As The Kennedy Center celebrates its 30th birthday, correspondent Jeffrey Brown profiles the cultural institution and its new president, Michael Kaiser.
JEFFREY BROWN: At Washington's Kennedy Center for the performing arts this summer, the stagehands unloaded the latest production.
SPOKESMAN: Okay. Got the line out.
JEFFREY BROWN: Once inside, the floor was put down...
SPOKESMAN: Stage right.
JEFFREY BROWN:...Lighting set, scenery moved into place. A last minute mopping up... (Horn playing) ...Some final notes on the horn. Add an audience, and on with the show.
SINGERS: Another op'nin' another show in Philly, Boston or Baltimo'...
JEFFREY BROWN: The famous opening number from the 1948 Cole Porter classic, "Kiss Me Kate," a fine theme song for the Kennedy Center, the nation's busiest arts palace, where the show goes on more than 3,200 times every year. Splashy musicals...
ACTOR: What are you?
ACTRESS: I don't know.
ACTOR: Do you believe in God?
ACTRESS: I don't know.
JEFFREY BROWN:...And dark drama; jazz, pop, and the national symphony orchestra under Leonard Slatkin. (Orchestra playing) Eclectic spectacles of all kinds, including a free performance every day at 6:00 P.M. Modern dance, ballet and grand opera from Placido Domingo's Washington opera. (Singing opera)
MICHAEL KAISER: Hey.
WOMAN: Hey, Michael. How are you doing?
JEFFREY BROWN: Behind it all, a performer of a different kind, operating in slightly less dramatic scenes.
MICHAEL KAISER: Where are we?
WOMAN: Well, I'll give you a little update.
JEFFREY BROWN: Reporter: 47-year-old Michael Kaiser is the new president of the Kennedy Center. His mission: Make the center an artistic leader in the nation and beyond. As a youth, he dreamed of a career on stage. Later, putting that aside, he earned an MBA from MIT. In an era when cities all over the country are sprouting arts centers, Kaiser is part business school professor, part high culture P.T. Barnum, spinning a simple formula for success. We talked in the Kennedy Center's terrace theater.
JEFFREY BROWN: You have a mantra, which seems to come up all the time, which I get down to, "great art, well marketed."
MICHAEL KAISER: Absolutely, that's my mantra, and it's exactly right. You start with what are you trying to put on the stage? What is your mission? What is the programming we're going to do? How do we make that spectacular? And then how do we let people know about it, both people who will buy tickets, but also people who might contribute funds to allow us to forward that great art. If you do those two things well, any arts organization will be successful.
MICHAEL KAISER: (in meeting) Do you think this reverse dot type is going to show? I've always found that reverse dot small type you can't read.
JEFFREY BROWN: A day in Kaiser's life involves everything from checking the type size for the latest ad campaign to schmoozing with "Kiss Me Kate" star, Rex Smith.
MICHAEL KAISER: How are you? You're all set for this?
REX SMITH: Huh?
MICHAEL KAISER: You're all set for this?
REX SMITH: I'm very excited about it. You know, there's one thing. I think one of the light bulbs is a little dim on my makeup mirror. I didn't know if you were the guy to come to.
MICHAEL KAISER: I'm it. I'm it. I'll fix it.
REX SMITH: Okay, thank you.
MICHAEL KAISER: And always keeping track of ticket sales. All part of managing more than 1,100 employees, seven stages, and a unique institution. First created by Congress and President Eisenhower in 1958 as a national cultural center, it was given a big push by John Kennedy.
PRESIDENT JOHN KENNEDY: I am certain that after the dusk of centuries has passed over our cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.
JEFFREY BROWN: The center was later named for the slain president as a living memorial, and after many delays, opened in 1971. Kaiser is its sixth chief executive.
MICHAEL KAISER: I don't feel like my job is any less creative than those who grew up performing on the stage.
JEFFREY BROWN: Indeed, Kaiser has often needed to be creative.
MICHAEL KAISER: Are the costumes there, or are they here?
WOMAN: No, they're delivering them on Monday.
JEFFREY BROWN: He made his name as a kind of emergency room doctor, bringing fiscal health to debt- ridden institutions; among them, the Kansas City Ballet, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, the American Ballet Theater, and most recently, London's Royal Opera House, Britain's largest performing arts organization. His successes have won him the title, "Turnaround King."
MICHAEL KAISER: What happens in troubled arts organizations, not surprisingly, is they stop thinking about the art because they're so busy cutting back, and they stop thinking about the marketing because it's so easy to cut back on marketing expenditures if you don't have enough money. And they get in a very vicious spiral where less art and less marketing creates less money, creates less art and less marketing, creates less money, and you get into that very, very bad situation.
JEFFREY BROWN: I remember reading at the American Ballet Theater how you described unscrewing every second light bulb.
MICHAEL KAISER: We did, and we had no Xerox paper, and we had no point shoes by the end, as I arrived.
JEFFREY BROWN: No point shoes, and this is one of the premier dance theaters.
MICHAEL KAISER: Absolutely. Absolutely. So it is extraordinarily scary. You don't have the money to make your payroll. You know, the Xerox paper is inexpensive, your payroll isn't.
JEFFREY BROWN: The dancers actually feared their paychecks?
MICHAEL KAISER: Absolutely. Oh, there's no question. At the Alvin Ailey Company as well, there had been a few weeks where the dancers hadn't been paid before I arrived, and...
JEFFREY BROWN: So what do you say to them?
MICHAEL KAISER: You say, "Trust me," which is difficult if they don't know you. "Trust me, I'm going to work my butt off to get you the resources you need." And then you go out and you do it.
JEFFREY BROWN: The Kennedy Center, fiscally healthy compared to his other posts, presents a different challenge, and Kaiser has ambitious plans.
MICHAEL KAISER: Tell me where were the origins of their acceptances.
JEFFREY BROWN: He's raised funds to start an arts management-training center, a kind of on- the-job MBA for future managers. On the artistic side...
MICHAEL KAISER: Hello, maestro.
JEFFREY BROWN: ...Kaiser wants to reestablish the Kennedy Center as a producer, rather than just a presenter, of theater and other works. To that end, he's staging a six- musical Steven Sondheim Festival next spring. And then there's his goal to expand the physical plant.
MICHAEL KAISER: The thought would be to build, if you will, a campus for the performing arts, which will have rehearsal space, office space, the Kennedy Center performance space, and a museum that you could easily get to from downtown.
JEFFREY BROWN: Surrounded on one side by the Potomac River and on the other by a web of highways, the Kennedy Center is literally an isolated island of culture. If federal funding comes through-- a big if-- the plan is to create a pedestrian-friendly zone, with the highways and parking underneath. Kaiser must do all this while keeping ticket prices affordable. It can cost a family of four as much as $300 to see a ballet or a play or attend the symphony at the Kennedy Center, much more for the opera. Kaiser says there's a central economic fact that separates the performing arts from other industries.
MICHAEL KAISER: It's the same number of people who perform "Kiss Me Kate" today as performed "Kiss Me Kate" when it was written 50 years ago. It's the same number of people who perform "Don Giovanni" as when Mozart wrote it over 200 years ago. We have the same number of seats in our theaters as we had when we built the Kennedy Center 30 years ago. You can't improve productivity, and yet costs go up. So how do you pay for that? And what we're constantly striving to do is balance the ability of the audience to pay and the need for us to pay our bills.
JEFFREY BROWN: Congress provides some money, but most of the difference between what the audience can pay and the center's expenses comes from private sources: wealthy individuals and corporations. Kaiser says he must raise $48 million next year.
JEFFREY BROWN: For all of the vision, the performances, the art, running through everything is money.
MICHAEL KAISER: Absolutely. You have to pay for it.
JEFFREY BROWN: Money, money, money, money. It's like the song from "cabaret": "Money makes the world go 'round."
MICHAEL KAISER: It certainly makes the arts world go 'round. All of the time in the back of your mind is, "how am I going to pay for all of this?" What you try and do is to maintain a balance so that when you meet people, you're not just thinking about how much money they can give you, but you're also appreciating them as people, and there's sometimes a challenge there.
JEFFREY BROWN: You see a wealthy individual and you go to meet them with one thing in mind.
MICHAEL KAISER: Usually. It's to try and see if they'll buy into the vision that I have for the Kennedy Center and if they're going to be supportive of that vision.
JEFFREY BROWN: You want them to buy into the vision...
MICHAEL KAISER: Yeah.
JEFFREY BROWN: ...But you want them to write you a check.
MICHAEL KAISER: You do, but it's a quid pro quo. The joy of fund-raising... And I love fund-raising, believe it or not. The joy of it...
JEFFREY BROWN: You love fund- raising?
MICHAEL KAISER: I do. I'm that weird animal that just loves to raise money. Because it's not money for me, it doesn't go into my pocket. It's money to support projects that I think are important. And the fun part of that is that the donor is getting an experience as well. It's not begging.
JEFFREY BROWN: We're in a city in which there's a lot of worry and conversation about the role of money in politics, and the potential corrupting role.
MICHAEL KAISER: Right.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is there the potential for corruption of the arts through such an emphasis on money, big money?
MICHAEL KAISER: There is, if you aren't very, very clear with all of your donors from the start, that those who give money to the arts of any size do not control the artistic product. The corruption comes in when you start to let people affect the artistic product because they're giving you money to pay for it. That must not happen.
SINGERS: It's another opening of another show the overture is about to start another show!
JEFFREY BROWN: And it is, in the end, the artistic product on Kaiser will be judged. His goal: Expand the center's reach and impact.
MICHAEL KAISER: This is America's national performing arts center, and it is for everybody.
JEFFREY BROWN: And how will you judge success?
MICHAEL KAISER: I'll judge success when I look at the work on the stage, and if I think it's excellent.
JEFFREY BROWN: This weekend, Kaiser oversees the Kennedy Center's 30th anniversary celebration.