Social Enterprise Perspectives: Summer Arts at Lincoln Center

Organization: Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Location: New York City

Life-sized spider puppets prancing across a stage. Italian commedia del arte with a 60-something jester tumbling around onstage. A Senegalese hip-hop group opening for a performance of Wyclef Jean. Modern dancers who move each muscle so perfectly in rhythm with the classical instruments that they become what musical notes would be if they took human form.

This is summer at Lincoln Center. Rich and varied, filled with swirling images and emotions evoked by spectacular performances designed to provoke and enthrall, it is an experience. Four HBS students were lucky enough to be part of the world behind the lights while still glimpsing everything onstage from the audience perspective.

Dave Oppenheim, Clarissa Shen, Marni Weil and I started our Social Enterprise Fellowship adventure in the Executive Office with President Reynold Levy and the full-time HBS Fellow, Seema Reddy, who was the Director of Special Projects (essentially Reynold’s special assistant). Each of us had from four to six projects that spanned almost all departments at what is the world’s largest performing arts center. While most people know some of the twelve different constituents such as The Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, New York City Ballet, and The Juilliard School, they don’t always realize that Lincoln Center itself has its own programming, development (fundraising), and marketing staffs. Because “Linc. Inc.”, as employees nickname it, handles the real estate for the campus, it also has full-time concert hall employees. As interns, we were fortunate to dive into many of these departments to work closely with their VPs to help with special projects.

The only thread of commonality among the projects was how diverse they were. I called elegant restaurants at various arts centers like the Sydney Opera House and the Kennedy Center to find out what benefits Linc. Inc. might introduce in the formal restaurant it is building. Dave completed a demographics analysis of ticket-holding patrons and generated cocktail party statistics that Reynold now loves to rattle off like “Over 750,000 people are within 10 minutes of Lincoln Center!” Marni worked closely with the Lincoln Center Institute to create pricing and other business-oriented plans for their National Educator Workshops. In this program, teachers from all over the world attend workshops at Lincoln Center on how to use the Socratic Method through the arts in their classrooms. Clarissa worked intensely with the vice presidents overseeing concert halls and operations to help implement a rate card for Alice Tully and Avery Fisher Halls.

Yet, the performances and the projects were only one part of the whole experience. We also developed a privileged insider’s view of both Lincoln Center and arts management. Over lunch at Nougatine, Reynold shared with us his views on running a non-profit and how he learned fundraising. When he began to run the 92nd Street YMCA, one of his mentors told him, “When you’re asking for money, look over the prospective donor’s right shoulder and picture what you could do with the money. When you can see it clearly, describe it. That’s all you need.” It was incredible to sit across the table from him and hear his insights into how the development world works. In large part, our time with Reynold contributed to the fulfillment of Dave’s aspiration “to understand how a really successful nonprofit stays that way.”

While learnings from Reynold remain firmly embedded in our memories of the summer, we also carry with us a smattering of other favorite recollections. Dave remembers fondly the truffled mac and cheese at the Taste of Lincoln Center Gala, where area chefs purvey their most elegant creations for high-paying donors. (We, the impoverished students, were comped.) Marni still smiles as she thinks of her experiences at the National Educator Workshops “making up an interpretive dance incorporating the elements of “stop, drop, and roll.”” I relive in my mind’s eye the moment I fell in love with modern dance after watching dancers become music. And Clarissa delights in the many performances because, “It all reminds me why I remain inspired by and motivated to work in the Arts.”

Beyond these simple memories, our most valuable souvenirs of the summer are the realizations we had on the journey from knowing why we chose Lincoln Center to understanding what connection we each want with the arts going forward.

Dave entered the summer hoping to do “something fun and good (in a helping-the-world way)”and found that Linc. Inc “exceeded both dramatically.” He has realized that he would like “to run a performing arts group in five to 20 years.”

Marni sought “exposure to a fundraising specialist and highly successful large-scale fundraising organization.” She has developed a passion for helping people in social enterprise “put the business tools and processes in place to help them be successful and improve.”

Clarissa looked for “clarity as to career development in the Arts and a means to bridge my background in management strategy and the Arts.” Given her creative passion and background in dance, she has decided that her “ideal job in about 10-15 years time would be Nigel’s job” (acting as Director of Programming for a festival).

I joined Lincoln Center because I wanted to learn what it would be like to pursue a career in arts management. This summer confirmed for me that my passion for the arts is so fundamental that I need to be immersed fully in it every day. I am now looking to continue along that arts-focused career path.

On Lincoln Center’s campus there is inscribed a quote by John D. Rockefeller III:

“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. They should function not merely as another form of entertainment but, rather, should contribute significantly to our well being and happiness.”
This summer, we four were fortunate enough to have the arts at the center of our daily lives. And we are grateful and happy for the chance to experience the rich and vibrant spectrum that is Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

October 17, 2005
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