London Director to Draft Arts Vision for Ground Zero

By Robin Pogrebin New York Times

sketch of prospective arts center

Sketch of prospective arts center

Executives developing a performing arts center at ground zero have hired a temporary artistic director from the Young Vic theater in London, one of a series of steps to be announced Thursday to advance a project that has long faced political and logistical hurdles.

The new director, David Lan, who will continue as artistic director at the Young Vic, is part of a team recently brought in by the center as it refines its plans, which now include developing its own productions and revising the design for the building, by the architect Frank Gehry. Officials said that it had been a mistake to design the theater before the programming was determined and that they were essentially starting over.

Officials are also still grappling with what is perhaps the most critical issue for the project — how to raise the construction money, several hundred million dollars, by most estimates — although they said they were optimistic about the prospects.

“Realistically, we couldn’t start raising money until the programming was set,” said Julie Menin, a member of the institution’s board. “I believe very strongly we will be able to go out and raise funds for this in the private sector.”

Maggie Boepple, the center’s president, and its seven-member board are now proposing to originate works of theater, music and dance in three small flexible theaters. These would replace a 1,000-seat house most recently envisaged for the Joyce Theater, a dance organization. The Joyce was chosen a decade ago as an anchor tenant through a public process and still hopes to have a programming role.

From left, Lucy Sexton, the new associate artistic director for a performing arts center; David Langford,general manger; David Lan, temporary artistic director; and Maggie Boepple, president. Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times

From left, Lucy Sexton, the new associate artistic director for a performing arts center; David Langford, general manger; David Lan, temporary artistic director; and Maggie Boepple, president. Hiroko Masuike, The New York Times

Mr. Lan, who is expected to serve at least until September, traveling regularly to New York, was recruited in 2000 as artistic director for the Young Vic, which opened in 1970 as an offshoot of the Old Vic and is described by officials of the new arts center as a template for what they hope to accomplish. The Young Vic has become a hub of activity for young and diverse talent, offers low ticket prices and has a popular bar and restaurant, the Cut.

“I see the theater in London as a dry run — what we can do on a much more ambitious scale in New York,” he said.

While the center’s three theaters have shrunk under the latest iteration of the plan — to 550, 250 and 150 seats — the artistic aspirations seem lofty. Mr. Lan talked of a “world center for the performing arts” that would feature artists from all over the globe, drawing international tourists for culture and New York residents for coffee. “It will be home for the greatest artists of the age,” he said, “the first performance space for the 21st century.”

The center has also hired two full-time staff members. Its new associate artistic director is Lucy Sexton, who has served since 2009 as the director of the New York Dance and Performance Awards, or the Bessies. David Langford is the new general manager and chief operating officer, having served as the chief financial officer for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

For the theaters’ design, the center is working with Andy Hayles, the managing partner of Charcoalblue, a British consultancy that has advised the National Theatre in London and the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as clients like St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn and the Steppenwolf Theater Company in Chicago.

Arts center officials said it was too early to say what construction might cost; original estimates put the price tag at $300 million to $700 million. Reached by phone, Mr. Gehry said he had not been in touch with the arts center for some time. “Radio silence,” he said. “I don’t know what their priorities are. They haven’t talked to me, so I don’t know.”

Ms. Boepple said the center does not need a full-time artistic director for now because it is not expected to open until 2018 or 2019. Its site is occupied by a temporary PATH station pending completion of a new transportation hub in Lower Manhattan.

The plans for the performing arts center were initially overseen by a foundation created in 2004 by the city and New York State to raise money for both the ground zero memorial and a cultural component, but the operations are now separate. A preliminary arts center board was named in 2011 as a prerequisite for tapping into $100 million in federal funds that the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which oversees the former World Trade Center site, had set aside for the center. Each of its members initially agreed to donate or raise $5 million.

The fund-raising challenge appears daunting, particularly in light of potential competition from other projects, like a planned Culture Shed on the Far West Side of Manhattan that will feature visual and performing arts.

The city’s artistic landscape has shifted since the performing arts center was introduced as part of the ground zero master plan. New York City Opera has been disbanded, making the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center available for more dance performances; Culture Shed is scheduled to open in 2017. The Park Avenue Armory has become the site of innovative cultural events, and the Theater for a New Audience recently opened a home in Brooklyn with a 299-seat flexible stage.

“Whether it will be seen as a unique venue and different from all other places is going to be their challenge,” Karen Brooks Hopkins, president of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, said of the performing arts center. “They’ll be competing with everybody for everything.”

Ms. Boepple, who recently added the director Stephen Daldry as a seventh trustee, said that part of her fund-raising strategy would be expanding the center’s board to about 30 members, and that she was confident about securing donations. “There is still a lot of money in this town,” she said.

She also suggested that while she is a Gehry fan, the choice of architect could change. “He’s excellent at models,” she said. “We love his models.” The problem with settling on a design so early, she said, is that the performing arts center had only a hazy idea of what it would present. “So many mistakes are made when genius architects design a building and that comes before the workhorse of the building,” she added. “It’s not a comment on Gehry as an architect. It’s a different skill set.”

Linda Shelton, the executive director of the Joyce, said she was still in wait-and-see mode. “I have all assurances that the Joyce will be a partner with the PAC, and that we’re the only partner they’re speaking to in this regard,” she said. But she added, “I don’t really know what partner means at this point.”

Ms. Sexton sounded somewhat less certain. “We certainly hope the Joyce is one of the main partners,” she said.

And Mr. Lan, who is currently planning a coproduction for the Joyce and the Young Vic, said he did not envision “a programming role” for the Joyce.

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