Huffpost Arts
Michael Kaiser Headshot

Farewell to the Kennedy Center

Posted: Updated:
Print

This is my last week as President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. It has been a remarkable honor to serve in this position for well over 13 years. I have had incredible support from an astonishing staff, tremendous artists, engaged board members and a remarkably loyal family of audience members and donors.

Together, we have changed the Kennedy Center in myriad ways, creating a broad range of performances, mounting a national education program, renovating almost the entire Center, conceiving and funding a major new addition. And we did it while earning over $75 million of surplus which allowed us to build a healthier financial profile.

I leave the Center in the very capable hands of Deborah Rutter. I am confident she will take the Center in new and exciting directions.

She will have, as I had, the opportunity to work with as hard-working and talented a staff as I have known. Every time I started a meeting with the dreaded words, "I have an idea," they responded with action. When I asked that we create a concert to honor the victims of 9/11, they produced a major event within a few days. When I wanted to provide free consulting services to troubled arts organizations after the stock market crash of 2008, they had a program up and running (on line and off) in two weeks. When I wanted to mount a festival of the works of Stephen Sondheim, it was a reality in less than 18 months. When I suggested we expand the size and scope of our international festivals, they produced a Festival of China with 900 performers. When I asked to create a new approach to arts education, they built Any Given Child that, after only four years, affects the lives of one million children. And when I asked for a huge jump in resources to pay for these and myriad other initiatives, they expanded our fundraising program to an astonishing $75 million a year.

But the staff also responded in other ways, including maintaining cost controls that ensured that we had an operating surplus every single year and remaining exceptionally loyal when things were difficult. These are not fair weather friends, and they are, indeed, friends. I will not miss them because I know I will continue to enjoy their presence in my life.

The head of every arts organization gets far too much of the credit for the work done during his or her tenure. I know I have.

I am excited about my next career: taking the DeVos Institute of Arts Management to the University of Maryland. Teaching arts leaders is my passion and I am so lucky that I have been granted the opportunity to pursue my passion for so many years. I hope I am lucky enough to be able to teach and consult and write for years to come.

But whatever my fate, I know a big chunk of my soul will remain on stage, backstage, in the hallways and the offices housed in the big white marble building along the Potomac River.