Michael Kaiser on the Future of the Arts

michael-m-kaiserAs many of you know, I am getting my master’s degree in Art Administration. I’m doing it to augment the work I do in film. Anyway, Professor J. (Leonard Jacobs) in my Arts Management class has been assigning us excerpts from the book “The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations” by Michael M. Kaiser. Which begs the question: “Who is Michael M. Kaiser?”  Anyone studying Arts Administration knows the answer as well as much of the arts community.

Here’s what Wikipedia says:

“Michael M. Kaiser was the president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (2001–2014) in Washington, D.C. Dubbed “the turnaround king” for his work at such arts institutions as the Kansas City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre and the Royal Opera House, Kaiser has earned international renown for his expertise in arts management.”

the-art-of-the-turnaround“The Art of the Turnaround” is quite interesting and documents how Michael M. Kaiser has been able over the years to turn organizations around. I learned a lot from reading his case studies and had some questions for Michael M. Kaiser. The good news is – he was nice enough to answer them!

Here are my three questions and Michael M. Kaiser’s answers:

  1. How do you think the NEA cuts are going to affect the Arts in America?

We do not yet know the fate of the NEA but if it is eliminated, or even if its budget is cut substantially, it will harm many arts organizations, especially rural and avant garde organizations and organizations of color.  These organizations have a harder time building the large individual donor bases that larger mainstream organizations enjoy.  But an end to the NEA would also signal that our government does not understand the role of the arts in a free society.  This would be a national embarrassment.

  1. What are your feelings about crowdfunding as a form of fundraising for the arts?

Crowdfunding is an interesting and effective new funding technique in the arts. Those artists or arts organizations that can drive traffic to their crowdfunding pages, and have a compelling project, can find support from new donors.  But crowdfunding should complement other development efforts but not replace them.  The best fundraising efforts build strong relationships between donor and organization (or artist) that can last for years and years.  These relationships are difficult to form in a crowdfunding model.

  1. What advice would you give to emerging arts administrators in the current arts climate in the U.S.?

I believe the arts environment is getting more difficult to navigate.  The current political climate is challenging, but changes in technology, how people purchase entertainment, and demographics make it especially difficult.  For this reason, we need smart, creative, insightful arts managers more than ever.  I would hope aspiring arts managers would be willing and able to think ahead, develop new models and work to ensure that the arts ecology of the United States remains strong.  Simply copying the way arts organizations were managed in the past will not be enough going forward.

the Platinum Pias Awards are Just Around the Corner

Yes, the Platinum Pias Awards are just around the corner and many in New York City are buzzing about who will be the artist winners this year.

We at Lights Camera Read would like to thank the wonderful group of people who are making the awards possible this time around. The list is too long to mention but this year, more than any other year, the enthusiasm and passion of those involved has been contagious.

In fact, even new websites like MovieProcess.org are mentioning the Pias on their site.

Gary D. Cole

gary-d-coleWho is Gary D. Cole? For those of you who don’t know, get with the program! He is the author of the novel Black Box and the memoir Artless as well as is a theater entrepreneur, producer, and playwright. His memoir Artless is a fascinating exploration of his life plus is an odyssey through the arts and politics.

If you who have already read Artless the following is going to be a special treat. If you have not yet read it but are planning to, this will be a terrific preview of the man who somehow manages to straddle the gap between the arts and business.

artlessBefore we dive in, let’s take a look at the context this evolved out of. We are in a graduate program for an Arts Administration program and are reading Gary D. Cole’s Artless as assigned reading. The class became interested in what Gary D. Cole is up to now, so we approached him. And he was kind and generous and gave us a response.

We at Lights Camera Read are thrilled that Gary D. Cole answered the following three questions we asked him. You will find his answers below.

Enjoy!

The questions:

  1. It’s been a while since Artless was published. What are your current views on the relationship between art and commerce?
  2. You wrote the novel Black Box as well as the play Bodyhold. Do you have any current artistic projects you are working on?
  3. As a leader and manager, do you have any advice for aspiring nonprofit executive directors, artistic directors and managing directors in the current political climate?

Now here are Gary’s answers to the questions:

  1. I would draw a distinction between “selling out” and incorporating businesslike principles in the operation of an arts company. Selling out means compromising one’s artistic principles in the interest of making a buck. I don’t condone that and never will. But it is not selling out to be accountable to one’s supporters, responsible for complying with budgets, respectful of one’s employees and contractors, and receptive to criticism from patrons — recipes for success in the arts as well as in business.
  1. I’m putting the finishing touches on a memoir of my time as a Chicago Tribune paperboy in the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s. Titled “NEWSBOY: Along My Route for The World’s Greatest Newspaper 1968-1975,” the book is both a chronicle of a young boy trying to make sense of the tumultuous events exploding around him (including assassinations, riots, and war), as well as an intimate portrayal of my route and customers. I suppose this project could be characterized as a prequel to “ARTLESS.” I expect to see it published later this year or next.

Last year I produced a remount of “Mary Tudor,” one of CoHo Productions’ most successful shows, here in North Carolina where I now live. Financially, we structured the production in the same manner as “Bodyhold,” with each cast and crew member receiving a guaranteed payment plus a percentage of profits. I’m pleased to report that the production did well and paid most of the actors and production team more than they had ever received in theater.

  1. I believe my cautions in “ARTLESS” about the perils of reliance on government funding are as well-founded today as they were when the book came out. We are sadly living in a time of bitter ideological divisions that will inevitably play out in grant decisions. Leaders in the arts should be wary of tailoring their content to suit the prevailing political creed, rather than producing work that truly inspires them. They should keep their focus on finding constituents in their community that support their artistic vision and doing everything they can to engage those supporters in the life of the company. And they should always be asking whether “building capacity” is truly in the best interest of promoting their art, as maintaining an organization can easily become a higher priority than producing great work.

I would urge arts executives to be open to different collaborative approaches that can help reduce costs. I’m obviously biased, but the co-production model we introduced at CoHo Productions has held up well through the years. Theater artists from the community propose projects to CoHo, which provides the venue, marketing, and box office under an agreed budget for the plays it selects. CoHo’s artistic partners are responsible for the creative and technical elements of the production. This approach allows CoHo to minimize its overhead expense while maximizing the energy and commitment that the artists bring through realizing their vision for the projects they initiate. Co-production might make an interesting case study for your class!