Kennedy Center chair Johnson exits position

Exec helped bring prestige, financial stability

WASHINGTON — James A. Johnson, chairman of the Kennedy Center, will step down in January after seven years in the high-profile post.

Johnson, 59, said he will officially inform the center’s board today of his intentions.

The former chairman of Fannie Mae, now a partner with the D.C.-based merchant bank Perseus, will be remembered for putting the center on firmer financial footing and for presiding over the recruitment in 2001 of Michael M. Kaiser to head day-to-day operations as the center’s president. It is generally agreed that Kaiser’s talents as an arts administrator have brought the center unprecedented prestige and success.

It is that success that prompted the decision to ankle, said Johnson, the fourth chairman of the 32-year-old facility. He replaced James Wolfensohn in 1996 after Wolfensohn was named president of the World Bank.

Another milestone during Johnson’s tenure was the approval by Congress of a $650 million construction project that will include two new buildings and a large plaza that will connect the somewhat isolated facility with the rest of the city. The center will raise $250 million toward the 10-year expansion project.

He is especially proud of his suggestion to make the center more accessible to the public via free performances at 6 p.m. every day. The perfs on the center’s Millennium Stage are presented live on the facility’s Web site, where they are also archived. It has become a showcase for emerging arts groups and a hit with tourists.

Johnson said he considers last year’s Sondheim celebration to be an artistic high-water mark for the center. He said he hopes a search committee will locate a successor by year-end.

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