Lichtenstein, the son of a Polish immigrant, graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School in 1947, and from Brooklyn College in 1951. He danced in the companies of Sophie Maslow, Pearl Lang, and Mark Ryder-Emily Frankel. After working in arts management at Brandeis University, the New York City Ballet, and the New York City Opera, he was named executive director of BAM in 1967.
Lichtenstein expanded BAM from a small, non-notable organization into a major New York City venue. He was known for supporting emerging artists such as Merce Cunningham, Eliot Feld, Twyla Tharp, Bill T. Jones, and Pina Bausch. He brought Peter Brook's epic stage version of the Mahabharata to Brooklyn, and was an executive producer of its 1989 film version. Critic John Rockwell of the New York Times described Lichtenstein as "the most innovative and influential performing arts administrator New York has known."
Since his retirement as president of BAM, Lichtenstein has been director of the BAM Local Development Corporation, which is seeking to develop the area around BAM in Brooklyn into an arts and cultural district. In 1986, he was awarded the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit for his contributions to German-American cultural relations. He received the National Medal of Arts in 1999.
From 2007 to 2009, the BAM Hamm Archives arranged a series of interviews with Lichtenstein, conducted by John Rockwell. The oral history ranges from the "birth of the artistic consciousness" and early dance career of Lichtenstein through the creation of the Next Wave Festival to Lichtenstein's retirement from BAM. The full transcript and audio files of the oral history can be accessed through the BAM Hamm Archives (BAM.org).
- James Traub, The (Not Easy) Building of (Not Exactly) Lincoln Center for (Not) Manhattan, The New York Times, Apr. 25, 2004
- Brainy History