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ENCOUNTERS by George Sturm
John Mazzola

John Mazzola

Music. Law. The alcohol propensities of audiences. Security guards. The steam capacity of boilers. Pesto and marinated carrots. Union negotiations. Fund raising. Television. Architects and artisans and every conceivable genre of artist. And family, a ritornello constantly appearing between the seemingly unrelated and sometimes surrealistic dots which make up the canvas of John Mazzola's life. His family, and his Rhode Island garden where he grows many of the ingredients he uses in preparing the gourmet dishes for which he has an impressive reputation. It is as if the communion with wife Sylvia and daughters Alison and Amy — and with the regenerating soil — were constantly recharging his battery, making it possible for him to make vital, productive and imaginative connections among the countless details of his daily labors. John Mazzola is President and Chief Executive Officer of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

At the age of 53, Mazzola's schedule and commitments often keep him engaged 16 or more hours a day. Perhaps it is the very variety of his tasks which makes him handle his job with an ease, grace and low-keyed wit that must be observed to be understood. Sit in his office any random half hour and you will discover why he is so effective: he's having one helluva good time.

He comes from a family he describes as "active." His father was a lawyer who played violin and who encouraged his children, John and his sister and brother, to be participants in many aspects of their community, Bayonne, New Jersey. Young John was a superior athlete and a voracious reader. While he was fond of the theatre, he was wary of music as bordering on the sissyish. As if to declare his independence from the musical values of his father, he took up the drums in high school. "My main ambition in life was to move to New York City." He did, by way of Tufts University in Massachusetts, from which he received his B.A., leading to Fordham Law School. On graduating with his Juris Doctor in 1952 he became associated with the firm of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, where he met many of those people, including members of the Rockefeller family, who were to lead him to Lincoln Center a decade later. The Center, in fact, was one of his personal clients before it had any buildings. Thus, Mazzola literally grew with the job. He became involved with the opening of what was then Philharmonic Hall (now Avery Fisher Hall): legal problems and licenses, union negotiations, restaurant planning, liaison with the various arms of city government, network and press coverage, an endless stream of logistics. How did he know what had to be done? "I discovered early on that if you hadn't done something, somebody would eventually remind you. And if nobody reminded you, it didn't have to be done."

"In 1962, no one knew what Lincoln Center would turn out to be. "Twenty-five years ago, if you said `performing arts center,' nobody would know what you were talking about. Today, there are about 20 of them meeting our definition: centers with more than one theatre, more than 3,000 seats, and more than two constituent companies. But Lincoln Center is quite different from all the other performing arts centers in the United States. It's not a group of buildings. It's the ten companies which are Lincoln Center: the Center itself and the activities it undertakes independently, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, the New York Philharmonic, the New York City Ballet, the New York Public Library and Museum (Performing Arts Division), the Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the Theater Company of Lincoln Center, and the Juilliard School."

Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts owns and operates the halls, grounds, and garages making up the 14 acre complex on Manhattan's west side. This is a west side story born of urban squallor and culminating in the most daring and ambitious cultural adventure since ancient Athens. It includes a magnificent plaza, Damrosch Park with its band shell, the Metropolitan Opera House, the New York State Theater, Avery Fisher Hall, the Vivian Beaumont Theater, the Library and Museum, Alice Tully Hall, and the auditoriums in The Juilliard School. The resident companies are its principal tenants, each sharing in the cost of lighting, heating, air conditioning, and securing the grounds. (Approximately $650,000 is spent annually for safeguarding the grounds outside the buildings, and another half million inside.) The halls are available to others when not in use by a resident company. Except when a house is forced to be closed, owing to remodeling or the preparation of new productions, most of the buildings are in operation all year round.

In addition to providing services, Lincoln Center contributes significantly as its own entrepreneur, producing such highly successful series as the Mostly Mozart Festival (originally called Mid-Summer Serenades and renamed in 1970), the Great Performers Series, the New and Newer Music Series, and the Lincoln Center Organ Series. In charge of this divergent programming activity is William W. Lockwood. Mazzola: "Bill is an absolute wiz who does everything but write the music. He thinks up the series, designs the T-shirts, chooses the artists and the programs, and he does it all with a huge staff: himself and one assistant!"

Lincoln Center also produces the free Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival each summer. The Out of Doors Festival utilizes the plaza and park areas as a stage for national and international dance companies, symphonic and chamber music groups, and theatre companies presenting three weeks of continuous entertainment.

Along with these programs, Lincoln Center also has an educational branch, the Lincoln Center Institute, "The Institute coordinates the student programs of the constituents. In about 1970, Mark Schubart, head of the Lincoln Center Institute, came to the conclusion that — rather than simply exposing kids to a performance — something more should be left behind in their heads. He developed a formalized way of working with teachers who come in the summertime and participate in a tightly controlled and prepared curriculum which shows them how to peel the onion: seeing the ballet, for instance, and then working with the choreographer who explains what he was trying to convey and how, and with the dancers themselves. We send out young performing artists to work with the teachers who will, in turn, work with students. The curriculum which is being developed here can be exported to any area where there is a center of performing artists. The idea is basic esthetic education, how to look at what you are seeing and hear what you are listening to."

Perhaps the most widely enjoyed dimension of Lincoln Center's own production work is television's "Live from Lincoln Center," which has enabled a national and international audience to share the wonders of the Center's artistic achievement, with the help of a handful of enlightened corporate sponsors, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and, of course, the tremendous technological advances which have made it possible both to present and to preserve the best of the performing arts for unimaginable numbers of spectators and listeners. Broadcasting activities are the domain of John Goberman, Director of Media Development. Under his guidance, Lincoln Center has become one of the largest producers of cultural programming in America. Having been the first to develop the concept, the Center's staffers are frequently asked to assist other cities and institutions in setting up broadcast production units of their own.

What did John Mazzola think were the chief functions of the President of Lincoln Center? "To be responsible for everything that goes wrong," he shot back. "If anything goes right, I can tell you exactly who it was who did it." The roughly 65 people working for Lincoln Center itself (as separate from its resident companies) cover a broad gamut of assignments: educational, personnel, union negotiation, programming, public information, community programs (a generous assortment of free performances are given each year), media development, financial development, and a large accounting department which services the Center and its ancillary components. Listening to Mazzola describe his work it is suddenly clear that he is equally comfortable with the most minute details (of which there is a profusion without end) and with the loftiest principles upon which so complex a structure must be based. His dispassionate awareness of economic fundamentals is a great asset. "A man with a multi-million dollar organizational budget once told me, `Do you realize that I raise half my money from four people? Isn't that great?' And I said that I'd never heard anything so horrible in my life. One accident in the parking lot between the two of them, and you're out of business. .. .

If an institution has high quality, it must be saved before anything else. If times are tough and cut-backs are unavoidable, you cut out whatever is necessary, but you save the institution. One thing to do is to build an endowment which will give you some strength to lean on when things are tough."

We asked about his reaction to the charge that arts organizations are "elitist" and used only by a tiny segment of our national population. "There are all kinds of catch words used to inflame people. We have audiences of five million people at Lincoln Center. That's a helluva lot more than go to Yankee Stadium each year. But you wouldn't hear anyone call Yankee Stadium `elitist,' even though you see Cadillacs and Mercedes driving up around there. If, for example, we get money cut off for our `Live from Lincoln Center' project, we'll still have that concert here in New York, but the people in Duluth and Elk City are going to miss it." One is constantly hearing about the cost of the arts, but not enough attention is paid to the positive economic implications of the successful arts center. "Our studies indicate the $345 million a year is generated into the economy of the City of New York, plus the fact that our existence has stimulated $700 million to a billion dollars in new construction, producing another $50 million in real estate taxes. But you can't get a nickel out of the City because the City is bankrupt."

John Mazzola believes that everyone in the arts plays an important role in the community at large and is an integral part of that community. It is important that the community always be identified. In the case of Lincoln Center, is it the west side? Manhattan? the five boroughs? the Metropolitan area? the United States? The answer may be different for each event, and so will be the language selected to bring about the most effective dialogue between artists and those who use their art. "Whenever we do something on the Plaza, my theory is that what we're doing is generating a bigger flow of people. There's no ticket take out there. I've been asked why we do things where we'll only have to clean up the mess. It's simple: if we didn't have the mess, we wouldn't have had the people. But I think that, on every level with people, you are a part of your community, and the more you succeed in attracting many different kinds of people to use your many different kinds of energy, the more you will have succeeded."

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