In summers past, audiences have looked to Lincoln Center for summer programming tailored to suit a wide variety of tastes and constituencies. Habitues of the New York Philharmonic and the Metropolitan Opera turned to the Mostly Mozart Festival for a seasonal classical-music fix. Midsummer Night’s Swing catered to dance fans of all persuasions with salsa, tango, disco and more. Lincoln Center Out of Doors — touted as the country’s longest-running free outdoor festival — underscored the city’s diversity with its abundant, varied offerings.
All of those programming threads are preserved in the 2022 summer season Lincoln Center announced today — the first under the leadership of chief artistic officer Shanta Thake, who was appointed in August. But rather than leaning into its time-tested series banners, this year the institution is putting forward a united front under a single brand, “Summer for the City,” running May 14th through August 14th. And where last year’s handful of summer offerings felt cautious and tentative, the season to come offers an abundance: hundreds of events, most of them free of charge, and others pay-what-you-will.
The ideal, Thake told Gothamist in an interview, is to show that in planning a full-scale comeback this summer, Lincoln Center listened and responded to the concerns of artists and audiences emerging from a devastating two-year crisis and the widespread isolation it caused.
“We're making the case for living in a global urban environment, and what role live performance has in bringing us all together: the importance of being with others, and how we can create those connections through live performance in a way that nothing else can,” Thake said. “We also took real care to think about the health of the city, and what it means to come back into a community with one another,” she added.
The notion of helping to heal and restore the city’s equilibrium is paramount to the new festival’s messaging. "With ‘Summer for the City,’ Lincoln Center aims to support New York and New Yorkers, and provide a place for healing and for exploration after years of being apart,” Lincoln Center president and C.E.O. Henry Timms told Gothamist via email. “We as New Yorkers need a civic center more than ever, a place where we feel comfortable stretching our muscles of togetherness. The arts can and must provide a vehicle for that and it’s what our season aims to achieve."
Togetherness extends to the arts on offer this season: rather than sorting and separating disciplines and audiences – both literally and through marketing – Lincoln Center is loosely binding together its summer offerings under three potently ephemeral themes: “Rejoice,” “Reclaim” and “Remember.”
“Those words came out of our conversations with our artists,” Thake said. “It wasn’t that we were like: we need a pithy slogan. These themes felt like they were underlying so much of what we were doing. How do we make up for all that has been lost? How do we bring people together and create all of these joyful moments that we know we want to create, but also not lose the fact that we've had so many things we haven't been able to do, like grieve together?”
Included in the “Rejoice” category are “Sing New York,” a large-scale singalong opening event with the Young People’s Chorus of New York City; participatory events set in “The Oasis,” a dance-floor installation on Josie Robertson Plaza; a number of Pride Month offerings; and celebrations of iconic New York artists like the Notorious B.I.G. and Larry Levan.
“Reclaim” evokes opportunities missed during the pandemic, reimagined on a public scale. “Celebrate LOVE: A (Re)Wedding” will allow couples whose wedding plans were canceled or diminished during the last two years to participate in a mass celebration; likewise, “QUINCE en la Plaza,” is a theatrical Quinceañera mounted in collaboration with indie theater the Bushwick Starr. Poet and performer Carl Hancock Rux will oversee an evening-length Juneteenth event presented with Harlem Stage; singer-songwriter Toshi Reagon will lead a singalong drawn from her operatic setting of Octavia E. Butler’s “Parable of the Sower.”
Under the “Remember” banner are gathered various forms of remembrance and homage. These range from “Requiem” performances – Mozart’s choral composition of that title, performed by the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in one of several appearances throughout the summer series, and “Requiem: Fire in the Air of the Earth,” a piece by choreographer Kyle Abraham with music by electronic producer Jlin – to events paying tribute to Greg Tate and James Baldwin. In what’s sure to be a festival highlight, Jazz at Lincoln Center will mount a New Orleans second-line parade from their Columbus Circle headquarters up Broadway to the Lincoln Center campus.
Also included in the mix are outdoor film screenings, projected in front of the dormant David Geffen Hall, and up-close encounters in the David Rubenstein Atrium. Absent are the kinds of elite destination events formerly championed by the institution’s trademark initiative, the Lincoln Center Festival.
“As a curator, I'm still committed to global contemporary, progressive art and finding a home for that on our stages in a way that only Lincoln Center can,” Thake said. “At the same time, we're committed to taking elitism out of that context, because that's not how it's presented in any other place in the world.”
Elimination of stylistic compartments notwithstanding, arguably the most radical component in this new venture is the pay-what-you-will pricing for ticketed events held in Alice Tully Hall and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater. Sustaining that model, Thake acknowledged, relies at least partially on the generosity of ticket buyers.
“We’ve actually asked ticket buyers to place a value on their experience,” Thake said, “Some people place that at a higher level than we’ve set the ticket price, and some people pay at a lower level. We've piloted it with our American Songbook series this spring, and we've been amazed with the results, in terms of 70% of the audiences are new to Lincoln Center – never bought a ticket before.”
There’s risk involved, Thake admitted. But, she added, “in terms of what our goals are for the organization – what it means to be Lincoln Center, and how we can actually pilot things – we don’t have to make our size the reason we don’t try anything new. In fact, it has to be the reason we do try everything.”
Check out a complete list of events and activities at summerforthecity.org.