Carlyle Group co-founder named chairman of Kennedy Center board

David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, will be the next chairman of the Kennedy Center.
David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, will be the next chairman of the Kennedy Center. (Andrew Harrer - Bloomberg)
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 4, 2010

As a youngster in Baltimore, David M. Rubenstein says he was inspired by John F. Kennedy, so much so that he planned a public service career. The young lawyer got a job in 1977 at the White House under President Jimmy Carter, a stint that gained him an invitation to the first presidential reception for Kennedy Center Honors recipients.

At that gathering in 1978, Rubenstein remembers meeting Marian Anderson, Artur Rubinstein, Fred Astaire, George Balanchine and Richard Rodgers. And that's when the relationship between David Rubenstein and the Kennedy Center began, a relationship that culminated Wednesday when the center's board unanimously elected the 60-year-old as its next chairman, beginning in May.

"I am involved in a lot of nonprofits. And when I reached the ripe old age of 60, I wanted to provide leadership to some I had been involved in. This was an opportunity. You have to be involved if you are going to have an impact and be transformative," Rubenstein said in an interview before Wednesday afternoon's announcement. "Also, this is a way to pay back to Washington, which has been very good to me."

Rubenstein, who was No. 123 on last year's Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, is co-founder and managing director of the Carlyle Group, one of the world's leading private equity firms. He has an impressive track record of generosity in Washington and elsewhere.

In six years on the Kennedy Center board, he has given the center $3.5 million. Rubenstein and his wife, Alice Rogoff Rubenstein, are also the principal underwriters for the Very Special Arts international festival, which in June will bring about 2,000 artists and educators to Washington, both with and without disabilities, to perform and participate in seminars.

The Rubensteins also sponsored the six-month Shakespeare in Washington festival in 2007 and the Kennedy Center's production of the drama "Mister Roberts" in 2005.

Rubenstein's gifts to scholars and visitors alike have created news. In 2007, he bought a 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta for $21.3 million and donated it to the National Archives. He bought a signed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in 2008 for an undisclosed sum, lending it to the National Museum of American History and then the White House. Of his interest, he said simply, "I think American history is important."

In other arts-related arenas, Rubenstein, vice chairman of the board of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York and chairman of its fundraising drive, gave $10 million to the center's redevelopment project in October. The center named its new atrium -- with a cafe, ticket booth and seating areas -- for the benefactor.

The Lincoln Center campaign goal kept ballooning. "It started at $300 million, then we raised $625 million, and now we want to raise $800 million," he said.

Rubenstein joined the Kennedy and Lincoln boards about the same time. "I couldn't say no to the performing arts, and so then I went on the Ford's Theatre board. I found I enjoyed it," Rubenstein said. He was appointed to the Kennedy Center board by President George W. Bush in 2004. He is also a regent at the Smithsonian Institution.

'Prodigious' energy

Rubenstein has been the leading candidate for months to succeed Stephen A. Schwarzman at the Kennedy Center. "David knows a lot about the Kennedy Center, and I've gotten to know him in the last six years," said Schwarzman, co-founder of the private equity firm Blackstone Group. "He is knowledgeable, well-liked, respected. People respect his commitment and energy. His energy is prodigious."

Given that the center is financially sound these days and that its three major theaters were renovated during the past decade, Schwarzman says, a Rubenstein term will probably be more "evolutionary than revolutionary."

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