If she accomplishes nothing else in her current job, Shanta Thake will forever be the woman who hung the disco ball in the middle of Lincoln Center. Ten feet in diameter, it sits low above the fountain in front of the Metropolitan Opera House, dominating an outdoor plaza, now dubbed “The Oasis,” that is outfitted like an open-air dance club. In the daytime, that ball casts calming blue reflections for passersby. Come evening, it glitters above bodies in motion to the rhythms of live bands.
“The return of social dance has been the most magical aspect of our return to performances,” Thake says. In September, she began work as chief artistic officer, overseeing productions by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts (aside from the seasons of its constituents, which include the Metropolitan Opera, New York Philharmonic, and New York City Ballet). “It’s my job to make the case for live performance,” she says, and to have the nation’s largest performing arts complex “be of service to New York City, providing the best to the most.”
Thake, 42—whose mother was born and raised in Malaysia, of Indian descent, and whose father is American-born, of German descent—grew up in Wisconsin and Indiana. Once in New York City, she spent nearly two decades at The Public Theater, often working on innovative, cross-disciplinary projects and, for a decade, managing the cabaret-style venue Joe’s Pub. She arrived at Lincoln Center at a moment of reckoning for all arts organizations regarding issues of race and equity, not to mention a period when the pandemic had brought the programs and economies of most cultural centers to a near-halt.