Performing arts centers can transform cities, enhancing the lives of citizens and the business environment. During a recent visit to New York City, I visited the new David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, one of over 500 Privately Owned Public Spaces (POPS) in New York City created under a program that offers incentives for buildings to provide publicly accessible spaces in the community.
I received a tour of the Atrium, and also the beautifully renovated Koch Theater, from the New York City Opera’s ICSOM delegate Gail Kruvand and former delegate Nancy McAlhany. Later in the week I was also able to visit with the orchestra committee of the New York City Ballet and delegate Ethan Silverman and to greet some of the musicians in the renovated orchestra pit just prior to a Sunday matinee ballet performance.
There is a lot of renovation going on around Lincoln Center these days, and the Rubenstein Atrium truly impressed me. The Atrium is an example of how the arts community can enhance the living environment within any city.
The Rubenstein Atrium serves as the box office for all of the theaters at Lincoln Center and for all 12 of the resident arts organizations. The Atrium is named in honor of Lincoln Center Vice Chairman David Rubenstein and features (in addition to the box office) a fully staffed information desk, restrooms, free Wi-Fi, and a café with food from celebrity chef Tom Colicchio (of Top Chef fame). The beautifully designed area has two vertical gardens, a fountain, a wall designed for video presentations, and public art by Dutch textile artisan Claudy Jongstra.
I passed through this space a few times when it was known as the Harmony Atrium, but it was never fully utilized. Today, it is filled with people learning about the events at Lincoln Center, meeting with the artists, purchasing tickets, or awaiting same day discounts at the Donald and Barbara Zucker box office. The Atrium is open to the public 365 days a year until 10:00 p.m., with the box office open until shortly before concert time. More information is available at the Lincoln Center website.
At a time when the relevancy of the arts continues to be under attack, I can think of many downtown areas that could benefit from such a convenient and inviting space near their Performing Arts Centers. When you visit such a creative area and see the innovative use of space within a city, it is tremendously inspiring.
While there is much consternation in the field over the release of the recent National Endowment for the Arts report that showed a drop in attendance for all art forms in America, the timing of the study makes me doubt the results. As Alex Ross said in the February 8, 2010, issue of The New Yorker : “Despite the dire trends, the classical audience remains reasonably healthy. Although a smaller portion of the population is heading out to concerts, those who do go are going more often: orchestras reported a slight rise in attendance between 2003 and 2007.” I believe that innovative thinking, such as what led to the Rubenstein Atrium, will make it easier for our audiences to find us, and for new audiences to seek us out.
We must remember that the economic argument for the arts is central to our theme, accompanying the education and artistic message that our orchestras provide. In my home state of North Carolina, a recent study proclaimed that the Creative industry in the State contributes $41 billion to the state’s economy, and yet every time there is an appropriation for the arts, we have to read letters to the editor proclaiming it frivolous. By that same account, the wine industry in North Carolina, which is celebrated and encouraged, has an $813 million dollar impact. Of course, the wine industry is generally for-profit, and many of the agencies of the creative industry are non-profits. But, those creative industries account for 300,000 jobs, and the wine industry accounts for 5,700.
Please, don’t get me wrong. The wine industry in our state is crucial to our economy, and we are proud to rank tenth in the nation in wine production. It should be supported and celebrated through every means possible, but the creative and artistic industries should also be recognized for what they truly provide. Instead, some critics react with the same old rhetoric, usually because the facts are so difficult to hear through the din of despair and hand-wringing that serves to undermine support for the arts.
Spaces like the Rubenstein Atrium demonstrate clearly what an investment in the arts can do for a community. Next time you are in New York City, I encourage you all to visit the Atrium, and take the message it represents back to your home cities as well as your local governments, businesses, and arts leaders.