Episode: Michael Kaiser To Ailing Arts Groups: 'Don't Play It Safe'

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Michael Kaiser To Ailing Arts Groups: 'Don't Play It Safe'

If you've ever looked out on an orchestra audience and marveled at all of the gray hair and empty seats, the next question that may enter your mind is, how will this picture look in 10, 20 or 30 years? And should I be alarmed?

In this week's episode, Michael Kaiser, known as the arts world's "Mr. Fix-It," gives some less-than-rosy answers – as well as some advice for orchestras and opera companies.

For 14 years, Kaiser was president of Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center, and before that, he helped rescue faltering organizations including the Royal Opera House, American Ballet Theater and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Kaiser currently serves as president of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland. His new book is Curtains?: The Future of the Arts in America.

Kaiser tells Naomi Lewin that the financial model of arts organizations has become unsustainable as aging audiences aren't replaced by enough younger patrons. He points to several related maladies: the lack of standard arts education, fatigued donors, and especially, cheaper online entertainment options that will continue to siphon away audiences.

But Kaiser believes playing it safe is the wrong response. "As arts organizations have gotten more and more scared about the changing world, there's been a pressure to do 'what sells' and do 'the popular stuff' because that's what's going to bring in ticket buyers," said Kaiser. "The problem is, if everyone does Beethoven's Ninth or everyone does Swan Lake, a) we get very dull, and b) there are many versions of Beethoven's Ninth that you can get online. We compete less well with online entertainment and we look less interesting and surprising."

Listen to the podcast to hear what Kaiser has to say about HD movie theater broadcasts – and what he would do if he were running the Metropolitan Opera.

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