lincoln theater internal


How Can DC’s City Owned Theater Avoid Becoming a Sinkole for Taxpayer Money?

The District of Columbia stepped in to save the Lincoln Theater from bankruptcy two years ago, and has been temporarily operating the theater while searching for a new long term proprietor. You can see an article in the Washington Business Journal here:


The problem faced by the 1,000 seat theater venue is very simply finding ways to fill enough seats, enough nights of the year.  Since the Lincoln’s construction scores of theaters large and small have opened in DC, including the Kennedy Center, Howard Theater, Shakespeare Theater, Arena Stage, and in Arlington, the new Artisphere. Just like the Lincoln Theater, Artisphere is having troubles not becoming a sink-hole for taxpayer dollars. You can see a recent article about Artisphere here:


The most likely financially sustainable operator for the Lincoln might be a commercial movie theater proprietor, similar to the Uptown Theater in Cleveland Heights. Most of the large DC troupes that regularly fill 1000 seat halls have their own venues (Shakespeare, Woolly, Arena, etc) and the out of town acts will continue to be split among the Kennedy Center, Warner, and a multitude of additional options. Small DC troupes may occasionally be able to work a 1,000 seat venue, but they too will continue to use other venues (even if the city heavily subsidized rental.) There is no viable business model that will work for this theater without a major financial campaign (similar to the Howard Theater’s recent 50 million dollar make-over) and the city is struggling to figure out what to do. Nobody wants to see the theater close; how can the city avoid the Lincoln becoming a financial sinkhole for years to come?

Join the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities at the Lincoln Theater February 26 from 6-8 to hear city officials discuss the issues, and offer your own opinions. You can rsvp here:


To read additional background on the city’s ownership of the Lincoln, you can check out Board Chair Robert Bettmann’s article in the Huffington Post: