Outgoing Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser Says the Arts are in the Midst of a ‘Dramatic Transformation’

January 24, 2014

Technological advancement impacts every aspect of our lives. But what if this same innovation has a negative effect on visual and performing arts, sending these cultural cornerstones into crisis mode? 

To preview the highly-anticipated live-streamed conversation “The State of Arts in America,” scheduled for 12:15pm on Jan. 27, Aspen Institute Arts Program Director Damian Woetzel asked much-lauded outgoing Kennedy Center President and “turnaround king” Michael Kaiser (pictured right), some pertinent questions about the intersection of technology and the arts. 

Damian Woetzel: Are the arts in crisis?

Michael Kaiser: I believe the arts are in the midst of a dramatic transformation owing to the new, inexpensive forms of entertainment, new distribution systems for the arts (e.g. the Metropolitan Opera movie theater broadcasts), reduced arts education, and the aging of our donor base. How we handle these issues will determine how the arts ecology is structured in the future.

DW: What is the impact of new technologies on building audiences?

MK: New technologies are a blessing and a curse for the arts. Internet technology has allowed us to conceive of new projects, many using audience participation. Technology also reduces the cost of marketing and allows us to provide far more information about new works. And we have the ability now to use technology to create arts education programs at a far more reasonable cost.

But they also provide many inexpensive substitutes that compete for the attention of our audiences and donors. And as ticket prices rise, it is entirely possible that internet broadcasts will reduce demand for in-person events.

Finally, internet technology has changed the way we learn about current events. This has made it challenging for the newspaper industry and has resulted in less serious arts coverage.

DW: What is one of the most exciting places you have seen art-making?

MK: I am excited by art in so many places: a Sufi music festival in Islamabad, Pakistan, the GoDown Arts Centre in Nairobi, Kenya, and the Herodes Atticus in Athens, Greece. Important art-making is happening everywhere; it is a part of every society.

But I am most excited about ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which brings thousands of contemporary artists to the city and has the entire city excited about contemporary art. For two weeks out of the year, the streets are buzzing, the restaurants and hotels are filled, and everywhere you look you see people debating the works of art on display.

Damian Woetzel is director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence Program. For more of this conversation, watch the live-streamed broadcast of “The State of Arts in America” on Monday, Jan. 27, at 12:15pm.