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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.