With the selection of Broadway producer Jed Bernstein (pictured) as the next president of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, one of Gotham’s major nonprofits looks poised to inject its activities with a little commercial flair.
To hear Bernstein tell it, he views the challenges of the new gig — from fundraising to digital growth to enhanced arts education initiatives — as closely linked to the marketing concerns that will sound familiar to any Rialto producer.
“It’s all about doing everything you can to support the creation of art — and selling more tickets, getting butts in seats, is very closely linked to that,” he said.
Bernstein’s for-profit showbiz background makes him an unusual choice for the leadership role at the flagship nonprofit, where past presidents, including outgoing topper Reynold Levy, tended to come from noncommercial sectors such as public service or city government.
Bernstein got his start in marketing and advertising, working at firms including Ogilvy and Mather, before he stepped into the top post at the Broadway League, the trade association of legit producers and presenters (known during his time there as the League of American Theaters and Producers). In 2006, following an 11-year tenure that saw the development of several corporate sponsorship programs as well as Kids Night on Broadway and the Internet Broadway Database, he moved into commercial producing with shows including “Driving Miss Daisy.”
In recent years he also spearheaded the financial and creative overhaul of the Bucks County Playhouse, which in its newly revitalized incarnation has hosted high-profile fare including last year’s developmental run of Warner Bros. Theater Ventures’ legit adaptation of “Misery.”
According to Lincoln Center Board Chair Katherine Farley, it was Bernstein’s commercial and marketing background that made him a compelling choice to fill the presidential post, which Levy will exit in January.
“He’s really knows the arts. He’s studied it, he’s taught it, he’s produced it,” Farley said. “He’s very entrepreneurial, and his background in marketing is particularly helpful here.”
Bernstein will take on his new role just as Lincoln Center — the umbrella nonprofit linking 11 constituent arts orgs including Lincoln Center Theater and the Film Society of Lincoln Center — has completed a $1.2 billion renovation of its Upper West Side campus. On the docket, though, remains one major redo: The renovation of Avery Fisher Hall, home to the New York Philharmonic, at an estimated potential price tag of some $300 million.
That’s in addition to Lincoln Center’s approximately $118 million annual operating budget, around half of which needs to be raised (as opposed to earned, via ticket sales and other means). Bernstein said he envisions exploring new revenue streams along the lines of the corporate sponsorships and partnerships that he initiated during his time at the League.
The expansion of Lincoln Center’s digital activities will include increased digital distribution of content, following in the footsteps of the Metropolitan Opera, the Lincoln Center resident company that has achieved notable success through its series of opera cinemacasts. “The Met has really shown the way there,” Bernstein said.
Even his duties in expanding Lincoln Center’s already fairly robust arts education programs are viewed through the lens of marketing.
“Arts education is directly tied to putting people in seats,” he said. “Audiences erode when people aren’t exposed to the arts when they’re young.”
Bernstein, whose production of “Driving Miss Daisy” is wrapping up a run in Australia, will see out his duties as producer director at the Bucks County Playhouse through the end of year. He officially begins his new job at Lincoln Center in January.