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Deborah Rutter Named New President of Kennedy Center

Since the news that the President of the Kennedy Center, Michael Kaiser, was ending his contract a little early and taking his Institute of Arts Management with him, to the University of Maryland, speculation started about his successor. When the Kennedy Center convened a press announcement this afternoon, there was little doubt that the speculation was at an end. The well-kept secret was that Deborah F. Rutter, president of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, would be leaving that position early and moving to Washington, to become the first woman to head the Kennedy Center, starting next September.

This came as a surprise to many people back in Chicago, too, but the sense was that Rutter, who has been a fiscally savvy administrator (record levels of fundraising and ticket sales, albeit still incurring some debt) with a gift for interpersonal relations, was a good choice for the Kennedy Center. At her press announcement, after an introduction by David Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center, Rutter spoke warmly of her time in Chicago. In response to questions, she said that she was not going to speak about possible plans until she had taken the time to get to know the venues, the artistic leaders, and the audiences of the Kennedy Center. She had begun that process earlier in the morning, reaching Christoph Eschenbach, music director of the National Symphony Orchestra, in Spain by phone, to give him advance notice of her appointment.

In a prepared statement, Rutter said she was looking forward to her new role, "to advance the importance of culture and the role it can play in our country." Certainly, for someone with a background in and knowledge of classical music, particularly the symphonic music that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra plays at such a high level, she seems like a good choice to do just that. Conductor Riccardo Muti, whom she successfully courted in Chicago, spoke glowingly of her in a 2010 article:

"The first important thing about Deborah is she loves music," Muti said, stressing that many musicians and administrators don't. "You can say that you love music, but to really love music is something very special, especially for a person that has to solve the problems of a big musical institution."
When asked about her impressions of Washington, though, she smiled and said that this city certainly has different ideas about what makes a bad snow storm, referring to the dusting of snow that had shut down Washington that morning. "The snow has to come up to about here," she said with a laugh, holding her hand out about halfway up her body, "to be a real snow storm in Chicago."

One of the things that was mentioned only in passing was Rutter's interest in helping the Kennedy Center reach out to audiences through digital media. One of the things Rutter did recently at the CSO was to hire a veteran arts editor of the Chicago Sun-Times as digital content editor. The CSO has done well starting its own recording label, CSO Resound, with another former journalist, Marc Geelhoed, as manager. While it is good that organizations do more to reach out -- Webcasts from the Kennedy Center's mainstage venues would be welcome -- it is a sad sign of the times that as arts journalism contracts, media outreach from arts organizations, in the form of Twitter feeds, blogs, and video, grows apace. Listeners often treat such outreach as if it were something like journalism, because it blurs the line between advertising and critical assessment. This may turn out to be one of the more interesting aspects of Rutter's tenure at the Kennedy Center.

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