Dance Together or Sing Alone?

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of New York’s Lincoln Center, and the New York Times had an interesting article on the pros and cons of grouping arts organizations together.

Nothing can be more energizing to the cultural life of a city than dynamic performing arts institutions. But the danger in grouping them together is that the creative identities of individual institutions — a bold modern dance company, a great symphony orchestra — can blur behind the walls of an officious encampment. The promise of arts organizations working in sync can become a daily grind of competing boards and directors stifled by bureaucracy.

Of course, my immediate thought was to reflect on our own Lincoln Center: the Seattle Center.  It’s a very similar place in many ways, with a large public gathering space, a number of prestigious performing arts organizations and a vibrant home for festivals, events and other gatherings.  And we’re planning our giant makeover, just like them.  In some ways, ours is more dynamic, with Teatro Zinzanni and On the Boards expanding the boundaries of the Center past the simple geography. Yet, the Seattle Center certainly doesn’t have the geographical/transportation advantages to easily attract audiences like the Lincoln Center: “Once Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall) opened in 1962, it was possible for a music lover to drive in from the suburbs, park, have a little meal, attend a performance and return home without setting foot on a New York sidewalk.” Have you driven on Mercer Street?

Traffic aside, is co-location affecting our organizations negatively? Are we seeing disconnect from local neighborhoods & communities, and a disincentive toward innovation because of the size and scope of the facilities themselves. And where are the big collaborations, taking advantage of the juxtaposition? The 50th anniversary of the Seattle Center is just three years away. It will be interesting to watch and see how that event in 2012 learns from what the Lincoln Center does today.

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2 Responses to Dance Together or Sing Alone?

  1. Frank says:

    I’d quibble a bit with the traffic thing. Sure, Mercer’s congested at rush hour, but if there’s one thing that Seattle Center is good at, it’s accommodating cars. You can park in any number of parking garages, and even walk on a covered overhead bridge right to the Opera without getting your hair wet or having to set foot on the dirty streets of Lower Queen Anne. 🙂

    Seattle Center’s getting better all the time, but it’s still a relatively balkanized collection of institutions and fiefdoms. And they still haven’t quite gotten rid of the inward-facing nature of the architecture, with that huge blank wall on Mercer. Hopefully they can make it open out more to the community around it.

    The larger question is really interesting: what are the opportunities for collaboration? What would that look like? The only time the entire Center activates are for events like Bumbershoot. But could all the performance centers focus on the work of a particular artist/era/region for a single season?

    I do think the era of these large mega-arts-centers is waning, though. Small and sustainable is new way to go.

  2. Greg says:

    Agreed with Frank on the traffic thing. Also, when attending a Seattle Center event, another option is to park downtown, monorail up and back, dinner can be at either end.

    As the board prez of a relatively new arts organization, Balagan Theatre (www.balagantheatre.org), one of my big questions is how can small arts organizations collaborate and reduce overhead while still maintaining independence and artistic personality. Will let you know if we find an answer!

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