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The Kennedy Center International Committee on the Arts

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Thirteen years ago, shortly after I arrived at the Kennedy Center, we created a committee of donors who support the international work of the Kennedy Center. Since that time, the committee has grown from six intrepid founding members to a robust group of almost 80 people who support our international festivals, arts management education programs and the full range of artists we bring from overseas to the Kennedy Center.

Each year the members of the Kennedy Center International Committee on the Arts (KCICA) hold a summit in a foreign nation. We explore the arts and culture of that country, meet artists and arts managers, and award gold medals to important artists and philanthropists from the region. Over the years we have travelled to St. Petersburg, Beijing, Tokyo, Madrid, Buenos Aires and numerous other great cities. This year, my last with the Kennedy Center, we travelled to the United Arab Emirates for a remarkable week in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

What has made the KCICA so potent is that our members truly learn on these trips. They experience people and art forms and cultures they have not encountered before. In fact, it has been our more exotic trips that have the biggest impact on our donors; they remember having dinner on the Great Wall of China far more than another great meal in Paris. My committee members have watched me teach in Buenos Aires, Madrid and Beijing -- this enlightened them to the differences in arts ecologies between nations and allowed them to appreciate the value of the arts management training work we mount abroad. When they listened to seven of our students from Prague discuss how the arts are funded in their country and the challenges implementing the techniques they had learned from us they came to appreciate the artists and arts institutions from the Czech Republic in a far more nuanced way.

I have learned a great deal from these trips as well.

I have learned that we cannot simply impress donors and audience members by showing them the great level of accomplishment of our artistic and educational endeavors.

We must also allow them to go on a journey of their own, discovering for themselves the diversity and beauty of art forms, the excitement of collaboration and the importance of their generosity.

The KCICA is now one of the Kennedy Center's most potent support groups. But its potency comes not just from who has joined but from the experiences they have as members.

It is instructive to know that only a handful of donors have left this committee since its founding; it has proven too much fun and too important to leave. And its members are not just American philanthropists; we have been able to attract members from around the world.

Perhaps there is a lesson in this for other arts institutions.

Perhaps we need to work harder to place our supporters on their own roads of discovery rather than trying so hard to impress them.