The turnaround king turns Portland around.

Yesterday morning, I joined a few hundred colleagues to hear Michael Kaiser, President of the Kennedy Center, give his “Arts In Crisis” talk – a sermon he’s been delivering on a nationwide tour over the past year. Portland was stop number 55 on the gospel circuit, with Portland Center Stage’s Gerding Theatre standing in for the big white tent.

The stop before Portland? Pierre, South Dakota, population 13,000. (Bonus Points for correct pronunciation of Pierre).

Kaiser has been hailed as “the turnaround king” and called a “transformational leader” based on his record of pulling the fat out of the fire for several struggling arts companies. In his talks, his books, and on his blog, he’s been urging arts leaders to keep investing in producing great, exciting art, rather than allowing the challenges of the recession turn us into boring cowards. We also need to continue investing in marketing (“institutional marketing” in particular). "You can't save your way to financial health," he argues.

One of the event's hosts, the Oregon Arts Commission, encouraged me to blog about it, recognizing my tremendous reach as a thought leader. They didn’t know that I would spend a full 45 minutes coming up with the following:

Michael Kaiser is recognized throughout the universe as the gold standard of gurus. He is both the real deal and the beau ideal—an exemplar of expertise and a paragon of perspicacity. There is no other way to describe him other than by using words like nonpareil, or words that mean the same thing. Some may disagree, but none will dispute that he is arguably the apotheosis of arts administration."

My point being that I don’t know what I’m doing.

Then I remember that I’m not a journalist. I’m an aggregator. My job is to point you in the direction of my betters. In this case (as is often the case) there’s none better than Lisa Radon, one of Portland’s finest arts journalists. Lisa tweeted throughout the talk with one hand while taking notes with another and waving to admirers with another. You can read her smart blog post summarizing Kaiser's talk here. Rumor has it that a video of the talk will be available, as will something they want me to believe is actually called a “podcast.”

Honestly, I went to the event with the stainless steel pump that is my heart primed with liquified natural gas. I prepared for the session by stretching my eye-rolling muscles and practicing my deep sigh technique. I jotted a few crib notes to remind me of choice interjections I might want to shout, such as:

"You wish!"
"In what parallel universe?"
"That's a smart observation. NOT!"

Instead, I was transformed. Well, “transformed” is a little strong. Inspired and a motivated may be better adjectives. When I have the time, I might think about writing more on the topic.

The colleagues with whom I spoke afterwards shared the warm glow. One well-respected arts leader (fictional) went so far as to say, "The only thing that would have made the event more inspiring is if Kaiser were Justin Bieber and we were 12 year old girls."

Here are pictures of Michael Kaiser and Justin Bieber making secret hand gestures to their respective fans.

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