Martin E. Segal, a legendary advocate of the arts in New York City, died on August 5th at the age of 96. In reporting his death the following morning, the New York Times called him "one of the city's leading cultural figures" and a "titan of the arts." He had been Chairman of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts from 1981 to 1986 and Chairman Emeritus thereafter; he was founding president of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and founder and former Chair of the Alliance for the Arts; he was a board member of numerous other arts organizations and a financial supporter of still more -- all while leading the renowned international consulting firm that he founded, The Segal Company. But what demonstrated his determined commitment to the arts perhaps more than anything else was his founding, at the age of 69, of the New York International Festival of the Arts, an organization that I had the great pleasure of helping him promote for more than six years.
With Martin Segal's irrepressible charm, infectious enthusiasm, and drive for excellence, The New York International Festival of the Arts launched critically acclaimed arts festivals; organized conferences on challenges facing the arts; helped promote tourism and the arts in New York City, and sponsored events highlighting the need for increased arts education, among other activities. It was financed privately by corporate, foundation, and individual donations -- without government funding and without competing for funding with New York's arts organizations.
With Martin Segal as Chairman throughout its existence (1985-2002), and Frank A. Bennack, Jr. and George B. Munroe as Vice-Chairmen, The New York International Festival of the Arts assembled an Arts Advisory Committee, whose members' names read like a Who's Who of the Arts. It included, among others, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Pierre Boulez, Merce Cunningham, Bernard Gersten, James Levine, Harvey Lichtenstein, Peter Martins, Zubin Mehta, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Beverly Sills, Stephen Sondheim, Billy Taylor, and Ellen Taaffe Zwilich.
With a total budget of about $25 million, the Festival (according to its own reports) generated an estimated $200 million in economic activity in New York City. Under the aegis of the Festival, there were 1,500 performances by more than 6,000 artists from 40 nations, including such legendary figures as Leonard Bernstein, Judy Collins, Miles Davis, Placido Domingo, Gloria Estefan, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, Wynton Marsalis, Charles Mingus, Tito Puente, Bobby Short, and Jule Styne. Those productions provided work opportunities for an estimated 15,000 to 25,000 artisans, craftspeople and other professionals and workers. Almost half of the events were world premieres, American premieres, or presented for the first time in New York. Audiences totaled about 750,000 -- a third of whom were visitors to New York City.
For the Festival's Arts Education Week (May 18-22, 1998), which highlighted existing arts education in New York City's public schools and drew attention to the need for more, 129 cultural institutions and 400 public schools participated. Among the renowned artists who visited New York public schools during that week were Cy Coleman, Blythe Danner, Marvin Hamlisch, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Al Hirschfeld, Mary Beth Hurt, Alex Katz, Elizabeth Murray, Tony Randall, Vernon Reid, Kiki Smith, Wendy Wasserstein, and Peter Yarrow.
In 2002, Martin Segal discontinued the Festival, believing that it had accomplished its mission. It had so successfully served as a stimulus, catalyst and reminder of New York's relationship with the arts that it was no longer needed. Other arts festivals, arts education organizations, and arts institutions had emerged in the meantime to enhance New York's dynamism as the cultural capital of the world.
Despite his role in founding and supporting so many cultural institutions, Martin Segal was interested in presenting and promoting the arts rather than institution-building. The institutions were the vehicles for the arts.
Martin Segal will be remembered for numerous tributes that bear his name: the Martin E. Segal Theater Center at the CUNY Graduate Center; the Martin E. Segal Awards, Lincoln Center's annual awards to aspiring young artists; and a scholarship in his name at The Juilliard School. But he would want New Yorkers to remember the importance of the arts. He would want us to support the arts by attending public performances, advocating for the arts in schools, buying tickets to shows or museums, and making donations to cherished arts institutions.
Four days before he died, he attended the opening of the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center. At 96, he was still setting an example for us all.
The author is Chief Operating Officer of Goodman Media International (www.goodmanmedia.com), the New York City-based public relations firm.