audiences.
Sixty Years and Counting
We’ll be marking this anniversary in a variety of ways throughout 2019, including programs on and off campus, special articles and social media series, and more. As we approach our 61st year, we’ll also take time for reflection and introspection, to secure Lincoln Center’s future as we prepare it for the next generation. After all, Lincoln Center’s first sixty years of connecting culture and community is just the beginning.
Eileen Willis is the editorial director for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.