Kennedy Center Names its First Woman President

Tuesday, December 10, 2013 - 01:07 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The head of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was named president of the Kennedy Center, becoming the first woman to lead the performing arts center since it opened in 1971, officials said Tuesday.

Deborah F. Rutter, 57, will join the Kennedy Center in September. Her selection was approved Monday by the center's board. Rutter will succeed Michael Kaiser, who is stepping down in August after 13 years at the helm.

Rutter has led the Chicago Symphony since 2003. During that time, the orchestra recruited maestro Riccardo Muti, an acclaimed Italian conductor, as music director and cellist Yo-Yo Ma as creative consultant. She previously led the Seattle Symphony.

As an arts administrator, Rutter distinguished herself as a prolific fundraiser who could recruit top talent and boost outreach to new audiences, said Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein. An 11-member search that included Caroline Kennedy seriously considered 15 to 25 candidates.

"We interviewed many candidates, but we felt that Deborah Rutter had the unique combination of everything we wanted," Rubenstein said. Her biggest challenge, as with any arts center, may be reaching younger and more diverse audiences, he said.

The Kennedy Center president serves as the artistic and administrative leader for extensive programs in theater, dance, chamber music and jazz. She will oversee the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera at one of the world's busiest performing arts centers. It also includes one of the nation's largest arts education programs, and is a memorial to President John F. Kennedy.

Rutter, who agreed to a three-year contract, said she was drawn to the position because it presents an opportunity to use the arts "to impact the rest of the world."

While growing up in the Los Angeles area, Rutter studied piano and violin. She earned a master's degree in business from the University of Southern California.

Rutter said she loves theater, dance and all types of music. She attended the Kennedy Center Honors last weekend and said she cheered for Don Henley when he came on stage to perform for Billy Joel.

Rutter describes herself as a consensus builder who believes in "the messiness" of collaboration. She said she wants to find ways for the Kennedy Center to interact with other organizations, from museums and theaters to less traditional arts groups.

"The center has so much going on, and the question is, how can we inspire even greater collaboration?" she said. "How can we reach beyond the walls of the Kennedy Center to work with the amazing richness of culture and humanity that exists here?"

While many arts organizations struggled during the recession, the Chicago Symphony expanded its financial base with improved fundraising and ticket sales. But the symphony also saw its musicians strike last year in a dispute over wages and health care costs. The strike ended within days.

"The good news is we resolved that disagreement really quickly and to the satisfaction of all," she said.

Kaiser, the current president, said Rutter is a smart and creative manager. Next year, he will move the center's DeVos Institute of Arts Management, which he founded, to the University of Maryland.

 

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Comments [1]

Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va

IT is wonderful to see new management at the top of the Kennedy Center. Although I do not attend more than a few of the National Symphony Concerts every year I once was a season subscriber to the Washington Opera, before Mr. Domingo came to town and totally destroyed it, bringing it to the point of bankruptcy and eventual takeover by the Kennedy Center.
About five years ago I was involved in an accessibility suit with the Kennedy Center and The Washington Opera, similar to the one I helped file against the Met.
At that time I had extended talks with one of their their attorneys, a dedicated opera lover and volunteer from one of the top Washington D.C. law firms. During our conversations he lamented to me how bad the finances of the Washington Opera were and how they were meeting payroll on a week to week basis and at times had to rely on chain phone calls to fat cat donors to cover payroll checks.
With new management at the top Washingtonians and those in its suburbs can hope for better quality performances overall at the Kennedy Center. It has far too great a heritage to fall into a situation where a once vital opera company struggles with brash updated stagings of classic operas performed to a half empty house with far overpriced seats. I fear the hiring of Ms. Francesca Zambello as the new General Director of the Washington Opera will end no better than the tenure of Mr. Domingo. Ms. Zambello like her predecessor is stretched very thin with many outstanding obligations in European Opera Houses and will be a part time Director much like Mr. Domingo.
The local Virginia Opera performing at George Mason Universities 2800 seat Center for the Arts with tickets at half the price of the Washington Opera is far outproducing the Washington Opera for the past few seasons even after their disastrous treatment of their founder Peter Mark, for which they are still paying with less than half their available seats sold for most performances. Opera in the Washington D.C. area is struggling with attracting audiences and suffering from bad management and staging decisions. Hopefully there will still be Opera produced in and around D.C. in the coming decade. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Dec. 10 2013 05:43 PM

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