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NY Times article on Michael Kaiser, Kennedy Center presand friend to ballet


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#1 bart

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 06:59 AM

The NY Times today (6/28) has a long story about Michael M. Kaiser, Pres. of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Kaiser is a serious supporter of ballet, which I why I'm linking the article on the Ballet News and Issues forum The author of the piece is Kate Taylor. Thanks, dirac, for the Link.

A Crusader for Boldness as the Arts Face Deficits

Alarmed by reports that arts groups were cutting programming because of money woes — a recipe for disaster, in his view — he created a Web site, artsincrisis.org, where organizations can write to apply for free planning help from Kennedy Center staff members or a group of volunteer mentors. So far more than 800 groups have applied.

When the tour ends, on July 20, he will have spoken in all 50 states, hammering home an argument familiar to readers of his book, “The Art of the Turnaround,” that in hard times arts organizations retain audiences, and donors, by offering their most exciting programming, not by scaling back or trying more conservative fare.


Among his fans is the executive director of the Sacramento Philharmonic: "Mr. Feldman said he felt empowered by Mr. Kaiser’s message, which he described as: “It’s O.K. to be passionate. It’s O.K. to be out there and pushing for your company. You don’t have to be just cold and numbers driven.”

On the other hand, one of the interesting things about the article is that it quotes those who are skeptical about Kaiser's approach and more or less critical of his image as a miracle worker for cultural institutions. For example, "the president of the imperiled Charleston Symphony Orchestra in South Carolina, said he was disappointed in Mr. Kaiser’s remarks there in February, which he called too general and removed from day-to-day realities."

Until reading the piece, I hadn't known much about Kaiser beyond what I have read on Ballet Talk. What do BT's think about his campaign? Will "passion" and "boldness" work? What IS "boldness," anyway? How to you decide where "passion" should be allowed to take you? Also: what about Kaiser's critics?

#2 dirac

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 01:45 PM

I had some of the same thoughts while reading the article, bart.

Mr. Kaiser has many admirers, among them Marc Feldman, the executive director of the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra, who sent an e-mail message to the Arts in Crisis Web site last year that described how his board, anxious about the economy, was pressuring him to make cuts. He was amazed, he said, when Mr. Kaiser called him within 24 hours and subsequently agreed to meet with members of the board, whom he convinced that strong, well-marketed programming would attract an audience and keep the orchestra on a steady course. The result, Mr. Feldman said, was a season with the strongest ticket sales ever: 27 percent over predictions.

Mr. Feldman said he felt empowered by Mr. Kaiserís message, which he described as: "Itís O.K. to be passionate. Itís O.K. to be out there and pushing for your company. You donít have to be just cold and numbers driven."


This sounds nice and it is nice, but not everyone can expect a personal intervention by the great Michael Kaiser with a jittery board. I'm also a little surprised that Feldman had to be told it was okay to promote his outfit, but never mind. I can also understand why leaders of smaller arts organizations living on the edge might be less than receptive to boilerplate about "passion" and "boldness." On the other hand Kaiser's tirelessness and willingness to help are undoubted pluses and much needed.

#3 Farrell Fan

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 02:41 PM

I can't be objective about this. I'll always be grateful to Michael Kaiser for providing an artistic home for Suzanne Farrell.

#4 Jack Reed

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 02:56 PM

Alarmed by reports that arts groups were cutting programming because of money woes ó a recipe for disaster, in his view --

...In hard times arts organizations retain audiences, and donors, by offering their most exciting programming, not by scaling back or trying
more conservative fare.


Hmm, sound familiar? What large company recently scrapped its Fall mixed-repertory season to prepare a new Nutcracker? Let's hope they know what they're doing. Hint: This is one of the companies that figures in "Art of the Turnaround", where IIRC, that fall season, which proved popular and remunerative, was instigated on the advice of one Michael Kaiser.

When Kaiser was only 20 or so cities into his tour, last August, there was an item, since taken down, at charlotteobserver.com, which included this remark from him:

ďEvery community thinks they're different,Ē Kaiser said. ďAnd the problems are always the same.Ē

When money runs short, he said, many groups react by cutting performances or exhibitions, and trimming advertising. Kaiser thinks that's a mistake, leading to a drop in ticket sales and a vicious cycle of shrinking revenue and further cuts.

Instead, Kaiser said, arts groups should devise innovative programs that intrigue audiences and donors.


"The problems are always the same." I wonder if one of them is thinking, We fixed the problems we used to have, so now we can go back and do things that way again. I can't wait until he makes some final report after his current tour ends July 20. If the problems are always the same, he can discuss them without making it possible to tell which company he's talking about, so he won't be violating any confidences that way.

I really don't understand ballet marketers, not that I haven't tried, but they don't discuss things the usual way, at least in my limited experience; when they have your ear, they grab the opportunity to try to impress you with themselves and what they do, not why, as though that would win you over to it. (I take hype as an insult.)

I've never seen an ad for a ballet presenter in a classical-music concert program, for instance, which seems a good bet to me; doesn't it bring people in? How can they tell? It's been a long time since I asked about it, and both times I got a loud "NO!" for an answer. Not enlightening. But I have seen ads for classical-music presenters in ballet programs.

There's a key phrase from Kaiser in the Times article: "well-marketed". Skipping people who already like the kind of music often used in ballet seems odd.

But I think I can understand those who may find his ideas general, when they want to be told what to do. Now.

#5 bart

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 03:45 PM

This sounds nice and it is nice, but not everyone can expect a personal intervention by the great Michael Kaiser with a jittery board. I'm also a little surprised that Feldman had to be told it was okay to promote his outfit, but never mind. I can also understand why leaders of smaller arts organizations living on the edge might be less than receptive to boilerplate about "passion" and "boldness." On the other hand Kaiser's tirelessness and willingness to help are undoubted pluses and much needed.

The intentions are good, as you say, and many of the ideas are good (at least for the markets in which he has operated). However, there are "buts" lurking in the background, and I can't figure out why I share them. Maybe it's because some of us have been burned by this kind of talk before. Is it time to vote for "hope" over "experience"? I don't know.

Jack, you raise important aspects of this situation. To focus on just one:

When Kaiser was only 20 or so cities into his tour, last August, there was an item, since taken down, at charlotteobserver.com, which included this remark from him:

“Every community thinks they're different,” Kaiser said. “And the problems are always the same.”

[ ... ] "The problems are always the same." I wonder if one of them is thinking, We fixed the problems we used to have, so now we can go back and do things that way again. I can't wait until he makes some final report after his current tour ends July 20. If the problems are always the same, he can discuss them without making it possible to tell which company he's talking about, so he won't be violating any confidences that way.
[ ... ]
I think I can understand those who may find his ideas general, when they want to be told what to do. Now.

It interesting to have a look at the website mentioned in the Times piece. It is indeed rather general:
http://www.artsincrisis.org/

On the other hand, that site has a link to another site for arts managers, including what appears to be more in the way of specifics: resource information, discussions of problems and individual situations, etc. You need a company affiliation in order to register, so I don't know what the content of this site actually is. It would be useful to see just what those resources are, to follow individual cases, and to have a look at the "survey results."
http://artsmanagerfb...es/Welcome.aspx

Regarding surveys (a.k.a. market research??). I've always been astonished at the way managers and boards put great faith in "marketing" but not in its essential element, "market research." So many local companies just seem to guess about what will work and base significant investments on that. Farrell Fan makes a good point about Kaiser's decision to give extraordinary support and what appears to be a long-term commitment to Suzanne Farrell's fledgling company. Farrell is a big name to us, and her choice of repertory (her own "passion" and "boldness") is one we certainly would identify with here. However, Kaiser's decision seems to me to have been exceptionally risky for the District of Columbia, despite high levels of wealth, education, and cosmopolitanism in the target audience. Was this a case, I wonder, of Kaiser following his intuition ("I have a gut feeling that this will work")? Or an example of managerial fiat ("I like this kind of thing; I want this kind of thing; DO it")? Or was it based on a systematic study of audience potential?

#6 Jack Reed

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Posted 28 June 2010 - 04:30 PM

It might have been a combination of those. I'm all for systematic studies, seriously; but you need your hunches too. I like the reference in one of those articles to receipts being 27% over expectations. They're trying to be systematic. And Kaiser is explicit about putting artistic quality first.

Am I the only one to have noticed over the years a couple of approaches, not just to performing-arts marketing, but business, especially retail business, in general? One approach is to start as good as you can make it on whatever scale you can afford; the other is to start out any old way and ask for support: "It'll get better later." The outcomes seem obvious to me. It's funny how organizations sometimes have "memories": If they start good, they often continue so, attracting people who recognize and appreciate that both as producers and consumers. And the opposite. (Not that we have never seen an enterprise that proved "too good to last", which usually had a poor "business model".)


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