BSO taps ‘Turnaround King’ to advise on strategic plan

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Photo by Maryland GovPics on Flickr.

Michael Kaiser, the arts administrator once dubbed the “Turnaround King” for his ability to rebuild flagging institutions, is set to advise the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on its plan for a more stable financial future, the orchestra announced today.

Credited with the revival of the American Ballet Theatre, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation, Kansas City Ballet and Royal Opera House in London, Kaiser started running the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in 2001.

While there, he founded the Kennedy Center Arts Management Institute, later renamed for Betsy and Dick DeVos after they donated $22.5 million, to help other arts organizations boost their finances. In 2014 Kaiser left the Kennedy Center and relocated the institute to the University of Maryland.

As The Washington Post outlined in a 2013 profile, Kaiser developed a plan called “The Cycle” to show how art, marketing and fundraising can work collaboratively to grow over time. Most arts institutions fail due to a lack of resources, he told the Post, and don’t do enough to promote the work.

“You’re so worried about money, instead of talking about the great exciting thing you can do, you talk about what you’re going to cut. It’s done with the best of intentions, but it just doesn’t work.”

In a statement, Kaiser said it “will be an honor” to consult on a path forward for the BSO.

“The Baltimore Symphony has long been one of the great arts institutions in the nation,”
he said. “It will be an honor to work with the Board, staff and musicians to chart a course that allows for consistent artistic accomplishment in the years ahead.”

The move was praised by both management and a representative for the musicians, who earlier this year clashed in a labor battle that resulted in a summer-long lockout. As part of a one-year agreement brokered in September, the two sides pledged to create a “Vision Committee” to develop a sustainable path forward for the orchestra.

“The year ahead will be pivotal for the BSO, and we are deeply grateful that generous supporters of the Orchestra have enabled us to engage Michael Kaiser,” BSO President and CEO Peter Kjome said in a statement. “With the active involvement of stakeholders across the organization, our efforts working with Michael will result in a compelling plan that better integrates artistic vision and business strategies.”

Percussionist Brian Prechtl, chair of the BSO Players Committee, said in a statement: “The musicians are very encouraged to have Michael Kaiser on board to help preserve the amazing orchestra that has been built here over the last 104 years. Michael recognizes that compelling art is the key to helping arts organizations prosper.”

Kaiser comes on days after the orchestra’s conductor, Marin Alsop, expressed frustrations during a legislative working group meeting on the BSO’s finances, saying the orchestra doesn’t “talk about the art first.” She also said she is “nearing the end” of her time leading the orchestra.

As The Sun reported, Alsop’s remarks came in the middle of a presentation by Kaiser, who said economic challenges tend to lead to more conservative artistic choices.

“The number one thing it takes to be a financially healthy arts organization is to create really amazing art,” he said.

The central point of contention in the labor dispute earlier this year was the BSO’s status as a year-round ensemble. Kjome called for reducing the band’s concert calendar from 52 weeks to 40 weeks, citing losses of $16 million over the last decade.

The musicians countered with figures showing they were underpaid compared to their contemporaries, and said reducing the orchestra’s schedule would only hurts its reputation and ability to retain top talent.

Under the new agreement, running through Sept. 6, 2020, musicians received a 2.4 percent pay increase for a 38-week concert season, plus two weeks of summer performances. They also got year-round benefits, including medical, dental, vision, life, long-term disability and instrument insurance, and four weeks of paid vacation during the concert season.

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore Business Journal, b and others. Prior to joining Baltimore Fishbowl, he was an editor at City Paper from 2012 to 2017. He can be reached at [email protected]
Brandon Weigel


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