One of the more excited claims for the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts is that it’s the most important cultural complex to be built since Lincoln Center. In “Mixed Reviews,” his 50-year look-back and current assessment of Lincoln Center, the New York Times’ classical music critic Anthony Tommasini makes you wonder if a comparison to the Upper West Side’s “little white palace on a hill” is one the DCPA wants to encourage:
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 … 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.
These are the fair complaints that have been leveled at Lincoln Center and at cultural complexes that followed in other cities. Still, there is potential for synergy between performing arts institutions that share a common campus and a board of overseers. … So, for good and bad, New York is stuck with the mixed-bag that Lincoln Center has become.
In fact, the Lincoln Center model — a multi-hall, multi-organization complex that’s intended to revitalize a downtown area as much as it’s meant to showcase the artistry of its resident companies — is not one that’s followed much anymore. Tommasini expressly cites the DCPA as the exception.
Because Tommasini is primarily concerned with weighing the advantages and drawbacks that Lincoln Center has meant for its musical components — the Met, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Opera — he doesn’t address a number of important issues intimately tied up with the Center’s success (or lack of it), issues of relevance to the DCPA:
1) It actually took decades for the hoped-for ‘urban renewal’ in Lincoln Center’s immediate area to take hold. In the early ’80s, that part of Manhattan was still somewhat dicey, somewhat dull. But at least there were middle-class people living there, and at least they had everyday shops to use. The glamorous city attractions that are there today — restaurants and stores, after-hour clubs, flashy residential buildings within strolling distance — mostly appeared just in the past 15 years. It’s something to consider when looking at the Arts District — with its persistent, near-total lack of retail and its condos-only-for-the-wealthy.
2) One word: Juilliard. The presence of some of the best teachers (many of them superlative artists on their own) and a constant influx of fresh young talent are immeasurable resources for the area. Five words: The Arts Magnet High School. And consider how DISD may be undercutting it.
But one thing that Tommasini does extol as a welcome antidote to the board conflicts and stodgy programming, something that fulfills, for a few weeks, the center’s promise of democratic, serious, innovative art — and something the DCPA administration is no doubt contemplating as a way to spark some rich, wide-ranging, cross-cultural color and street life in the Arts District: the Lincoln Center Festival.
A thought-provoking article — especially when you have the DCPA in the back of your mind as you read it.