Management expertise from exec ranks also will be provided

WASHINGTON — The Kennedy Center has launched an initiative to assist minority-based theaters with management expertise aimed at building their financial strength.

Unveiled Oct. 15 was a program that will dispatch the center’s eager cadre of Vilar Institute Fellows to assist selected arts orgs. Management expertise from its executive ranks also will be provided.

Called the Capacity Building Program for Culturally Specific Arts Organizations, it is funded with a $500,000 grant from the SBC Foundation, the philanthropic arm of telcom giant SBC Communications.

The center will begin the effort with a pilot involving 15 arts orgs from throughout the U.S. The number will be expanded early next year.

In a separate but related move, the center said it would partner with San Antonio’s Alameda Theater, aka the city’s National Center for Latino Arts & Culture (Variety, Aug. 26-Sept. 1). The relationship will provide opportunities to support the Alameda’s management and artistic development. It will also set the stage for future relationships of the sort.

The minority theater project grew out of a Vilar Institute symposium held last March at Yale U. on “Managing Theaters of Color,” attended by eight theater companies from across the country.

For the ambitious Michael M. Kaiser, Kennedy Center president, the initiative represents a reprise of his role as “Mr. Fix-it” for ailing arts orgs and fulfillment of personal goals to improve the health of the arts in general. His previous stints as executive director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation and other consulting assignments supplied a deep familiarity with the problems facing minority arts groups, along with high credibility with their management.

“We don’t have all the answers,” Kaiser concedes. “But we will work together to find solutions to their problems.” Kaiser said he would be personally involved in all aspects of the program.

Kaiser believes the center’s role as a national leader for the performing arts provides it unique standing — and obligation — to support these arts organizations as they face the issues of visibility, subscale budgets and the loss of artists and works to more mainstream counterparts.

In a word, that problem is money. Even the largest minority-run theater or dance ensemble typically struggles with a budget of less than $2 million.

They tend to have a smaller base of support from individual donors than other orgs because the communities they serve have different priorities and wealth. As a result, the “giving profile” is dominated by government and foundation grants as well as some corporate largesse. And thanks to the weak stock market, most grants are declining.

Kaiser plans to marshal the center’s considerable resources where possible, mix in a little technology and go to work. He and other key staffers will conduct semiweekly online discussions with participating organizations, dialogues aimed at helping the arts managers to think strategically and encourage collaborative efforts.

Working with the Vilar Institute fellows, 12 of the organizations will engage in a yearlong comprehensive strategic planning process.

Periodic symposia at the Kennedy Center will stress best practices and develop inter-organization partnerships.

The 15 pilot organizations that will participate are: African Continuum Theater Co. (Washington, D.C.); Alameda Theater (San Antonio); Cleo Parker Robinson Dance (New York City); Dance Institute of Washington (D.C.); Dayton Contemporary Dance Co. (Dayton, Ohio); Detroit Repertory Theater; East West Players (Los Angeles); Gala Hispanic Theater (Washington, D.C.); INTAR — Intl. Arts Relations Inc. (New York City); Lula Washington Dance Ensemble (Los Angeles); Philadanco (Philadelphia); Pregones Theater (Bronx); St. Louis Black Repertory Company (St. Louis); Teatro Vision (San Jose) and Urban Bush Women (Brooklyn).

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