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Kennedy Center Offers Non-profits a Helping Hand; NEA Gets New Acting Chairman

Arts organizations struggling to keep their doors open and pay staff have a new ally in their fight for survival. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced Tuesday the creation of a program to provide non-profit organizations free counseling in fundraising, marketing and budgeting to help them weather the current economic crisis.

Advice will be provided online, over the phone and — in some cases — with visits from Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser or members of the center’s executive staff. Organizations interested in getting help can sign up at the Arts in Crisis Web site.

Kaiser, who has a long track record of rescuing failing arts institutions, said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that the economic environment is the worst he has ever seen. He is particularly concerned about organizations with high levels of fixed cost, such as orchestras, and ones in hard-hit areas of the country such as Detroit with its failing auto industry and New York with its drop in the financial sector.

“I am most concerned about midsized organizations,” Kaiser said. “Very small organizations have great practice in being flexible. Very large ones have a donor base and endowments to help see them through. Midsize organizations have neither and tend to be less flexible.”

The program will also allow senior arts managers from across the country to volunteer as mentors and assist groups in need in their area.

Kaiser said he expects the program to last at least a year and a half or until the downturn starts to wane. Arts in Crisis is supported by $500,000 from Kennedy Center board member Helen Lee Henderson and Miami philanthropist Adrienne Arsht. Kaiser indicated the money will fund some new staff and travel costs.

Here is Michael Kaiser discussing the economic challenges facing the arts in a NewsHour discussion last month:

Also Tuesday, the National Endowment for the Arts announced Patrice Walker Powell will serve as the agency’s acting chair. She replaces Dana Gioia, who stepped down from the post last month after six years on the job. The economic stimulus bill recently passed by the House of Representatives includes $50 million for the NEA to create jobs in the arts sector. The Senate version of the bill does not include NEA funding, and it remains unclear if the provision will make it through to final passage.

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