National arts leader to receive honorary doctorate

Michael Kaiser will speak at two commencement events

A dedicated supporter of the arts in Kansas City and beyond will return this week to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C., is former general manager of the Kansas City Ballet and an arts consultant. He has advised more than 600 institutions and represented the U.S. on a commission that established the Arts Council of the Republic of South Africa.

On Saturday, May 17, Kaiser will receive an honorary doctorate from the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance during Commencement exercises at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Kaiser also will be the keynote speaker at that ceremony. Kaiser is also the speaker at the College of Arts and Sciences commencement event at 4 p.m. Friday May 16 at Swinney Recreation Center.

“Michael Kaiser is recognized internationally as a leader able to guide arts organizations toward health and vibrancy,” said Conservatory Dean Peter Witte. “We look forward to honoring his tenure as President of the Kennedy Center…and to celebrating his accomplishments along with those of UMKC’s 2014 Conservatory graduates.”

When Kaiser joined the Kansas City Ballet in 1985, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. Within two years, his leadership enabled the company to pay off the accumulated debt. In the years that followed, Kaiser took his magic touch to several other companies: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the American Ballet Theater and the Royal Opera House in London, bringing financial stability and strengthening the organizations for the future.

His reputation as a successful arts consultant led the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey to seek him out as it approached its 30th anniversary this year. To mark this milestone, the Muriel McBrien Kauffman Foundation issued a $375,000 challenge grant, the largest grant in the history of the Friends of Alvin Ailey, to support new arts programming. Kaiser was brought in to help design the strategy, and a five-year plan is in the works to turn Friends of Alvin Ailey into a national model for bridging racial and cultural differences.

Kaiser has received many awards, including the Helen Hayes Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in the Theater Community, the St. Petersburg 300 Medal, Washingtonian of the Year, a U.S. Department of State Citation and the Blacks in Dance Award. In 2005 he was the first American to receive China’s “Award for Cultural Exchange.”

In August he will retire from the Kennedy Center and head to the University of Maryland, where he will teach and continue his arts management consulting.


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