The Hidden Truth of the Kennedy Center’s "Arts in Crisis" Initiative?

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There is no question the recently unveiled Arts in Crisis initiative of the Kennedy Center represents an important moment — good and bad — for the nonprofit arts movement in the nation. It’s good that an organization with the heft and might of the Kennedy Center would recognize the fiscal moment we’re in and, as its press release states, “provide free consulting from both Kennedy Center President Michael M. Kaiser and members of the Kennedy Center’s executive staff.” It’s bad in the sense that it points up just how dire things are becoming in the sector. It also occurs to me that this is the sort of the thing that commercial Broadway producers would never do for their nonprofit (or commercial) Off- and Off-Off-Broadway brethren.

Something bothers me, though, and it should bother you, too. I learned of the initiative through coverage in the Washington Post, in which Kaiser is naturally quoted extensively. Read this:

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The center’s president said he is not as concerned about smaller organizations — which are used to dealing with difficult situations — as he is about groups that are misdirecting efforts at downsizing. “I’m worried that people are cutting the wrong things first, and that makes it much harder to compete for funding,” he said. “Those who cut the programming first wouldn’t look as attractive to the funders.”

Yes, the first sentence is the Post’s — the writer is Jacqueline E. Trescott — but the set up for Kaiser’s quote sounds like the Kennedy Center is going to make it clear that larger organizations will get priority and more focused attention. In other words, everyone is getting into lifeboats, but Kaiser says that only the wealthiest adults may be saved. If true, that’s shameful.