Lincoln Center: A Gala for Imagination

Classic Arts Features   Lincoln Center: A Gala for Imagination
Lincoln Center Institute's annual gala on February 26 will be headlined by The Beach Boys.

There will be a summer moment in New York's dreary February. Lincoln Center Institute, a leader in arts-in-education, will hold its annual fundraising Gala on February 26th‹but that, in itself, good news as it may be, does not bring warmth to a winter's day. What does, is the fact that the Gala, like everything else the Institute does, is ultimately about children; and if it is a celebration of the Institute's success, it is, first and foremost, a celebration of success in classrooms across the country.

Lincoln Center Institute (LCI) has been refining its unique educational method, based on bringing sustained encounters with live performances and visual works of art to public schools, for over thirty years. The growth of its annual Gala (which grossed $1 million last year, and is projected to bring in $1.5 million this year) mirrors LCI's expansion at a moment when arts-in-education is a front-burner issue. As testing in core subject areas dominates the curriculum and the budget, parents, administrators, and legislators struggle to keep the arts in the mix. At the same time, rapid advances in technology and the global economy require inspired ideas that do not come haphazardly, from the talented few, but from a large, future workforce that has been taught complex thinking as a skill. Twenty-first century students need to be well versed in creative and conceptual thinking if they are to be competitive. This is what the Institute calls its triad: imagination, creativity, and innovation. And the arts are key to developing these elements.

Lincoln Center Institute's imagination-in-education method integrates learning through the arts throughout the school curriculum. It has nothing to do with teaching a student to play an instrument or to execute a dance step. Nor is the Institute interested only in "talented" students or those specifically interested in the arts. Rather, the method is grounded in the premise that a guided, long-term, and in-depth study of an artwork sharpens all students' perceptive capacities and fashions their mode of thinking‹and, above all, their ability to imagine creatively‹in a way that can serve them in approaching any curriculum subject beyond the arts, and will serve them in entering the world beyond the classroom. By appealing to the students' imagination, guiding them through experiencing art, examining it from multiple perspectives, and experimenting with making art, LCI-trained teachers cultivate their creative abilities and prepare them to view the world‹and to function in it‹in an inventive, exciting, and hopefully successful way.

Imaginative initiatives that the Institute is developing are tangible markers for new expectations of educational outcomes:

Lincoln Center Institute founded a New York City public high school, the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry, now in its third year, that is the first school founded exclusively on LCI's principles of teaching and learning practice, with teachers trained to use the arts across the traditional curriculum.

"You look at these kids and see how involved they are, how interested they are," says LCI board chair Susan Rudin. "They come from all five boroughs to be in this school. These are kids who face substantial challenges in their lives‹to see how they respond to their teachers, how articulate they are about what they are learning, is all the more rewarding."

LCI recently established the annual Imagination Award to recognize a New York City school that has constructed a learning environment in which the imagination in education method is incorporated across the curriculum. The Institute has expanded outreach through customized consultancies for school districts and arts institutes nationwide, and will offer online professional development courses beginning in 2008.

A series of publications highlighting the importance of imagination is planned. Beyond that, the partnerships in the city's public schools are more comprehensive and reach growing numbers of schools in the region. Intensive workshops for educators are now offered nationally and internationally, and increasing numbers of educators from as far as South Korea and Tasmania are attending the annual summer teacher training at Lincoln Center. LCI's interest was never limited to a specific group, and the registrants for its workshops comprise administrators, classroom teachers, and certified arts educators who often focus on skill-based work.

Making Connections is a first-ever extended series of pubic programs to give potential supporters the experience of imagination in education. The programs present a visual artwork or a dance, music, or theater performance from LCI's own repertory, followed by a brief workshop that demonstrates how the Institute's professional teaching artists and trained teachers are using the works with kids in the classroom. Guests have visited museums with visual artists, attended a workshop reading of the LCI commissioned theater piece, Fly, and tapped their feet to the Klezmer Allstars.

And a new membership program, Head of the Class, offers a variety of giving levels and benefits, and primarily supports the Institute's work in urban schools. Those New York City public schools have an 82% minority population with a nearly 60% eligibility for reduced-fee or free lunches‹a demographic with limited resources for arts teachers or outside arts partnerships. Head of the Class members ensure that the thousands of students in those schools have access to a high quality arts program that encourages imaginative thinking in all subject areas.

"The role of the arts in the present educational environment, which is increasingly literacy- and numeracy-driven and demands accountability, must be clearly defined," says LCI's executive director, Scott Noppe-Brandon. He is working on a book about imagination and learning, while shepherding the Institute through its development of new programs and new audiences. "The focus on imagination and creativity has always been part of our work, but the interest in the concept of teaching them as skills, which now comes from the fields of science, industry, and politics, spells out amazing new opportunities for the arts in the schools."

The Gala will honor the work of LCI board chair Susan Rudin, who is stepping down after three highly successful years of inspired leadership, along with her husband, Jack Rudin, who has supported both her involvement with LCI and the Institute itself every step of the way. The annual fundraiser will also acknowledge the innovative approach to education taken by American Museum of Natural History President Ellen V. Futter, who will be given the Mark Schubart Award, named after the Institute's founder.

Each year, LCI has garnered the participation of wonderful, prestigious entertainers for its Gala: this year, the headliners are none other than The Beach Boys. Clearly, LCI knows how to imagine a summer moment in February.

For more information about LCI's programs, February 26th Gala, professional development or membership opportunities, please contact: David Pratt, 212.875.5521,, or visit the Web site:

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