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From Young Vic to Ground Zero: artistic director sets his sights on new heights: Lan to oversee arts hub at One World Trade Center New challenge will be 'an enormous job,' he says

February 13, 2014

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

One of the most respected figures in British theatre is to take on the challenge of running the planned performing arts centre that will be a key part of the redevelopment of Ground Zero in New York.

David Lan, who has won plaudits since joining the Young Vic in south London more than a decade ago, will today be named as the consulting artistic director of the Frank Gehry-designed arts complex that will be built close to One World Trade Center.

Because the building will not open until at least 2018, it will be a part-time job and Lan stressed he will not be giving up his day job in London any time soon.

Nevertheless, the New York project "is an enormous job", he said, "and a fascinating one".

Lan has in fact been doing the job since September but it was not publicised because he and his team needed to get proposals in place and get them approved by the board of trustees, he said. "Our plans were largely not what they were expecting, so we needed to work up the arguments."

A performing arts centre has long been part of the Daniel Libeskind masterplan for the World Trade Center site. It will be only 60ft away from what is the tallest skyscraper in the western hemisphere and will have three flexible 550, 250 and 150-capacity auditoriums.

From the very start there has been a will to have culture and the arts represented in the redevelopment plans. What form that took has changed many times. At one stage a future home for the New York City Opera was talked about and after that the idea that the Joyce theatre would create an international dance centre.

Now the plan is for a multidisciplinary centre with Lan at the artistic helm. Like the Young Vic, which opened in its present form in 2006 after major redevelopment, it will be more than a theatre - it will be a place to socialise, meet and collaborate and be open from breakfast to night.

Having said that, Lan stressed: "What we're really not doing is transplanting the Young Vic to downtown Manhattan, but we are starting from the same position we started 14-15 years ago. Let's think about who is there, let's think about the work we want to make, let's think who we want to talk to."

Lan said the centre was "for New York and for New York artists" but the main job would be "enabling collaboration between American artists and people in Europe, China, South America, wherever".

Key to the project is that it will be premiering its own works.

The centre is slap-bang in Manhattan's financial district but the hope is to attract a diverse audience who want to keep coming back. Lan said he had spent a lot of time walking between the Hudson and East rivers and down to Battery Park and had discovered "a genuinely diverse" neighbourhood. Then there's the enormous numbers that come in from Brooklyn and New Jersey and work there, at every level.

Lan was born in South Africa and moved to London in 1972. He has run the Young Vic since 2000 and has no intention of giving that up, he said, although there may be a time when he has to make a choice.

"I'm not even thinking about it. I have a very good time here and am planning next year and have ideas for the year after that. Let's see how we go," he said.

Lan was headhunted by the PAC's director, Maggie Boepple, who knows the Young Vic well from her time in London as a senior adviser to Transport for London when Ken Livingstone was mayor.

Boepple said when she first started thinking who could do the job, Lan's name was one of the ones she wrote down. "It is not that we are copying it, but I've long wanted a place like the Young Vic in New York."

She did not ask one of the "great American artistic directors" because the job would be part time - "we would be a little brother or sister of whatever they were running. Also we weren't going to hire a full-time artistic director because they would go out of their minds, this isn't going to open until about 2018."


David Lan, who has in fact been the consulting artistic director of the new performing arts centre since September

Photo: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

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Source: Guardian (UK)

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