Sunday, June 3, 2007

Three Days at the Kennedy Center

Anne Murphy Douglas, President of the Board of Theatre IV, and Bennett Fidlow, new Board member at Barksdale Theatre, joined Phil and me for a three-day seminar with Michael Kaiser and others at the Kennedy Center. We returned yesterday afternoon after a highly informative, intensive and fun learning experience. We’re eager to put our newfound insights to good use here in Richmond.

For those who don’t know, Michael Kaiser (who also recently spoke at the University of Richmond’s Modlin Center) is a world-renowned arts leader. Prior to becoming President of the Kennedy Center in 2001, Michael served as Executive Director of the Royal Opera House (the largest performing arts organization in the UK), Executive Director of American Ballet Theatre, Executive Director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater (the world’s largest modern dance organization), and General Manager of the Kansas City Ballet.

Spending two and a half days with Michael feels a little like cramming a year of arts administration training into 20 hours. Part of his brilliance is that he is able to speak clearly and simply, boiling down his extensive experience and research into comprehensible two-hour sessions. His focus areas at seminars such as this include Building an Effective and Energized Board, Strategic Planning, and Institutional Marketing. Other senior executives from the Kennedy Center staff spoke from their areas of expertise: Business Management, Development, Technology and Program Marketing.

Phil and I have been in our positions for 32 years, and never have I felt more in sync with a speaker. In point after point, it was clear that Michael knew exactly what he was talking about. And the points he made applied not only to mammoth international organizations (the Kennedy Center has an annual budget of approximately $160 million) but also to large regional organizations like Barksdale Theatre and Theatre IV (combined annual budgets of approximately $5 million).

If you’ve been to many seminars like this, you know that experts can sometimes speak for hours in a theoretical realm, offering little practical advice. Michael knows how to cut to the chase—how to identify the challenges we face and then offer specific suggestions on how to address these challenges. It really was a terrific learning experience, very validating, mind-stretching and informative.

Special thanks to the Virginia Commission for the Arts for funding our participation through their Technical Assistance grant program, and to Anne and Bennett for giving up their time to join us. This is one seminar that I think will pay off handsomely in the futures of Barksdale Theatre, Theatre IV and the Metro Richmond arts scene in general.

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