Skip to Content
MIT News magazine

Michael Kaiser, SM ’77

Breathing new life into arts organizations
December 22, 2008

Michael Kaiser has been hailed as a turnaround king for rejuvenating major arts organizations including the Kansas City Ballet, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation, the Royal Opera House, and the American Ballet Theater. Now president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, he has received numerous honors for his work; in 2006, he was named Musical America’s Impresario of the Year.

But ask Kaiser about his greatest accomplishment and you might be surprised: he says it was to donate a kidney to his sister in 1988. Susan, who has severe diabetes, nearly died from renal failure; her kidneys are fine today.

Kaiser earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and music at Brandeis University in 1975 and a master’s in management at MIT, and he’s been breathing life into organizations ever since. After MIT, he formed his own strategic management consulting business and worked with clients such as Corning Glass Works and IBM, but he sold his firm in 1985 to move into arts management. His early efforts saved organizations on the brink of dissolution. But the Kennedy Center, where he arrived in 2001, was in no such danger; instead, his mandate was to raise its stature. He has done just that by vastly expanding its educational and artistic programs. A 2002 Stephen Sondheim celebration was one of his innovations, and he has revitalized relationships with international groups, including the Kirov Ballet and Opera.

Kaiser also trains thousands of his colleagues worldwide in management skills for the arts. “Offering our expertise internationally helps to rebuild relationships with other cultures and improves our country’s image,” he says. He recently published his fourth book, The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations, and he’s now writing a book about his international work. He also recently created Artsmanager.org, a website that provides resources to arts managers globally.

Kaiser says that his work is as creative as that of any performer. He trained as an opera singer in high school, then studied privately in Boston and at Tanglewood. “But I knew, by age 21, that I wasn’t good enough to be a professional opera singer,” he says. “Then I discovered how fascinating arts management was, when I served on the board of the Washington Opera [from 1983 to 1985].”

MIT also inspired him: “It was astonishing to see how financial systems work through courses with luminaries like [Nobel laureate] Bob Merton, who was the best teacher I’ve ever had.”

During rare moments of leisure at home in Washington, Kaiser enjoys watching performances of a different kind–football, baseball, and basketball.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

The Steiner tree problem:  Connect a set of points with line segments of minimum total length.
The Steiner tree problem:  Connect a set of points with line segments of minimum total length.

The 50-year-old problem that eludes theoretical computer science

A solution to P vs NP could unlock countless computational problems—or keep them forever out of reach.

section of Rima Sharp captured by the LRO
section of Rima Sharp captured by the LRO

The moon didn’t die as early as we thought

Samples from China’s lunar lander could change everything we know about the moon’s volcanic record.

conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other
conceptual illustration of a heart with an arrow going in on one side and a cursor coming out on the other

Forget dating apps: Here’s how the net’s newest matchmakers help you find love

Fed up with apps, people looking for romance are finding inspiration on Twitter, TikTok—and even email newsletters.

ASML machine
ASML machine

Inside the machine that saved Moore’s Law

The Dutch firm ASML spent $9 billion and 17 years developing a way to keep making denser computer chips.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.