15 YEARS OLD AND STILL GROWING
It is July and the beginning of a brand new year at the Lark. Our program cycle begins and ends in the balmy, contemplative breezes and soft rainstorms of summer in New York City. For that reason, I am reclaiming this space—occupied for the past five months by various artists and thinkers in the Lark community—to share a few thoughts about what we have accomplished this year and where we are headed.
We turned 15 this past year, and experienced our most visible growth spurt ever. A group of key stakeholders planted the seeds for this success over a decade ago through their clear vision, thoughtful goal setting, careful planning, and a mission and vision that still meets a critical need for deeper and more productive collaborations in a diverse and changing world.
Our accomplishments this year include the first round of “Launching New Plays into the Repertoire” (an initiative that brings playwrights and artistic leaders together to plan multiple productions and deepen community engagement), exponential growth in our partnerships with organizations to support new voices, our largest grant ever ($500,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation), and two major awards (Obie and Lucille Lortel)—not to mention a litany of Lark-developed plays that landed at theaters across the globe. I am moved by the scope of our impact in the lives of playwrights and the communities for which they write, but it is you, our family of artists, funders, board members and friends, who have brought us to this place.
Despite these successes, our challenges are significant. In the coming year, we need to be resourceful and disciplined in order to maintain our momentum and to grow. We need to apply energy to board development, building a broader financial base, community engagement, deepening our artistic core, and stabilizing physical and human resources. We count on all of the members of our community to help us move forward and grow stronger. Times are tough, but the new economic and social structures that are coming into place challenge us to think deeply about the purpose of live theater in the twenty-first century, to explore what the arts have to offer society as a whole, and to propose new ways to shape the theater of the future.
Along with many other changes taking place in society, the theater field's focus has recently returned to placing a stronger value on “process” and “partnership”—two hallmarks of the Lark’s mission and vision. Our work advocating for and actively practicing these ideas, along with others, such as promoting internationalism, bringing unheard voices to the forefront, and levying freedom of expression, has been a material part of a new and promising relationship forming between the arts and society—away from culture as "product" and moving towards a more active, holistic and multi-dimensional role for the arts. This new reality was stunningly present at last month's Theater Communications Group annual conference in Baltimore, which seven Lark staff and board members attended. Almost every session acknowledged this shift of focus, this new recognition of a deeper purpose to the art we make, and it felt good to know that the Lark, with many others, has been at the cutting edge of this change. At the same time, change in the field means that we must consider how the Lark itself must change to focus on new challenges.
As we move forward, I anticipate that the Lark will deepen certain aspects of its programming while looking beyond existing programs to what comes next. Some programs will remain central to our activities—those programs that support intimate and in-depth collaboration “in the studio” and among people of different backgrounds and traditions—while other functions may be taken up by independent producers, partner theaters, universities, and entrepreneurial artists, allowing the Lark to move forward and to innovate. Our job is to exist where the newest thinking is happening, where we can help make real risk seem approachable, where artists look out across open and uncharted territories of the imagination and lead us into our future by creating new vocabularies to describe it.
The Lark exists as a departure point for artistic growth and cultural inclusion, but also as a steady partner to the artists who have found a home in our community and the theaters and other organizations that have banded with us to make the value of the whole exceed the sum of its parts.
The impact we have had on the field, and on society, has been made possible because of your participation in our work, and I thank you for your active commitment and support as we take a deep breath of warm summer air and dive into another year of creative exploration. In the coming months, we will hear more in this blog from artists we know and respect and social innovators who are showing us new ways to view the world, and I look forward to sharing reflections of my own as I travel from city to city and into the creative territory of our studios here at home.
As always, let me know your thoughts, ideas, dreams, and concerns about anything that has piqued your interest here.
John Clinton Eisner