Everything you needed to know about Sunday’s Kennedy Center’s Spring Gala was wrapped up in one word: Nostalgia.
The party was outgoing president Michael Kaiser’s last public hurrah, and he selected the night’s theme: “Camelot” and a performance of the iconic 1960 musical forever linked to President Kennedy.
“In many ways, the Camelot era at the Kennedy Center will be the time that Michael Kaiser was here,” chairman David Rubenstein told the crowd. “Because he had a magical time and was a magical leader — and for that we’re very much indebted to him.”
Kaiser arrived in 2001 and spent more than 13 years at the helm, where’s he’s credited with creating world-class arts programming and yet somehow still managed a budget surplus every single year.
“Not until Michael Kaiser came did the Kennedy Center really live up to the ambitions its’ founders had for it,” praised Rubenstein. Since there’s no Kennedy Center Honor for arts management (yet), the board honored Kaiser as “President Emeritus” — the first such title bestowed in the center’s 43-year-old history and to be carved on the front of the building.
The man of the hour, who received an extended standing ovation when he walked on the Concert Hall stage, was a little verklempt about it all.
“It’s a nostalgic moment,” he told us. “I planned my departure, so I’m excited about what I’ll be doing next. But you also look back warmly about the things you’ve been able to accomplish and the people you worked with. It’s been really wonderful.”
Always a workhorse (he barely took any vacation during his entire tenure), Kaiser will be juggling two new jobs: head of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland, and vice chair at IMG, where he’ll produce arts festivals around the globe. His last day at the center is Sept. 1, but the gala was the last public thank you and raised $2.7 million, a record for the event.
The performance was preceded by a lush dinner with an 11th-century gothic setting; guests included incoming president Deborah Rutter, former KenCen chairman Jim Johnson (who recruited Kaiser), former White House Social Secretary Ann Stock, who worked for Kasier for a decade, and his husband and parents.