Is Michael Kaiser a Demigod or Merely Superhuman?


Michael KaiserThere can be no question that the massive outreach effort being spearheaded by Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to help struggling nonprofit organizations survive the recession makes him one of the foremost heroes of our time. The program, called Arts in Crisis, is a paragon for arts advocates and business-minded creatives alike; it is almost certain that when the nation someday emerges from this dreadful fiscal trough, Kaiser’s innovative work and tireless efforts will be remembered as one of the key reasons why only some nonprofits, not most, slipped sadly into oblivion.

The program, according to its website, is:

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…designed to provide planning assistance and consulting to struggling arts organizations throughout the United States. Open to non-profit 501(c)(3) performing arts organizations, the program will provide counsel from Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser and the Kennedy Center executive staff in the areas of fundraising, building more effective Boards of Trustees, budgeting, marketing, technology, and other areas pertinent to maintaining a vital performing arts organization during a troubled economy.

Now, with economic uncertainty keeping the nonprofit arts world in full gloom, the program is being expanded, per this Associated Press story:

Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser will meet with arts leaders in all 50 states and Puerto Rico over the next year, he said, beginning with visits to New York, Kalamazoo, Mich., Indianapolis and six other cities in the next two months.

Since February, the center’s “Arts in Crisis” initiative has offered emergency planning advice for fundraising, budgeting, marketing or other strategies as box office revenues decline, along with donations and endowment income. Groups that cut their programming budgets won’t be able to compete for funding that remains, Kaiser said.

“Right now, the truth is with so much less being given to the arts … it means arts organizations have to compete harder for the money that is out there,” Kaiser said.

My question is this, with sincere apologies if the headline I chose for this post raised too many hackles with its saucy impertinence: Can Michael Kaiser by himself really save the nonprofit arts world? I totally heart his tour — this map outlines his stops scheduled so far, including sites in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Sacramento, San Francisco, Baltimore, Detroit and New York, plus the likes of Kalamazoo, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Seattle, Tacoma, Madison and Minneapolis/St. Paul. Still, does there possibly exist the danger that Kaiser’s insights and guidance could be stretched too thin? There is also, one might note, a mentor program within Arts in Crisis — it might be good for the effort to start developing some numbers so the impression doesn’t take hold that Kaiser is a walking, talking, living demigod. We all need Kaiser’s genius at keeping boats afloat, but I suspect we need to clone him, too.