Performers at the Big Apple Circus.

Image: a katz/Shutterstock

Over the last few years contemporary circuses in America have revolutionized their style of entertainment. One of the leading circuses in the world is the Big Apple Circus from New York City. This year the troupe will be launching a new season at Lincoln Center. The new program is called The Grand Tour and celebrates the culture and style of the Roaring 1920s.

We are truly fortunate that there are institutions like Lincoln Center and leaders in the financial world who sustain our cultural traditions. Lincoln Center board members Miriam Haas of the Levis Straus Company; Motomu Takahashi, President and CEO of Mitsui USA; and Bill E. Ford, Chief Executive Officer at General Atlantic have ensured that these kinds of cultural events will continue to take place.

Circuses are doing big business around the world. There are over 450 circuses in France, and many schools teaching a range of circus entertainment skills there. Circus schools are also found in Australia, Belgium, Mexico, and Canada, to name only a few of the 20 or so countries with professional circus schools.

France is a leading supporter of the circus tradition. The French Department of Culture became the official overseer of circus programs in that country in 1979. Prior to that year French circuses were supervised by the Department of Agriculture. That’s quite a conceptual shift—from animal husbandry to art form.

The American circus has also had a shift in its identity as it underwent a renaissance in the 1970s with the birth of The Pickle Family Circus. Like its French counterparts this small-scale circus flourished with government support. A grant from the National Endowment for the Arts allowed the troupe to go on their first tour in 1976. One of their clowns, Bill Irwin, went on to establish a successful career as a mainstream actor.

The Big Apple Circus continues to flourish with financial support from a range of donors. In return, the organization has developed a variety of programs that extend their entertainment to often-neglected audiences. This community service is connected to the concept of Social Circus, which uses circus arts to promote social good and is used as an educational tool to reach students in non-traditional settings. The organization’s programs are part of a great tradition of entertaining and sharing. Big Apple Circus Clown Care brings classic circus entertainment to hospitalized children. Circus for All shares free and discounted tickets with schools and low-income families. Circus After School uses the art form as a way to teach students about teamwork and perseverance.