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February 5, 2009

Brisk start for Kennedy Center's Arts in Crisis project

Michael KaiserAs of this afternoon, more than 100 requests for help have come in since Tuesday's announcement of Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative. That project, spearheaded by Michael Kaiser, Kennedy Center president and reigning guru of arts management (especially when it comes to crisis), aims to provide "emergency planning assistance" as the recession gnaws at non-profits.

The program offers "free and confidential counsel in fundraising, building more effective boards of trustees, budgeting, marketing, and other areas pertinent to maintaining a vital performing arts organization during a troubled economy." In addition to direct help from senior staffers, the initiative is coordinating a mentoring program with arts management mentors from around the country who are volunteering their services.

There have been 50 requests for mentors so far, along with 110 requests for the services of Kennedy Center staff, press office chief John Dow told me today. "Michael has read every single one," Dow says, "and he's sorting them to which staff member is most likely to provide assistance."

Kaiser's expertise in this field -- he is credited with rescuing such famed institutions as the American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and London's Royal Opera House from perilous financial situations -- should prove invaluable as this initiative proceeds. Although his familiar don't-cut-the-art-while-cutting-costs philosophy may seem impossible to follow now,  it's more essential than ever. 

One thing that might help things is the relatively paltry $50 million targeted for the NEA in some versions of the massive bailout bill painfully taking shape on the Hill. But, naturally, some myopic congressmen have assailed that possibility, apparently unable to notice the positive and multi-faceted economic impact the arts can make in every community in every state. Eliminating support for the arts in the stimulus package is a sure way to guarantee that the Kennedy Center initiative will not run out of needy clients.    


Posted by Tim Smith at 5:40 PM | | Comments (0)

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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