President’s Letter: December 2023

Monthly observations and insights from MAS President Elizabeth Goldstein

December 29, 2023

I found myself in the Lincoln Square area with some time to kill, after seeing an exhibition at the American Folk Art Museum. It was a gray afternoon with a decent chill in the air. If it had been a little warmer or a little less gray, my go-to activity would have been a walk. I used to work nearby, and it is always interesting to explore a place I used to know well but don’t frequent much anymore.

The new Geffen Hall lobby came to mind, and I thought it might be interesting to see what that is really like. As I am sure you remember, the Geffen Hall won a MASterworks award this year. And one of the more striking differences in the redesign was the transformation of the lobby from a ticket hall into a public gathering place. In fact, if you are in the lobby during a performance, you can even “see” the performance streaming live from the auditorium without a ticket. The goal was to democratize the hallowed halls. There are dozens of comfortable seats arranged in ways that encourage groups of one to four to rest a bit.

I was not there during a performance, but the lobby was full of people anyway. There were teenage girls – dancers, I suspect – waiting to go to the Nutcracker across the way. I spotted older women with library books settled in to read. One woman next to us was studying a thick music score. A group of friends were enjoying a holiday catch-up behind me. I overheard a man on his cell phone, engaged in a lively discussion in a language I couldn’t place. I imagined that it might be a holiday call with friends or relatives far away. It was a nice cross-section of New York – not a particularly well-heeled crowd. But on the other hand, it wasn’t like a library, either. Geffen Hall is, after all, not fully a public space.

East Side of David Geffen Hall, featuring Sidewalk Studio. Photo: courtesy of Diamond Schmitt and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects.

Lincoln Center security is treating the place with a light touch, but they are there. Unusually dressed down in casual khakis and shirts, but unmistakable because of the walky-talkies strapped to their hip, they keep their eyes on the crowd. There are only one or two, but once you spot them, they are a presence.

With a cup of coffee, I sat and read for the hour and a half I had to enjoy, and headed off as the crowds began to gather for evening performances. Tonight’s, a live orchestra providing music for the movie, “Black Panther,” had been on my radar. It seemed like a fun twist on the more traditional live orchestra rendition of Chaplin’s “Modern Times.” Eventually, I headed further downtown to see Alvin Ailey at City Center in a full and very enthusiastic house.

My hat is off to Lincoln Center. They are trying to be more porous as an institution. They are acknowledging their checkered history on San Juan Hill, and integrating better into the urban fabric around them. They are evaluating how to break their fourth wall along 10th Avenue. The Lincoln Center campus will always be just that, a campus, but they seem to be truly welcoming New Yorkers in new ways. Good for them. Sometimes it is the small welcomes that matter most.

I hope you are enjoying whichever of the holidays you celebrate and recharging for the year ahead. Thank you for your support of MAS. I am very grateful.

Elizabeth Goldstein Signature

Elizabeth Goldstein
President, Municipal Art Society of New York

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