arts

Deborah Rutter, President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Deborah Rutter, the President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.


 

 

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Deborah Rutter © The Kennedy Center

Denver: One of the most well-respected and revered institutions in all of America is The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. And for me, if I can name just one organization that I would be curious to know more about, that would be the one…in part because there is just so much to know. And that is why I am absolutely delighted that we have with us this evening their president, Deborah Rutter.

Good evening, Deborah, and welcome to The Business of Giving!

Deborah: Thank you. I am so delighted to be here.

Denver: Let us start by having you tell us about the history of The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and how it all came to be.

Deborah: Actually, this is a very interesting history that I didn’t know before I came to The Center. In fact, George Washington, when they were planning the City of Washington, had it in his mind that they should have a cultural center, but priorities got a little distracted at that time and it took until the 1950s. Eisenhower actually signed authorization to create a cultural center for the United States of America and sent it off for the people to raise money, and very little money was raised.

When John F. Kennedy became president, having a cultural center became very important, both for his wife, Jacqueline, who of course was a big lover of the arts, but for him as well. And so, at that time, under their leadership, they helped to really promote this idea of having a national cultural center.

There’s a famous video of a fundraiser where Leonard Bernstein is hosting an event; a 7-year-old Yo-Yo Ma and his sister are playing for the President and Mrs. Kennedy. And you can go on YouTube and find it today; it’s adorable. But it brings full circle what this is all about for us at The Center. After he was assassinated, Mrs. Kennedy was asked by Congress: How would you like your husband to be memorialized? And she said, “I would like to have the nation’s cultural center named after him.” At that point, they started raising the money, designing, and really going full force on the construction of the project. Now, it took a long time.

Denver: They always do.

Deborah: So, there’s a famous picture of Johnson with a shovel… but it didn’t open until 1971. So, quite a long time from his death to the opening, but we have been celebrating John F. Kennedy ever since.

We have a resident opera company, The Washington National Opera. We have a resident symphony orchestra, The National Symphony Orchestra. We have a full season of ballet, a huge dance program, one of the largest jazz programs in the country, chamber music, contemporary music, and contemporary jazz music. We have international programming. We have spectacular theatre, musical theatre program. We have international festivals and 40 programs for education, including theatre for young audiences and all the traditional young people’s kinds of programs. We have a program every single day, 365 days a year at 6 p.m., free to the public.

Denver: Absolutely. Well, The Kennedy Center does such an amazing range of things that I sometimes wonder, Deborah, if the people in the building are even aware of all of them. Give us a snapshot, if you can, of the breadth and scope of all that you do.

Deborah: It is something that until you have lived and worked in D.C. and at The Kennedy Center for a period of time, you can’t really grasp. At the moment, and I say that because we’re expanding our footprint, but today, we have nine performance spaces. Three are major, large venues — from a concert hall of 2,300 to an opera house of 2,100 to a small theatre with 350 seats. But we also have very informal black box spaces…ones that can transform into other spaces.

We have a resident opera company – The Washington National Opera. We have a resident symphony orchestra – The National Symphony Orchestra. We have a full season of ballet, a huge dance program, one of the largest jazz programs in the country, chamber music, contemporary music, and contemporary jazz music. We have international programming. We have spectacular theatre, musical theatre program. We have international festivals and 40 programs for education, including theatre for young audiences and all the traditional young people’s kinds of programs. We have a program every single day, 365 days a year at 6 p.m., free to the public.

Denver: Oh, wow.

Deborah: So, we are really for everybody. Just recently, we expanded all of that programming to now include a major comedy season and just added hip-hop to our regular programming. So in addition to all of what you expect at a performing arts center, we’ve added to really complement what we already have, but also in response to what we have learned from our audiences what they’re interested in.

So, we’re thrilled with the expansion of our programming in this way, and we believe there is something for everybody at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as he would want it to be.

Denver: Sounds that way to me. A lot of institutions rolled into one. Speaking of John Kennedy, it was earlier this year… I think it was May 29 that we commemorated the 100th anniversary of his birth.  It certainly was the time for your organization to reflect and recommit to the original vision of The Kennedy Center. What were some of the things that came out of that, Deborah?

Deborah: Anniversaries are great moments for reflecting on the legacy of an individual, and performing arts organizations frequently do that around big dates of some sort. So, think of having a celebration around Mozart or Dvořák or Beethoven or a choreographer or a playwright.

Denver: Bernstein next year, right?

Deborah: And for us now, Leonard Bernstein. And so when it came to the concept of coming up to the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy, we thought, “Okay, well, the library is going to do something…” The Kennedy name is everywhere around our world. What will a performing arts center do for a president? We can’t really speak to his legacy per se in terms of his specific actions, but what we could do is celebrate what he stood for: What were his ideals? What do we think of when you think of John F. Kennedy?

And so we decided to build our programming and our celebration of John F. Kennedy around what he stood for and his ideals. So, our team thought about this at great length, did a lot of reading and research and came up with a concept of celebrating his ideals of service, courage, freedom, justice. And then, after we spoke to the family to review this, to make sure we were on point, we added gratitude because that was really about who they were as a family and who John F. Kennedy was.

So, building on those kinds of ideals, what do programmers do? We had such creativity from our really brilliant programmers. We did programs around Cesar Chavez. We did the operas Dead Man Walking and Champion. We commissioned a new dance work. We featured a whole program of repertoire and commissioned a new work from our composer and resident, Mason Bates, who used the words of John F. Kennedy and Walt Whitman to envision what a future would look like with John F. Kennedy, and it was really fantastic. So, a lot of creativity in all of the art forms.

On the weekend, which happened to be Memorial Day, we had a fantastic huge open house with just wild things happening. Dancers… the great dance group, Bandaloop, dancing on the side of the building, and every kind of art and theater and music in all of the spaces around the building. So we had 15,000 visitors over one day on Memorial Day weekend. And then on the day itself, we had a beautiful sort of retrospective of who he was — videos, language, music, reflections on who he was and his words themselves. It was really a wonderful way for us to really bring John F. Kennedy back to life in a very real, tangible way.

When you are the living memorial to a fallen president, sometimes, as we who walk around the building all the time, might take it for granted. And we really wanted to remind people about the fact that the Kennedy Center is a memorial to President Kennedy and why. Why would a performing arts center be named after a president? And this was a great opportunity for us. We’re really excited about this as really, frankly an ongoing approach to our programming.

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Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation, and Denver Frederick, Host of The Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer.

 

Jim Canales

Jim Canales © The Barr Foundation

Denver: No matter what the field of endeavour, we all enjoy watching organizations take shape, emerge, grow and evolve into something that increases their effectiveness and impact. There’s a foundation based in Boston that fits that description to a tee. It’s The Barr Foundation. And it is fortunate to be led by one of the most capable individuals in the field of philanthropy, and he just happens to be with us now. He is Jim Canales, the President of The Barr Foundation.

 

Good evening, Jim, and welcome to The Business of Giving.

Jim: Good evening, Denver and thanks so much for having me.

Denver: Tell us about The Barr Foundation, your mission and goals.

Jim: The Barr Foundation has been around for about 20 years. We have assets of $1.7 billion, and we grant approximately $80 million a year in the areas of arts & creativity and climate and education.

Denver: The evolution of The Barr Foundation, at least for me, has been a fascinating thing to watch. It started out as sort of an anonymous giving entity, and it evolved into a family foundation, and now it has become a professional operation and a major legacy foundation. Tell us about that journey, Jim, and some of the challenges along the way.

Jim: The foundation was created by two individuals who are enormously generous and strategic about the kind of impact they want to have. Amos and Barbara Hostetter created the foundation 20 years ago. Amos was one of the co-founders of Continental Cable Vision, and that’s what led to the opportunity to create the foundation.

The foundation has grown over time from that initial gift to, as I said earlier, $1.7 billion in assets. And the foundation did start anonymously. It began anonymously because Barbara and Amos felt very strongly that it was important to focus on the work and not to focus on the foundation itself. And that’s evolved over time. And interestingly enough, part of the reason that it has evolved has been feedback from the grantees of the foundation. Many of whom said to The Barr Foundation almost a decade ago, that it was actually better for them to be able to be public about where the funds were coming from, that the foundation had achieved a certain kind of reputation in the community as a thoughtful grantmaker, and that being anonymous was not necessarily serving them well. And that, I think, was a pivot for the foundation.

Now, I arrived in 2014, so I’ve only been there for about 3 &1/2 years, and in that time, there’s a lot that we have done, and there’s a lot more that we have to do.

Denver: Oh, I bet. I bet. But that’s good to have co-founders who listen. And they listened, and they acted on that listening. You mentioned a moment ago, you have three major program areas. I’m going to ask you to say a word or two about each one.

The first is Arts & Creativity. Lots of things going on here like Boston Creates. What’s your overarching goal for your Arts & Creativity program?

Jim: Arts & Creativity is focused on the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. So originally, the arts program had a focus on Boston, and as part of a strategic planning effort that we went through a couple of years ago, we made the decision that Barr was going to take a more regional approach to its grantmaking. And within that, we decided that Arts & Creativity would become a statewide program. And our focus is: How do we create and foster a creative, vibrant, cultural and artistic community for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

And we focused in three principal areas. One is: How do we invest in arts organization so that they can become adaptive and relevant, given so many changes that are going on around them– which I’m happy to get into. We also focus on ways that the arts can connect with other sectors in ways that ultimately contribute to that vibrancy that I described a moment ago. And then we also focus on ways to build advocacy on behalf of the arts.

Denver: Arts have really become a key driver in urban renewal, haven’t they?

Jim: They have. And in fact, we’ve seen a lot of that in the Commonwealth. One of our partnerships is with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and we focus on ways that we might revitalize certain cities that have suffered significant changes because of changes in industry… and ways that certain spaces that lie fallow could be revitalized and used for creative purposes. And so, this is one of the partnerships that we’ve been engaged in the last number of years, and we see it as a hopeful sign. Think about ways that you can repurpose these old mills, these old buildings, these old factories to foster the kind of creativity and the kind of entrepreneurship that I think will help these cities to turn things around.

Denver: Great stuff. Second program is around Climate. Now, we sometimes don’t think of a locally-focused organization doing something on climate, but that would not be the case. And part of your focus there is around an initiative called  What’s the strategy here?

Jim: The strategy for that evolved from a decision that was made about seven years ago. The foundation had had a broad-based environment program up until that time. And in 2010, the foundation trustees made the decision that it was evident that climate change was one of the most urgent and pressing issues of our time. And as a result, that the environment program should shift into a climate program. And in deciding how to focus the climate program, they looked at: What were the greatest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in the region? And they were buildings and transportation. And so, that’s what led to a focus on energy and on transportation as two core areas of focus.

We did that work for about five years, and as part of a planning effort that we undertook a couple of years ago, we shifted to a focus on clean energy and renewables and then a focus on mobility.  So, what we think about with our Mobility focus is how we can achieve two things: How we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and at the same time, focus on how we help people to get where they need to get in a more efficient and effective way.

Denver: Human-centered designed to a certain degree. It’s around people.

Jim: It’s very true.

Denver: And finally, there is education. And your concentration here is around secondary schools and your desire to see that all students succeed. What is working there? And what are you especially excited about these days?

Jim: So, I think your emphasis on all students is absolutely right. And many people across the country look at the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and say, “Wow, Massachusetts is a real success story.” Across many indices, Massachusetts is often at the top in terms of student achievement and in terms of other measures that we use to assess academic achievement.

But underneath that data, you come to realize that it may not be that excellent for all students. And that’s what led us to focus on ways that we can think about re-envisioning secondary education in ways to create more relevant experiences for students when they’re in high school, in ways that help them to connect to both postsecondary and career opportunities, and also in ways that perhaps personalize the experience. To realize that every student comes at this from a different perspective and with a different set of competencies. And if we can reimagine the way we deliver secondary education in a way that acknowledges the need for that kind of personalization, we can really make a significant difference for those students, particularly those who are at greatest risk of dropping out.

Denver: Can you give us an example of one of the things that you are supporting?

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Earl Lewis, President and CEO of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Joins Denver Frederick

The following is a conversation between Earl Lewis, President and CEO of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Denver Frederick, Host of the Business of Giving on AM 970 The Answer in New York City.

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Earl Lewis

Denver: As the arts, humanities and liberal arts have fallen out of favor in recent decades, they have known no better friend, no more loyal friend than the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. And it’s a great pleasure to have with us this evening their President and CEO, Earl Lewis. Good evening, Earl, and welcome to the Business of Giving!

Earl: Thank you! My pleasure.

Denver: Tell us about Andrew Mellon, the person, and the foundation that bears his name.

Earl: Andrew Mellon had his origins in Pittsburgh. His family of Irish immigrants had moved to the Pittsburgh area. By the late 19th century, they had tried a number of things, and they moved into banking.  So it was the father and two sons. Andrew was one of the two sons. And if you think of the late 19th century, if you think of Pittsburgh– in particular the rise of the industrial era, and people like Carnegie and others who were in their midst– they actually went into a “new world” – what we think of today as venture capital. They actually would make loans to enterprises through their banks and then recoup the dividends on the backside as those enterprises developed. Think of Gulf Oil. They were early investors in Gulf Oil among other kinds of enterprises.

And if you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Outliers,  there is a chart where Malcolm attempts to identify the wealthiest human beings of all time. And you realize that there’s a name: Andrew Mellon.  They are among the top 10 or 11 individuals, well above Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and not too far from some of the others that you think of as among the wealthiest. Andrew Mellon would then go on to become the Treasury secretary in the 1920s. He would go on to create the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. He would die in the 1930s. And then his children, Paul Mellon and Ailsa Mellon Bruce had two separate foundations as they inherited wealth from their father’s estate: the Avalon Foundation and Old Dominion Foundation. And in 1969, while the kids didn’t always agree on everything, they agreed to merge their two foundations and rename it for their father. Hence, it was born in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Denver: And when you arrived there about four years ago, I don’t know if any foundation could have had a much lower profile than the Mellon Foundation did. It had a very static website; you had no communication staff whatsoever, and really not much of a public face at all.  But you’ve changed all that. What have you done?  And why do you think it was important to do it?

Earl: At the foundation, we had come to realize that in the 21st century, one needed to have a slightly larger footprint in the digital world. Several of our grantees will come and say to us later, “Look, we value the support you grant us through your dollars, but we need you in another way. We need you to be more visible, and in some cases, to actually step into the limelight or the spotlight to ensure that the work we do is actually considered important.”

We heard them. As a result, the decision was made that certainly we needed to do something with our website. It was as much a spider web as anything because things had been stuck there for a long, long, long, long time. And we realized with that portal, we could begin to communicate not only something about our mission and our values, but also more about our grantees. And I think of all the things I did like in pointing out, when people turn to the website, at the bottom of the homepage is now a listing of every grant that we’ve made since the inception of the foundation in 1969– mapped not only by the amounts and the topics, but also geographically.  And you get some sense of flavor of who we are and what we’re about.

…there’s a way in which art… dramatized on stage… can tell us about our past, and provide the insights into the present in ways that even the most beautifully written book, or the most well-executed speech, never can.

Denver: That’s great. Well, you have to have a voice in today’s world; you can’t just be writing checks. Well, the foundation fervently believes that arts and humanities play such a vital role in democracy and help promote understanding of different peoples and cultures. Tell us about some of your work here and some of the projects that you have funded.

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