The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra announced Tuesday that it has hired “turnaround king” Michael Kaiser to develop a multi-year plan to fix the organization’s finances.

Kaiser, who was president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington from 2002 to 2014, has made a career of putting troubled arts organizations back on their feet by scheduling big, splashy programming that gets lots of attention from the media and the public — and reinvigorates donors.


In the past, Kaiser has increased revenues and eliminated debt for such major arts institutions as the American Ballet Theatre, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and London’s Royal Opera House, according to a BSO news release.

He is chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland and has written two books outlining his philosophy of how to revitalize arts groups.

Significantly, Kaiser has the support of the musicians as well as management; he and Peter Kjome, the BSO’s president and CEO, have worked together previously.

Donors will pay Kaiser’s fee to develop a multi-year plan for the cash-strapped BSO, which has incurred $16 million in deficits over the past decade, the BSO said in the release.

“The year ahead will be pivotal for the BSO, and we are deeply grateful that generous supporters of the Orchestra have enabled us to engage Michael Kaiser," Kjome said in the release.

Brian Prechtl, chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Musicians Players Committee, said in the release that hiring Kaiser “will help preserve the amazing orchestra that has been built here over the last 104 years.”

“Michael recognizes that compelling art is the key to helping arts organizations prosper," Prechtl added.

The plan to retain Kaiser’s services came together after he met for two hours last Tuesday with a work group created by the Maryland General Assembly that is tasked with developing recommendations by mid-February to restore the BSO’s financial health.

During his presentation, Kaiser advocated for a series of recommendations that seemingly fly in the face of conventional wisdom, from putting the BSO’s $65 million endowment campaign on hold to temporarily downplaying efforts to increase audience size.

Above all else, Kaiser advised, the BSO needed to focus on creating exciting art, and on building what he referred to as a “family” of 200 to 300 mid-level donors who are eager to support the organization’s initiatives.

“The Baltimore Symphony has long been one of the great arts institutions in the nation,” Kaiser said in the BSO’s release. “It will be an honor to work with the Board, staff and musicians to chart a course that allows for consistent artistic accomplishment in the years ahead.”