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The New Season

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A new arts season is upon us.

Every new season brings excitement and anticipation. Artists, boards, staff, donors, volunteers and our audience members contemplate which new works will be the most interesting, surprising, fulfilling, and profitable. They evaluate which risky venture will prove worth the investment of time and money. They predict whether audiences will be drawn to the works we have been planning for so long.

This particular season, unfortunately, is also marked by great insecurity and even fear.

Economic instability continues, virtually unabated. It has been three long years since the fall of Lehman Brothers. We have been facing reductions in both earned and unearned income for the longest period of time in my memory. And a true recovery is still out of our grasp.

High rates of unemployment, instability in the stock market, and major government cutbacks at all levels continue to threaten donations and ticket sales across the nation.

Many arts organizations have succumbed, either closing doors permanently or radically reshaping their programming. Virtually every arts organization has had to cut back in some way. I do not know of one arts organization that has been unaffected by this economic turmoil.

But we in the arts world must remain strong and focused in this difficult climate. We must not lose confidence in what we do.

While very public debates about the value of arts funding rage in statehouses across America, we must remember that our communities need the arts now more than ever.

We might argue over who should fund the arts, but we cannot argue over their vital role in inspiring and entertaining people when they need it most. We provide the diversion people need when their everyday lives are most troublesome. On September 12, 2001, the day after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, I re-opened the Kennedy Center. My staff and I wondered if anyone would come to our performances. Every one was filled to capacity. We were the escape from the endless video replays of the twin towers coming down.

My grandfather was hired as a violinist in the New York Philharmonic in 1934, in the heart of the Great Depression. I remember asking him why the orchestra could afford to pay him a reasonable salary? He said that the demand for music hit a peak in the 1930's. People flocked to concerts; they needed some respite from real world concerns.

We must have faith in the work we are doing, of our critical role in this difficult time.

We must continue to foster meaningful dialogue, inspire our audiences and surprise our communities.

And we must do this while providing a safe and warm and welcoming environment.

We may shake with fear about budgets in our offices, but we must be welcoming hosts in public.

We must enter this new season with joy and with conviction.

We must radiate excitement about the importance and relevance of our work and its ability to transform lives: this new season more than ever.