Kennedy Center’s Michael Kaiser to leave contract early, take arts institute to U-Md.


Michael Kaiser teaches a class to international fellows in July. It's part of the DeVos Instittue of Arts Management which teaches strategic planning, artistic planning, board management, marketing, and fundraising both locally and internationally. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
November 20, 2013

Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser is leaving his contract four months early and taking his arts management institute with him. The University of Maryland announced Wednesday that the Kennedy Center’s DeVos Institute of Arts Management will join the University of Maryland in September, cutting ties with the country’s busiest performing arts center.

Kaiser, 60, founded the institute to teach management practices to professional arts administrators in 2001; he will become a professor of the practice at U-Md. next fall.

“This is a very important day for the arts at the University of Maryland,” university President Wallace D. Loh said. “One of my primary objectives as president is to expand the role of the arts, and we’ve moved another step in the that direction. Bringing Michael on board will help us take it to the next level.”

The announcement comes only months after U-Md. said it would explore a long-term partnership with the financially struggling Corcoran Gallery of Art that could include joint faculty, student degrees and course work.

“This is, of course, total coincidence that the Corcoran approached us, and right now we are deep in the throes of deciding how to make it happen. But at this point, we have nothing to announce,” Loh said of the partnership announced in April. “If it were to happen, someone like Michael could be helpful to moving the Corcoran forward,” he added.

Kaiser said his institute’s move to Maryland was necessary for its growth.

“Maryland has a wonderful performing arts center, a master’s in nonprofit management and a lot of expertise,” Kaiser said. “So much of what we do is educational — and the confluence of missions is very strong. We can grow bigger at a larger institution.”

The merger is a surprising announcement from a performing arts center that has championed arts fellowship programs since the institute’s inception. Kaiser started the institute to teach busy professionals the realities of running arts institutions in times of decreased government funding. Each summer, it hosts nearly 40 international arts managers for a month-long, intensive training seminar. Responding to the recession in 2009, Kaiser started “Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative,” a free consultation program for the nonprofit arts that served 750 groups nationwide.

The institute was always a passion project for Kaiser, who announced his intended departure from the Kennedy Center last year after serving as president since 2001. He is contracted to lead the institute through 2017.

Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein said the board wanted the institute to flourish under Kaiser’s leadership.

“We felt that Michael created this. It was his baby, his creation and would do much better under his direction,” Rubenstein said. “The next president may have an area of passion similar to Michael’s or may pursue some other area. We don’t know yet. But it will have a very good home at the University of Maryland.”

The institute was called the Kennedy Center Arts Management Institute until Michigan philanthropists and Kennedy Center donors Betsy and Dick DeVos gave $22.5 million for the expansion of the project in 2010, allowing the institute to grow into a consulting and educational practice. It grew into a $6 million-a-year nonprofit consulting practice that advises domestic and international arts organizations. Kaiser and institute Director Brett Egan have conducted seminars in more than 70 countries and have consulted with domestic arts organizations such as the Miami City Ballet and arts grantees of the Bloomberg Philanthropies, among others.

Betsy DeVos served on the board of the Kennedy Center from 2004 until 2010. She and her husband were unavailable for comment.

In a Washington Post profile in August, Kaiser said he would remain president of the DeVos Institute after his departure from the Kennedy Center but did not indicate that the institute was looking for a new home. He had said that the institute “fits in perfectly with the nomenclature of the Kennedy Center. . . . It’s one of the ways we’re known as the best around the world.”

Kaiser said the talks for a partnership with U-Md. began in September after he met with Rubenstein to discuss strategy for the institute.

“It became clear that for it to grow, we needed some assets that were probably better found elsewhere,” Kaiser said. He said he consulted with a handful of universities but quickly determined that U-Md. was the right fit. “Our desire to start a master’s program and to offer certificates for those who come to the program though fellowships also contributed.”

Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow said the move is unrelated to the impending choice of Kaiser’s successor.

“The search process is still under way and a president is expected to be announced well before Michael Kaiser’s departure next year,” Dow said in a statement.

Kaiser said that despite the move, he hopes to continue working with the Kennedy Center. “We’ll do programs with the Kennedy Center after we leave. We’re doing an international arts symposium in February, and we hope to keep doing that each year. There’s only goodwill here,” he said.

Kaiser is one of the highest-paid arts administrators in the country, earning $1.3 million in 2011. He anticipates that the institute will be self-sustaining at U-Md. and will not need additional university funds. The consulting practice makes up the bulk of Kaiser’s activities with DeVos, along with extensive travel to teach arts management in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Kaiser said the institute will continue supporting its long-term programs in Croatia, Ireland and Vietnam and does not expect to require added resources from the university.

Loh said the institute’s international reach was one of the reasons U-Md. sought the partnership.

“Many of the regions he’s been actively involved in — China, the Middle East — this is where we are involved in exchanges with students,” he said.

With the departure of DeVos, it is unclear whether the Kennedy Center will continue its professional arts education initiatives and fellowships. “The move won’t diminish the Kennedy Center,” Rubenstein said.

“The Kennedy Center puts on 2,000 performances in a year, we’re increasing outreach in the neighborhoods, doing much more traveling for the NSO [National Symphony Orchestra] . . . and we have a new building to build,” he said of the center’s $125 million expansion project.

And how will Kaiser, a lifelong arts fundraiser, adjust to the title of professor? “It’s a change. I’ll let you know in a year,” he said, laughing. “But I’m excited about the ability to build this work, and I’m not leaving the area. I will be a big fan of the Kennedy Center and hopefully stay involved somehow.”

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.
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