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Arts Management Advocate Michael Kaiser Wraps Up National Tour

by Jerome Weeks 28 Jun 2010 12:21 PM

The New York Times catches up with the president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as his Arts in Crisis tour to all 50 states is winding down. Last November, the “Comeback King” came back to North Texas to speak to some 100 area arts leaders. His message: Simply cutting back is actually counterproductive.


The New York Times catches up with the president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as his 66-city, 50-state visit is winding down. An expert in non-profit management, Kaiser is known as the “comeback king” because of his successful efforts in reviving arts organizations such as Alvin Ailey and the Royal Opera House. Last November, his Arts in Crisis tour brought him back to North Texas, courtesy of the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs, to speak to some 100 area arts leaders.

The NYTimes story considers Kaiser’s philosophy of facing fiscal problems by not cutting back as a first response. He argues that programming (and smart marketing) are what can excite funders and bring in audiences, so axing shows will prove counterproductive.

Just how transformative his message is for others, though, can be hard to gauge. No one, including the Kennedy Center, tracks the long-term outcomes for the organizations helped through the Arts in Crisis program. One might be tempted to dismiss Mr. Kaiser as a well-meaning cheerleader if he did not have such a solid track record of repeat successes, and if there were not such a long line of arts executives he has counseled, often far from the spotlight, who speak of him with gratitude approaching devotion….

On the other hand …

Russell Willis Taylor, the president and chief executive of National Arts Strategies, which runs leadership seminars for arts executives, said that she respected Mr. Kaiser but found his approach somewhat one-dimensional.

“Just putting on shows and just putting money into marketing isn’t going to do it,” she said. “The biggest problem the arts face is not financial. It’s, ‘Why do they matter?’ ”

  • Tom Adams

    Jerome, Michael Kaiser has a solid reputation in the states. I dealt with him just once but was impressed with his creative fundraising talents. He had a matching challenge grant from the president of ABT’s board and could use “forgiving” debt toward the match. Erik Bruhn, whom I represented, staged “La Sylphide” and ABT had failed to pay the royalty for numerous performances after Erik died. It was not a great deal of money and ABT had been Erik’s home so I told Michael it was fine. The fact that he took time to call me was indicative of his personal style. We have never met but I have followed his career. I think Micheal and Ms. Taylor are both right. You have to justify, teach, program, market,generate revenue and on rare occassions sell your soul to the devil. tom a

  • Jerome Weeks

    Thanks for writing, Tom. I was impressed by Kaiser’s personal, caring style, too, when I interviewed him onstage in November, and by his enthusiasm, not simply for the arts in general but exciting, risk-taking stuff. His appearance wasn’t just some motivational pep talk. However, as I noted at the time (, his book and his talk can be light on the down-in-the-trenches details that arts managers may really need to hear.