THE BLOG

My Life With Alvin Ailey

04/07/2014 08:32 am ET | Updated Jun 07, 2014

As I count down the number of days left until I leave the Kennedy Center, I am getting nostalgic about my entire career. No one producing arts organization has had a bigger impact on my life than the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

I first met Alvin when I was running the Kansas City Ballet -- my first arts job. A local group of citizens believed the Ailey company could unite people of all backgrounds and formed the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. The friends asked me to do some fundraising with Alvin for a new work they were planning to underwrite (Caverna Magica) and we visited several funders together. At the same time, Alvin gave a series of his works (The River, Memoria, and several others) to the Kansas City Ballet.

A few years later, after Alvin had passed, I was selected to be executive director of the Ailey company -- at a time of deep distress for the organization. Working with Judith Jamison, the dancers, and the board for three years, we successfully turned the company around. We toured the nation and the world together, performed for President Clinton's Inaugural gala, and collaborated with Jerome Robbins, Anna Deavere Smith and Dizzy Gillespie; it was a remarkable three years. In the process, I got truly engrained in the Ailey culture, I learned more about African American people than any other life experience would have taught me, and I made lifelong friends in Masazumi Chaya, Calvin Hunt, Chris Zunner and so many more.

And since becoming president of the Kennedy Center (which coincidentally was opened in 1971 with Leonard Bernstein's Mass, choreographed by Alvin Ailey) I have gotten to present the company every year, never tiring of the endless changes in dancers and dances and the constant of Revelations.

This past year I went back to my roots, working on a strategic plan for the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey as they celebrate their 30th anniversary. They have come a long way since their founding, now working with 30,000 children every year and contemplating a series of exciting new ventures.

In fact my work with the Ailey organization opened one of the most exciting doors of my career: working with organizations of color and addressing their special needs and constraints. It is safe to say that at least half of my consulting work to date has involved arts organizations of color with a special focus on building their individual fundraising capabilities, a serious issue for many of them.

Just recently I hosted the last Ailey season of my career when the company came for its annual visit to the Kennedy Center. To commemorate my long association with Ailey, the company gave me a Revelations stool engraved with a plaque honoring my long association with the organization. I can now rehearse the yellow section in the privacy of my bedroom with my very own stool. Don't think for a moment that I do not remember every move!