Season 2 - Ep. 10 | The Power of Art and the Art of Power with Henry Timms

Redefiners Podcast
Hosted By:
June 08, 2022 | 36 min
Our guest
Henry Timms - President and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.

“The arts are fundamental to how we navigate our humanity, who we are as human beings.”

Henry Timms has discovered a new form of power based on mobilizing participation in our hyperconnected world. He joins us to talk about how leaders can harness this power to effect far greater success, which is the subject of his book New Power, co-authored by Jeremy Heimans. We’ll also talk with Henry about an entirely different kind of power—that of the arts and its critical role in society today—through his role as President and CEO of New York City’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. And we’ll get the backstory on Giving Tuesday, the generosity movement Henry created which became a global phenomenon that’s raised over $7 billion to date. Henry offers a fascinating point of view on power and leadership – one that blends influences from his varied professional career – that will be useful for all leaders.

Here’s a taste of what you’ll hear from Henry in this episode, in his words (edited for length and clarity):

Henry’s Redefiner Moment: An improvisational career

I came from a family of ideas. My dad was an archeologist, my mum was an artist, an illustrator. And so we were a family of stories. I had a very curious childhood, which is a great gift. And I had access to the arts in a way that many don't.

I never planned my career from A to B to C. It was kind of improvisational, in artistic terms. I began my career in the arts. I worked for a publishing company. I then went to work for two of the Prince of Wales' charities. I then went to work for an entrepreneur who was thinking a lot about how the arts can build bridges across the world. I then went to 92nd Y, became President, and ended up at Lincoln Center. In retrospect, there is a logic to that journey but I have to say, it was a lot of fortune that led me to where I ended up.

On the power of art during the pandemic

At Lincoln Center, we were very committed to the idea that we were not going to give into this idea that the sky was falling. We were not going to say, this is a complete disaster, the world's collapsing. We really wanted to be bold. So we built 10 stages outdoors at Lincoln Center. Our project was called Restart Stages and the idea was to create an outdoor performing arts center which would allow people to start performing, to give people a context to start performing again. And that was an amazing thing to see because it completely revolutionized the way we thought about performance.

On the subject of his book, New Power

When I was growing up, you just didn't have this expectation that you were able to shape the world. Compare that to a teenager today and the life that they live. On any given day, they have an opinion, they're a photographer, they're a producer, they're a financer. They have this whole portfolio of things that people can now do in the world. They expect to participate.

What new power really is, is the way of thinking about how you mobilize that participation. How do you create a context to take advantage of the fact that you have all these people wanting to do more and find the common cause for them? In a way, it’s an explanation for many of the phenomena which have defined our age: MeToo, Black Lives Matter. Not a leader-less movement, a leader-full movement in which lots of people have the space to be leaders.

Across all of our worlds, we're seeing new power play out more and more and more. From an institutional perspective, the argument that Jeremy and I make in the book is not that old power is bad and new power is good, but that any leader or organization looking to succeed needs to understand how both work, and be able to pull both levers. If you're thinking about redefining, every leader, every institution, is typically going to be pretty good at old power, otherwise they wouldn't have got to where they are. The challenge is: how do you get good at new power? How do you build that suite of skills?



Henry Timms
President and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.

Henry Timms is President and CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Inc.-- an artistic and civic cornerstone of New York City and home to eleven resident companies on 16-acres in Manhattan. President since 2019, Henry’s focus is several-fold: supporting organizations on campus to realize their missions and fostering collaboration; increasing the accessibility and reach of Lincoln Center’s work; championing inclusion; and reimagining and strengthening the performing arts, helping ensure their place at the center of daily life. He is the creator and co-founder of #GivingTuesday, a global philanthropic movement that engages people in close to 100 countries. Designed as a counterpoint to Black Friday, it has generated over 2.5 billion dollars for good causes in the U.S. alone. The recent special edition to support COVID-19 causes catalyzed over $500M of giving online.

Henry is also the co-author of the international bestselling book New Power, described by David Brooks in the New York Times as “the best window I’ve seen into this new world” and as a “must-read…a gift to our movements” by Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. It was shortlisted for the FT/McKinsey Business Book of the Year and named as a Book of the Year by Bloomberg, Fortune, Financial Times and CNBC.

As a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, he chairs the nomination committee for the RSA’s most prestigious award, the Benjamin Franklin Medal. Previously he was the President and CEO of 92nd Street Y, a leading cultural community anchor in NYC. Under his leadership, the 144-year-old institution was named to Fast Company’s “Most Innovative Companies” list. He is a Hauser Visiting Leader at Harvard Kennedy School and Visiting Fellow at Stanford University


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If you liked this episode, you may also enjoy our conversation with Hollywood executive Debra Martin Chase.

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