Lead we Must

About Michael Kaiser

Michael Kaiser has written 2 posts in this blog. #

Michael M. Kaiser is President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has expanded the educational and artistic programming for the nation's center for the performing arts and has overseen a major renovation effort of most of the Center’s theaters. As Kennedy Center President, Mr. Kaiser is responsible for the artistic and financial health of the Center’s extensive theater, jazz, chamber music, and dance seasons as well as its affiliates the National Symphony Orchestra VSA, and Washington National Opera. Dubbed “the Turnaround King” for his work at numerous institutions including the Royal Opera House (London), American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Kansas City Ballet, Michael has earned international renown for his expertise in arts management. He advises performing arts organizations around the world, working with arts leaders in nearly 70 countries. Upon joining the Kennedy Center in 2001, Michael created the Kennedy Center Arts Management Institute, renamed the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center after a $22.5 million commitment from Dick and Betsy DeVos, which aims to train the current and next generation of arts leaders. The Institute features a variety of initiatives and programs, including an online education forum for arts administrators at artsmanager.org, where professionals and students in the field can share experiences, seek employment, and post opportunities. He founded Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative in February 2009, and embarked on a 50-state tour to spread his arts expertise across the United States. #



  1. I present here a general comment, and not one specifically toward Mr. Kaiser’s interesting post.

    It is interesting that there are 15 bloggers and they are all administrators or journalists – or something similar. Why aren’t some artists included? If concepts of the artist/public relationship are solely in the hands of administrators, I think we’re headed for a very dull and misinformed world.

    The relationship between artists and their publics, of course, has never been a simplistic dichotomy where one follows and the other leads. It has always been a very complex and dynamic interaction in which both sides variously play both roles. The Internet hasn’t changed this relationship, even though it makes communication faster and more convenient. The change is thus more quantitative than qualitative. The dichotomy might be useful for starting discussion, but if taken too literally it will create confusion by being excessively reductive.

  2. You rightly point out, Michael, that the arts have “to market the product in a way that will make that art interesting and accessible.” But if the question is about leadership, we’ve got a lot of work to do.

    The mark of a leader is the ability to convince others that he or she is worth following. Look at great leaders in politics, religion, business or social movements and you’ll find inspirational, charismatic, persuasive individuals who describe their causes in relevant, meaningful, motivational language that leverages the needs, wants and desires of their listeners. Think of the way Barack Obama spoke to undecided voters in his first campaign: “This isn’t about me; this is about you!”

    But listen to the way the arts speak to their audiences and you’ll find presumptuous, boastful institutions speaking to diminishing audiences of aging fans in a language that consists mostly of worn out clichés and inane wordplay: “Celebrate Spring!” “Experience the Magic!” “Take a Journey of the Imagination!” “Join us for our glorious fiftieth anniversary season!” “It’s a zany, madcap romp!” “The New York Times says we’re “Sensational”!

    Why on earth would younger or more culturally diverse audiences want to follow people who talk like this? If Barack Obama talked this way, John McCain would be president right now.

    I agree that the arts should lead, but I think we have to start speaking to would-be followers in a more persuasive language that reflects what’s important to them. It doesn’t mean we have to let them dictate the content of the art, but it does mean letting their needs, wants and desires influence how we convince them that we’re the leaders they should be following.