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The Art of the Turnaround

Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations

Michael M. Kaiser

Publication Year: 2008

Practical advice (supported by extensive case studies) for fixing troubled arts organizations Many arts organizations today find themselves in financial difficulties because of economic constraints inherent in the industry. While other companies can improve productivity through the use of new technologies or better systems, these approaches are not available in the arts. Hamlet requires the same number of performers today as it did in Shakespeare’s time. The New York Philharmonic requires the same number of musicians now as it did when Tchaikovsky conducted it over one hundred years ago. Costs go up, but the size of theaters and the price resistance of patrons limit what can be earned from ticket sales. Therefore, the performing arts industry faces a severe gap between earnings and expenses. Typical approaches to closing the gap—raising ticket prices or cutting artistic or marketing expenses—don’t work. What, then, does it take to create and maintain a healthy arts organization? Michael M. Kaiser has revived four major arts organizations: the Kansas City Ballet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, and London’s Royal Opera House. In The Art of the Turnaround he shares with readers his ten basic rules for bringing financially distressed arts organizations back to life and keeping them strong. These rules cover the requirements for successful leadership, the pitfalls of cost cutting, the necessity of extending the programming calendar, the centrality of effective marketing and fund raising, and the importance of focusing on the present with a positive public message. In chapters organized chronologically, Kaiser brings his ten rules vividly to life in discussions of the four arts organizations he is credited with saving. The book concludes with a chapter on his experiences at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an arts organization that needed an artistic turnaround when he became the president in 2001 and that today exemplifies in practice many of the ten rules he discusses throughout his book.

Published by: Brandeis University Press

Cover Front

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pp. c-iv


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

My father wanted me to be a dentist because he said I would always be in demand. I have a different suggestion for those seeking a secure profession: make a career of turning around troubled performing arts organizations. In my twenty-plus-year career, I have found no shortage of job opportunities....

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The Art of the Turnaround: Ten Rules

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pp. 1-14

All turnarounds are different and yet all turnarounds are the same. While the size of the problem, the organization’s visibility, the involvement of government agencies, and the personalities of the key players may vary, in almost every case, one enters an organization that is suffering from poor cash flow, negative press, and angry artists, staff, donors, and board...

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Case One: Kansas City Ballet

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pp. 15-31

In the summer of 1985 I sold Michael M. Kaiser Associates, a management consulting firm I opened in 1981. The firm offered strategic planning support to numerous Fortune 500 corporations. We specialized in studying the way industries were evolving and the strategies competitors were embracing to respond....

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Case Two: Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation

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pp. 32-60

In September of 1990, after a stint at the Pierpont Morgan Library, I was approached about the possibility of running the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. I had collaborated with Alvin in Kansas City and was a huge fan of his work. Alvin had died nine months earlier at a tragically young age. The company, under the new artistic director, Judith...

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Case Three: American Ballet Theatre

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pp. 61-101

After the rigors of running Ailey, I decided to renew myself by spending some time consulting to other arts organizations. I received a call shortly after I started my consulting business from Gary Dunning, the very talented executive director of American Ballet Theatre (ABT). He had recently been asked to take the helm of this troubled dance company...

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Case Four: Royal Opera House

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pp. 102-141

Simply told, the story of my becoming executive director of the Royal Opera House goes like this: I heard the job was open through an article in the New York Times, I sent a letter to the chairman asking to be considered, and I was asked to a series of interviews after which I was offered the job....

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Case Five: The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

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pp. 142-175

Shortly after my resignation from the Royal Opera House was announced, I was phoned by Jim Wolfensohn, then chairman of the World Bank, asking whether I would be interested in running the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. I had known Jim casually for some years and had spent a little time with him during my tenure in...

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pp. 176-178

When I started working in the arts, I did not know how to do a turnaround. The experiences at the Kansas City Ballet were clearly hit-or-miss. But I did know how to observe and analyze and I have always been painfully honest, especially about my own failures. The “most important 52 feet campaign” at the Kansas City Ballet was a mistake. But it taught me a...

Index of Names

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pp. 179-184

Cover Back

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p. bc-bc

E-ISBN-13: 9781584658146
E-ISBN-10: 1584658142
Print-ISBN-13: 9781584657354
Print-ISBN-10: 1584657359

Page Count: 204
Publication Year: 2008