The Art of the Turnaround

Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts Organizations

Michael M. Kaiser

Many arts organizations today find themselves in financial difficulties because of economic constraints inherent in the industry. While other companies can improve productivity through the use of new technologies or better systems, these approaches are not available in the arts. Hamlet requires the same number of performers today as it did in Shakespeare’s time. The New York Philharmonic requires the same number of musicians now as it did when Tchaikovsky conducted it over one hundred years ago. Costs go up, but the size of theaters and the price resistance of patrons limit what can be earned from ticket sales. Therefore, the performing arts industry faces a severe gap between earnings and expenses. Typical approaches to closing the gap—raising ticket prices or cutting artistic or marketing expenses—don’t work. What, then, does it take to create and maintain a healthy arts organization? Michael M. Kaiser has revived four major arts organizations: the Kansas City Ballet, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, and London’s Royal Opera House. In The Art of the Turnaround he shares with readers his ten basic rules for bringing financially distressed arts organizations back to life and keeping them strong. These rules cover the requirements for successful leadership, the pitfalls of cost cutting, the necessity of extending the programming calendar, the centrality of effective marketing and fund raising, and the importance of focusing on the present with a positive public message. In chapters organized chronologically, Kaiser brings his ten rules vividly to life in discussions of the four arts organizations he is credited with saving. The book concludes with a chapter on his experiences at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, an arts organization that needed an artistic turnaround when he became the president in 2001 and that today exemplifies in practice many of the ten rules he discusses throughout his book.

Cloth: $29.95 | E-book: $25.99
ISBN-13: 9781584657354
Pages: 204 | Size: 6 in. x 8.75 in.
Date Published: September 30, 2008

“As my brother said in 1960, “The New Frontier for which I campaign in public life can also be a New Frontier for American art,” and he’d be very proud of all that Michael Kaiser has accomplished.”

Senator Edward M. Kennedy


  • This book is a valuable management resource; arts administrators could do worse than emulate Kaiser’s work ethic, boldness of vision and ability to learn from mistakes. Those interested in keeping America’s arts institutions vital ignore his insights at their peril.

    Opera News
  • To some, there may be a touch of irony: the man who presided over some of the Royal Opera House’s darkest hours has produced a self-help book aimed at pulling failing arts organizations out of trouble. Michael Kaiser’s “The Art of the Turnaround” offers 10 basic rules on how to save failing arts organizations, some of which were learned the hard way in London.

    The Guardian (London)
  • Kaiser presents a 10-step ... program to save or revive struggling arts organizations. The author’s program is ... practical, and he follows it with a series of case studies in which he works his magic over and over again. ... He offers ... interesting anecdotes, and the portrayal of the logistics of traveling shows deserves particular mention.

  • (An) extraordinary book that serves as both cautionary tale and practical primer in crisis response. ... Whether you are serving in an entry-level or executive leadership position, from crew chief to executive director, there is much to be learned from in Michael Kaiser’s “The Art of the Turnaround.”

    Theatre Design & Technology
  • Michael Kaiser has a unique combination of artistic vision and executive talent that makes him one of the most capable leaders in the performing arts. This book tells the story of his impressive leadership. As my brother said in 1960, “The New Frontier for which I campaign in public life can also be a New Frontier for American art,” and he’d be very proud of all that Michael Kaiser has accomplished.

    Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
  • There can be no one who has had the experience — the expertise — of Michael Kaiser in taking world-class performing arts companies and reinventing them for the 21st century. This is a goldmine.

    Harold Prince

About the Author

Michael M. Kaiser

Michael M. Kaiser has had distinguished tenures running the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Royal Opera House, American Ballet Theatre, and the Alvin Ailey organization. He now directs the DeVos Institute of Arts Management Institute at the University of Maryland.

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