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The Art Angel

Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts president brings a message of hope to Maui.

January 7, 2010
Paul Janes-Brown

Kaiser was dressed conservatively in a dark custom-made suit, white shirt and silk tie—the picture of a Mainland corporate officer. However, he was given a shell lei and a kukui nut lei, which he proudly wore. With his soft-spoken manner and clipped, self-deprecating responses, the audience breathlessly hung onto every word he spoke.

When he first embarked on the tour, he presumed he would have material for another book by the end. However, he has been surprised by the extent and similarity of the malady that has overtaken so many arts organizations. He has since abandoned the idea of a book, which he said, “would be a pretty boring one.”

His message is simple and counterintuitive. His secret to turning around the Kansas City Ballet, The Royal Opera in London, The Alvin Ailey Company, The American Ballet Theater, The New York City Opera and the Kennedy Center is not to cut back on programming—“That is the worse thing you can do,” he said. Instead, “plan artistically excellent new programming that will excite audiences and bring in new donors.”

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Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts President Michael Kaiser brought some sage advice to Maui’s art community.

In the remarkable span of 20 years he has been working with arts organizations, Kaiser has literally re-written the approach to board development, organizational management and artistic programming. He advocates that joint ventures for ambitious artistic projects are the answer to expensive upfront production costs, and he suggests that organizations create programmatic planning five years out so that all the bugs can be worked out well in advance, audiences can become fully informed and energized, and the funds needed to support the efforts can be raised.

Kaiser told the audience, “Don’t whine in public! No one wants to hear it and no one wants to give money to a desperate organization. Always speak positively and make sure only one person in your organization speaks to the media. In that way you can have a unified, clear and positive message.”

In his book, The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations, Kaiser enunciates 10 rules for arts organizations. Someone must lead, the leader has to have a plan, you cannot save your way to health, focus on today and tomorrow—not yesterday, extend the programming planning calendar (to at least five years out), marketing is more than brochures and advertisements, fundraising must focus on the larger donor (but don’t aim too high), the board must allow itself to be restructured and the organization must have the discipline to follow each of these rules.

Kaiser came to Maui because of the 15-year relationship between the Kennedy Center’s Arts in Education program and the MACC. Through the Kennedy Center’s support, the MACC arts-in-education programs continue to provide standards-based professional development for teachers and teaching artists; performances, Celebrating the Artist In Us and CanDo! Days for students; and research into how the arts impact student learning and teacher practice.

It was during the MACC’s Kennedy Center-sponsored, annual Summer Institute for Educators that Pōmaika‘i Elementary School’s Arts Integration Curriculum Coordinator Rae Takemoto and Kindergarten Teacher Jennifer Emde came up with the idea for the only fully arts-integrated elementary school in the state. Recently, Pōmaika‘i was the only school of the eight in the Maui High complex to have reached “unconditionally in Good Standing” test results according to the No Child Left Behind Act.

When asked about his life, Kaiser responded, “What life? Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but this is my life—my work.”

He was on island for less than 24 hours when the unmarried Kaiser returned home to spend the holidays with his parents.  He was regretful about not being able to see the attractions of “paradise” and not being able to visit Pōmaika‘i Elementary School.

 
 
 

 

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