This post is part of our “Leadership in Challenging Times” blog series, which highlights the inspiring work of the HBS community in addressing the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, alongside the fight for racial equity and an especially polarized political climate. In this post, Clive Chang (MBA 2011), Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, describes how his organization has adapted to ongoing challenges and pursued its mission in innovative and inclusive ways.
As I write this, we are only just beginning to emerge from a very long intermission.
For over a year, audiences have longed to once again be riveted by a live performance, and performing artists have yearned to return to the stage to share their craft.
At the onset of the pandemic, many arts organizations deftly pivoted to online channels to remain connected with their audiences, but technological limitations restricted such content primarily to pre-recorded and post-edited footage.
While some brilliant work emerged through this period (my personal favorite: The Juilliard School’s Bolero Juilliard), our sector grappled with the reality that the essence of our work relies on live human connection—the intimate energy between performer and audience; the communal oohs, ahs, and gasps in auditorium; the unspoken bond between people who have shared in a fleeting moment of artistic brilliance—that cannot (yet) be faithfully replicated virtually.
And unfortunately, this all happened during a time when we all most needed the healing power of art. Beyond their surprisingly large economic impact (nearly $1 trillion in 2019 in the U.S.), the arts have always wielded one unique superpower: the ability to forge and strengthen human bonds. Since the beginning of time, we have turned to art for all sorts of shared human purposes—to find joy; to grieve; to celebrate; to reflect; to express; to discover; to escape; to connect; to emote; to motivate; to build community (...and I could go on!).
As the world seeks to rebuild and restore in the face of threatening divisive forces, we need art’s superpower now more than ever.
Thankfully, in their ingenuity, artists never stopped creating. And while the past year has presented many challenges, it has also afforded arts organizations a rare opportunity to step off the hamster wheel of planning and producing season after season (usually multiple years in advance) of performances and presentations. It has encouraged us to take a breath to really meaningfully—and critically—examine our structures, processes, and business models. This past year was as good a time as any to re-imagine and re-invent.
For us at Lincoln Center, this pause has led us to revisit our founding mission: to ensure that the arts are at the center—not the periphery—of daily life, and that they are accessible to the many rather than kept for the privileged few.
I had the great honor of returning to Lincoln Center (having previously spent time here as an HBS Leadership Fellow) in April 2020, about a month into the COVID-19 lockdown. While I wear several hats, my primary responsibility is to build and lead programs that allow Lincoln Center to deliver on its mission in bold, inclusive, and imaginative new ways. These new initiatives help us to recalibrate our work to more fully reflect the vibrancy of New York City and its diverse residents. They allow us to break new ground in terms of the genres, disciplines, art forms, and intersections (re)presented on our campus. And they enable us to be nimbler and more responsive in serving the needs of our community.
When I look back at the past twelve months, I realize that the word ‘pause’ is a total misnomer.
As soon as the lockdown began, we immediately launched the Lincoln Center at Home portal, featuring a wide range of both existing and new content, the latter including Lincoln Center Pop-Up Classroom that offered a “daily dose of creativity” exploring everything from dance to songwriting to puppet-making.
By June 2020, we had produced our first of several “rapid response” artistic projects to meet the moment. This poignant dance piece at the intersection of Pride month and #BlackLivesMatter journeyed from conception through realization (commissioned, choreographed, rehearsed, performed, and filmed) over a span of just 96 hours. We’ve since replicated this model to create meaningful artistic responses to many timely issues such as COVID awareness, census participation, honoring the legacies of civil rights leaders, and—most recently—the fight against rising violence against the AAPI community.
In July 2020, we re-cast one of our in-person education programs as a virtual convening that has since given birth to Lincoln Center Activate, a global year-round virtual professional development platform for arts practitioners that has already engaged thousands worldwide.
Throughout August and September 2020, we produced some small-scale trials of (safely distanced) outdoor performances that inspired what ultimately became our just-launched Restart Stages initiative, a complete re-imagination of our outdoor spaces to jump-start artistic and civic activity across the city.
And perhaps most exciting (though I am admittedly biased!), in October 2020 we launched the pilot of an R&D lab that brings together brilliant creators from across a wide range of disciplines to incubate bold projects at the intersection of art, technology, and social justice. (In fact, the centerpiece of Restart Stages, ‘The GREEN’, was conceived by one of our resident fellows.)
As thrilling as all of this is, our transformation journey has only just begun. The arts play a unique role in contributing to a world that is more beautiful, more empathetic, and more just. Our work as stewards of the arts is to unleash its power for good.
Navigating through the ambiguity of the past year hasn’t been easy. Now a decade out of my HBS experience (shout out to Section 2011H!), I am so grateful to the case method (and to the hours invested in analyzing and debating those several hundred case studies!) for equipping me with the tools to lead confidently and compassionately through these exceptionally uncertain times.
To learn more about Lincoln Center, please visit:
For HBS students and alumni looking to connect with artsy HBS alumni: search for us in the alumni database. There are more of us than you think!