Role models of greatness.

Here you will discover the back stories of kings, titans of industry, stellar athletes, giants of the entertainment field, scientists, politicians, artists and heroes – all of them gay or bisexual men. If their lives can serve as role models to young men who have been bullied or taught to think less of themselves for their sexual orientation, all the better. The sexual orientation of those featured here did not stand in the way of their achievements.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Michael Kaiser

Michael Kaiser (b. 1953), president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, married his long-term partner John Roberts (at right in photo by Margot Shulman), an economist, on August 31, 2013.

The wedding took place at the Kennedy Center with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg officiating. The ceremony marked the first time a Supreme Court justice had married a same sex couple. Justice Ginsburg, 80 years old and a long-time friend of Kaiser, is an opera enthusiast and frequent patron of the Kennedy Center. The recent Supreme Court rulings about same sex marriage did not influence the wedding between Kaiser and Roberts, because it has been legal for same sex residents of the District of Columbia to marry since 2009.

Kaiser’s expertise in arts management has earned him international renown from his work with American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Opera House, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Kansas City Ballet. A native of New York City, he early on aspired to be an opera singer but soon realized his deficiency in that field. He instead went on to earn degrees in economics and management and in 1981 founded Kaiser Associates, a strategic planning company with elite clients such as IBM and General Motors. He changed fields in 1985 when he became general manager of the Kansas City Ballet, an arts institution that was on the brink of bankruptcy at the time. During his six years at the helm, the ballet company experienced a complete turnaround, able to pay off its debt and attract larger audiences as a result of Kaiser’s programming initiatives and management skills. In 1988 his family suffered a personal crisis resulting in Kaiser’s donating a kidney to his sister, Susan.

In 1991 Kaiser became executive director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, also in dire straights, and achieved similar success. An even greater challenge came in 1995, when Kaiser became executive director of American Ballet Theatre, then sinking under $5.5 million in accumulated debt. Once again, Kaiser worked a near miracle, and within three years all of the debt was retired, while reaching larger audiences and expanding the company’s educational initiatives. During that time the Chicago Tribune dubbed Kaiser the “Turnaround King.”

His greatest challenge and most spectacular results began in 1998 with his leadership of the Royal Opera House in London, home to both the Royal Ballet and Royal Opera. Burdened with a projected $30 million deficit while in the middle of a major renovation, the institution was in crisis artistically, with an acrimonious board of directors, a tarnished reputation and openly critical patrons. Michael Kaiser came to the rescue, and then some. Within two years, the deficit was somehow paid off, the new building paid for and opened, and an endowment fund established to protect the security of the Royal Opera House's future. Kaiser’s success was nothing short of miraculous.

Michael Kaiser photographed by Nancy Ellison:

But he was just getting warmed up. In 2001 Kaiser was named president of the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington DC, a position he holds to this day. While the Kennedy Center was financially stable, Kaiser set about enhancing its status as our nation’s center for the performing arts. His first theatrical festivals (notably six musicals by Stephen Sondheim) set box office records. He negotiated long-term associations between the Kennedy Center and Russian and English ballet, opera and drama companies. He organized international festivals that brought many arts organizations and performers to American audiences for the first time. He pumped new life into the Kennedy Center’s jazz music and family-oriented programming while increasing its annual education budget to $25 million, more than any other arts organization. Kaiser created the Kennedy Center Arts Management Institute, which provides advanced training for young arts administrators, as well as a mentoring service for national ethnic arts groups. As well, Kaiser established a fellows program that allows student and practicing arts managers to experience the day-to-day workings of the center’s marketing, fund raising, programming and operations functions.

In 2009 Kaiser launched Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative that provides cost-free arts management consultation for non-profit 501-c-3 performing arts organizations across the nation. Later that year he became a weekly blogger for the Huffington Post. As well, Kaiser serves as a cultural ambassador for the U.S. Department of State. He is the author of five books, three of them related to arts management. Among many awards and recognitions, Michael Kaiser was named Washingtonian of the Year in 2004, became the first American to receive China’s Award for Cultural Exchange (2005) and was the recipient of the Kahlil Gibran Spirit of Humanity Award by the Arab American Institute Foundation (2009).

Let’s wish Mr. Kaiser as much success in his recent marriage as in his professional endeavors.

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