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Michael Kaiser sends letter of apology for strong language in Honors dispute

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Michael M. Kaiser, president of the Kennedy Center, apologized for strong language that he used in a recent tense conversation with Felix Sanchez, chairman of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts, when Sanchez criticized the lack of Latino artists receiving Kennedy Center Honors.

“I am writing to apologize for the language I used during our telephone call. It was an unfortunate choice of words, and I deeply regret using them in frustration during our conversation,” Kaiser wrote in a letter delivered by messenger to Sanchez’s office Thursday. Sanchez said he did not read it until Friday because he was away from the office.

Sanchez has previously quoted Kaiser as saying “f--- yourself” and abruptly hanging up the telephone when Sanchez pressed his point in the Sept. 14 conversation.

Kaiser told The Washington Post last week that he had felt upset during the conversation because he understood Sanchez to be insinuating that he is a racist.

Since 1978, when the awards were inaugurated, one Latina has been saluted — Chita Rivera, of Puerto Rican descent, in 2002 — out of more than 175 Honorees. In addition, Placido Domingo, who was born in Spain, was honored in 2000. The Honorees are selected by the executive committee of the center’s board of trustees, with input earlier in the process from Kaiser and awards producer George Stevens Jr.

“Much of my career has been spent working with artists of color,” Kaiser said in the letter. “I have been passionate about presenting excellence and div­ersity in artistic and educational programming, and Latino arts and programs have enjoyed a dynamic presence.”

Sanchez, however, said Friday that the letter does not close the matter.

“I completely accept the apology over the intemperate remarks,” Sanchez said. “But I still think the Kennedy Center has to acknowledge the exclusion and make a commitment to some systematic changes with the show, which was not addressed in the letter. You can’t have excluded a community for a third of a century and not acknowledge it formally, that in fact this was a big mistake. . . . Anything less is a good first step but a long way from resolving the issue.”

In concluding his letter, Kaiser said, “I assure you that the concerns you raised during our conversation were heard and will be given serious consideration.”

Read Michael Kaiser’s letter to Felix Sanchez here.

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