Lincoln Centers Chief Artistic Officer Shanta Thake Is Sharing Her Brain (Waves) With the World
October 14, 2022
Shanta Thake is the Ehrenkranz Chief Artistic Officer at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, where she spearheads all artistic and programming activities. Since her start in the Fall of 2021, Shanta has been key to Lincoln Center's ongoing efforts to ensure the arts are central to the civic life of the city—welcoming new audiences, championing genres historically underrepresented on campus, and ushering in accessible ticket models to break down cost barriers.

Known for her work across disciplines, Shanta leads a team of curators to bring exciting emerging and established artists to Lincoln Center’s indoor and outdoor stages, and spearheads multi-genre collaborations with Lincoln Center’s resident organizations.

Prior to Lincoln Center, Shanta held the position of Associate Artistic Director/Director of Artistic Programs at The Public Theater, overseeing the growth and development of Public Works, Mobile Unit, Under the Radar, Joe’s Pub, The Shakespeare Initiative and Public Forum. Previously, she spent 10 years as the Director of Joe’s Pub, the intimate cabaret venue which hosts over 700 shows annually.

Shanta is the co-director of GlobalFEST, North America’s world music festival, and in this role received the William Dawson award for Programmatic Excellence. She received a BA in theater as well as a degree in management from Indiana University and currently lives in Brooklyn.

You joined Lincoln Center at a challenging time in the world; what have you learned that has changed how you approach your work?

It’s such a pleasure to be serving New York in this time at Lincoln Center. Prior to arriving, I thought that my main role would be of course curation and building relationships between artists and the institution and to their audiences, but actually a lot of the job coming out of the pandemic is about building the case for attending live performance, as people consider their resources of time and money differently. The work itself is also much more driven by what allows an audience to participate in a new or unexpected way, so that they are not passive but instead have an experience they could not have in their living rooms. So we are doing much more social dance, sing-a-longs, and thinking of other inventive ways to get people engaged with multiple senses.

You think of your role as being an expansive force at Lincoln Center. What does that mean and how might others learn from your experiences?

It means not pretending I have all the answers, but listening deeply to our audiences of the past and present, and to the city as a whole to address the needs of our community. How that has manifested is that we have multiple curatorial voices on staff and in our larger community that feed into our overall programming. It means offering new disciplines and artists access to all of our spaces and giving them the freedom to make themselves at home at Lincoln Center. We have quadrupled the programming in the David Rubenstein Atrium space which offers free programming year round and instituted at least a percentage of “choose what you pay” tickets in every single show we do. We are also celebrating our artists in new ways and now have two artists on staff in two-year residencies so that they can influence not only programming but the day to day of our business.

Can you tell us about the newest opera you are launching and why it matters to you and your work.

We are committed to presenting bold and experimental new work. The opera, Song of the Ambassadors, is a look at how music affects us on every level, so through EEG technology, they will be monitoring my brain waves as I listen to the opera and then creating new art with those waves via the amazing visual artist Refik Anadol in real time.

It’s the perfect metaphor for how experiencing live art allows us the space to respond, to tap into our own creative impulses and ultimately give us tools towards healing.

K Allado-McDowell who conceived the work is a deeply curious artist and thinks both through new technologies and how they can push forward narratives and data around music and healing. This intersection of art meeting the world is something that we are excited to look at from multiple angles and Allado-McDowell’s approach is both beautiful and rigorous. With their collaborators Refik Anadol and composer Derrick Skye, and (my brain as a prop) we are excited to see what we learn from one another and from the audience who will experience this work for the first time.

Why is great art important culturally and what can executive and startup leaders do to help support your mission?

Art allows us to see the present day reflected and refracted back at us in ways that perhaps we cannot see ourselves. It allows us the space to reckon with the past and move into the future. Most importantly to me, live performance brings us into this conversation with a new community and gives us a chance to move across the multiple boundaries of class, race, neighborhood and more that divide us.

I would encourage leaders to make attending performing arts programs part of your best practices personally and organizationally. The arts are a way for your teams to come into a community conversation, to understand the new ideas of our time and to be refreshed, inspired and challenged in a way that will make your own work stronger. A strong arts community makes for a strong community writ large, so also supporting the arts with your philanthropy will pay dividends.

What are you paying attention to this week, this month and this year.

In many ways this is our first fall and winter back together again, I’m paying attention to what art certain artists are emerging with and how audiences are finding their way back to or if they are finding their way back into our theaters. I am paying attention to the mental and physical health of those around me and how to create space for healing both in our programming and in how I schedule meetings and deadlines. As everyone still navigates work from home, and back to the office while continuing to juggle care-giving responsibilities, I am paying attention to how we work and making sure that has as much attention as why, when and where we work.

What women do you admire around you who are changing how you think and work?

I am so fortunate to be surrounded by women I greatly admire in the executive leadership team at Lincoln Center. Our majority female, majority BIPOC leadership team is a new vanguard of what is possible at a major institution and has created some of the most fascinating conversations I have been honored to be a part of. Seeing these industry leaders coming together to support a vision of an expansive Lincoln Center that is also deeply humane and consider not only how to create the most impact but how to make sure our family leave policy is equitable and inclusive, how we set benchmarks for the amount of MWBE contracts we have on major projects and more, is so vibrant and holistic.

What is one product you cannot live without or would highly recommend?

With the amount of events I am attending weekly, I am loving Rent The Runway. It makes my week so much more effortless and dry-cleaning-less and has been absolutely worth it.

What is one word or idea you are focused on in the year ahead?




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