San Antonio Symphony Announces Michael M. Kaiser as Interim Executive Director

July 11, 2018

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SAN ANTONIO—The San Antonio Symphony announces Michael M. Kaiser will serve as Interim Executive Director through the end of 2018. Mr. Kaiser brings his team of performing arts specialists including Devon Akmon, Senior Consultant; Claudette Donlon, Chief Operating Officer; and Nicole Kidston, Senior Consultant.

The team will supplement the staff of the San Antonio Symphony’s administration through strengthening the potency of the Board of Directors, expanding upon the current fundraising model, as well as enhancing marketing strategy on an institutional and programmatic level. This relationship will take the administration through the end of 2018—the expected date for a full-time appointment of the Executive Director. Earlier this year, the Symphony’s Board of Directors engaged nationally-recognized Arts Consulting Group to execute the search.

“I am delighted to announce an agreement with Michael M. Kaiser as the San Antonio Symphony’s Interim Executive Director. His engagement lasts through the end of this calendar year while the Boston-based Arts Consulting Group performs a nationwide search for the permanent Executive Director position,” said Kathleen Weir Vale, Board Chair. “It is difficult to imagine a more fortuitous event for the San Antonio Symphony at this juncture than Mr. Kaiser’s assumption of the helm. Mr. Kaiser is known worldwide as the preeminent performing arts organization turnaround specialist and as such, I am confident that he will spur our organization to unprecedented heights. A major goal is to establish systematic, disciplined, best practices in our board leadership and administrative operations. Our orchestra, our community, and all of our loyal stakeholders deserve no less. We look forward to the challenge with relish.”

Mr. Kaiser completed his consultation of the City-County Symphony Transformation Task Force just last month. The task force adopted Mr. Kaiser’s recommendations along with the Symphony’s Board of Directors.

Further information on the interim executive leadership team of the San Antonio Symphony are included below.

Michael M. Kaiser; Chairman, DeVos Institute of Arts Management and President Emeritus, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Michael M. Kaiser founded the DeVos Institute in 2001.

From 2001–14, Kaiser served as President of the Kennedy Center, the nation’s center for the performing arts, where he expanded the education and artistic programming, oversaw a major renovation effort of most of the center’s theaters and led the country in arts management training.

Signature artistic programs during his tenure included an unprecedented celebration of the works of Stephen Sondheim; major festivals of the arts of China, Japan, India and the 22 countries in the Arab World; long-term relationships with the Bolshoi Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet and Opera, New York City Ballet and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater; festivals of gospel, country, a cappella music and street arts; a celebration of August Wilson’s ten plays presented in sequential order; as well as a major revival productions of Ragtime and Follies both which  transferred to Broadway and were nominated for 14 Tony awards. Mr. Kaiser also worked closely with the National Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director Christoph Eschenbach and its Board of Directors on the Orchestra’s performances and outreach programs as well as with the Washington National Opera’s leadership on the Opera’s performance and educational programs.

In 2001, Mr. Kaiser created the Kennedy Center Arts Management Institute, renamed the DeVos Institute of Arts Management in May 2010, to provide advanced training for arts administrators at varying stages of development and has created a series of programs to help train others in the field.   Since its inception, the DeVos Institute has advised thousands of individuals, organizations, governments, and foundations throughout the United States and in more than 80 countries on six continents. The Institute’s programs include capacity building programs which have served more than 600 organizations in cities across the United States, regional and national initiatives which focus on board development, nine-month and summer fellowships for both American and foreign arts leaders as well as internships and other personalized training tailored to a variety of arts organizations around the world. He has created, a website that provides resources to arts managers around the world.

In February 2009, he created Arts in Crisis: A Kennedy Center Initiative, a program which provided free arts management consulting to non-profit performing arts organizations around the United States. Mr. Kaiser embarked on a national tour for the Arts in Crisis initiative, leading arts management symposia in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia through July 2010.

In October 2009, Mr. Kaiser launched Any Given Child, an initiative that works with school systems, local governments, and arts organizations to create localized, long-range arts education plans for students grades K-8 with the goal of ensuring that all young people in the community have access to a complete, affordable arts education.

Mr. Kaiser previously served as the Executive Director of the Royal Opera House (Royal Opera and Royal Ballet), the largest performing arts organization in the United Kingdom. During his tenure with the Royal Opera House, that organization erased its historic accumulated deficit, completed a £214 million redevelopment of the facility, created an endowment fund, and greatly increased its level of support from the private and public sectors.

Prior to joining the Royal Opera House, Mr. Kaiser was Executive Director of American Ballet Theatre. During his three-year tenure at ABT, Mr. Kaiser erased the entire historic accumulated deficit, created a second company, greatly expanded national and international touring activity, substantially increased both contributed and earned income, and built an acclaimed series of education programs.

Mr. Kaiser has also served as Executive Director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater Foundation, the world’s largest modern dance organization. During his tenure, the Ailey Company erased its accumulated deficit, expanded its school, and increased all forms of revenue. He has also served as General Manager of the Kansas City Ballet, where he also erased the company’s deficit.

Before entering the arts management field, Mr. Kaiser was a management consultant in the corporate sector. In 1985, he sold the consulting firm he founded, Kaiser Associates, which specializes in helping large corporations formulate strategic plans. Among his clients were General Motors, IBM, Corning Glass Works and 50 other major corporations. Kaiser Associates remains a major participant in the strategy-consulting field.

Mr. Kaiser has served as a research economist for Nobel Prize-winning economist, Wassily Leontief, and is the author of eight books: Curtains?: The Future of the Arts in America (2015), The Cycle (2013), Conversation Starters: Arts Management Topics for Today (2011); Leading Roles: 50 Questions Every Arts Board Should Ask (2010); The Art of the Turnaround (2008); Strategic Planning in the Arts: A Practical Guide (1995); Developing Industry Strategies: A Practical Guide of Industry Analysis (1983); and Understanding the Competition: A Practical Guide of Competitive Analysis (1981).

He also represented the United States on a commission that established the Arts Council of the Republic of South Africa.

Mr. Kaiser received his Master’s degree in management from M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management and his Bachelor’s degree in economics magna cum laude, from Brandeis University. He has been an Adjunct Professor of Arts Administration at New York University, and a Lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

He received the Dance Magazine Award in 2001, Capezio Award in 2002, Helen Hayes Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in the Theater Community in 2003, the St. Petersburg 300 Medal in 2004, Washingtonian of the Year in 2004, a U.S. Department of State Citation in 2005, the Blacks in Dance Award in 2005, and was the first American to receive China’s “Award for Cultural Exchange” in 2005.  He was awarded The Order of the Mexican Eagle in 2006 and was named Impresario of the Year in 2006 by Musical America. In 2009, Mr. Kaiser received the George Peabody Medal for Outstanding Contributions to Music in America and the Kahlil Gibran “Spirit of Humanity” Award from the Arab American Institute Foundation. In March 2011, Georgetown University conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.  In 2015, the University of Missouri-Kansas City conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa.

Devon Akmon, Senior Consultant
Devon Akmon is a Senior Consultant with the DeVos Institute of Arts Management. He brings over 14 years of experience in nonprofit management, as well as extensive expertise in arts administration and curatorial practice.

Mr. Akmon most recently served as the second director of the Arab American National Museum (AANM), succeeding founding director Dr. Anan Ameri. Mr. Akmon joined the AANM as curator of community history shortly before the museum opened in 2005; was promoted to deputy director in 2009; and assumed control of daily operations in 2012.

Under his aegis, the AANM was named an Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, a member of the National Performance Network, and an internationally-recognized TAKREEM Laureate for Cultural Excellence. As director, Mr. Akmon established new relationships with individuals and organizations that resulted in the expansion of the museum’s mission and programming throughout the nation. Mr. Akmon also oversaw the physical expansion of the museum with the creation of the Annex, a new community arts space immediately adjacent to the Museum, and an artist-in-residency unit in the neighboring City Hall Artspace Lofts.

Mr. Akmon is a board member of the American Alliance of Museums, CultureSource, Artspace, and The CivCity Initiative.  Previously, he served on boards or advisory committees for Kresge Arts in Detroit, Smithsonian Affiliations, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Institute of Arts, East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority, Ann Arbor Public Art Commission, and the Khayrallah Center for Lebanese Diaspora Studies at North Carolina State University.

Mr. Akmon earned his Master of Science in Historic Preservation at Eastern Michigan University. He is a graduate of the Michigan Nonprofit Association’s Emerging Leaders Class IX and Leadership Detroit Class XXXIV. In 2016-17, Mr. Akmon was awarded an American Express NGen Fellowship with Independent Sector.

Claudette Donlon, Chief Operating Officer
Ms. Donlon was Executive Vice President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts from July 2001 to January 2015.  In this capacity, she was responsible for facilities management, security, human resources, information technology, production, food service, garage operations and capital projects for this national cultural center, presidential monument and living memorial, housed in a historically significant facility of 1.5 million square feet on 17 acres.  Ms. Donlon led the $100 million, 65,000 square-foot expansion project, designed by an internationally recognized architect. She spearheaded the architect selection process, working closely with a Board committee, and worked directly with staff, architects, consultants, and governmental entities in the development of the project to realize the Board and President’s strategic vision for creating functionality and community engagement opportunities.

During Ms. Donlon’s tenure at the Kennedy Center, she led and managed the planning, development and implementation of approximately 30 capital projects, with an aggregate budget of over $200 million, interfacing with architects, consultants, contractors and staff to ensure a comprehensive, coordinated process that met the institution’s goals.  Projects included a site improvements project and full-scale renovation of five of the Center’s theaters. Ms. Donlon oversaw all personnel related matters, including benefits, employee and labor relations, and compliance, for a total population of approximately 1,200 employees, including twelve unions.

Prior to joining the Kennedy Center, Ms. Donlon served as the Assistant Head of School for Finance, Operations and Planning at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.  As chief financial and operations officer, she was responsible for the oversight of the administrative departments of this independent school with three campuses, an enrollment of 1,600 students, and an annual budget of $32 million.

From 1995 to 2000, Ms. Donlon served as the General Manager and Chief Financial Officer of the American Ballet Theatre, with an annual budget of $25 million.  As a senior level manager, she was responsible for the oversight of all day-to-day operations, a direct reporting staff of 36 and an international touring company of 120 people.  She supervised all aspects of finance, personnel, office management, touring, company management, production, and building operations. Ms. Donlon worked collaboratively with the Artistic Director to realize the artistic vision while maintaining economic viability; negotiated union agreement and contracts with touring presenters, choreographers, designers and staff.

Ms. Donlon served as Deputy Director for Administration for The Jewish Museum from 1991 to 1995, where she coordinated and supervised all administrative departments, including finance, marketing, operations, administration and museum shops and café.  She coordinated a $50 million building expansion project, working closely with architects, contractors and consultants, and negotiated a $27 million bond issue to provide bridge financing for the expansion and renovation.

Ms. Donlon also served as a Program Officer for the National Arts Stabilization Fund and as General Manager and Business Manager for the Kansas City Ballet.
Ms. Donlon received her MBA in Public and Non-Profit Management from Boston University and her Bachelor’s degree from Bucknell University in Economics with a minor in Art History.

Nicole Kidston, Senior Consultant
Nicole Kidston most recently served as the Deputy Director of Development for Park Avenue Armory, a groundbreaking cultural institution in New York that produces unconventional work that cannot be mounted in traditional performance halls and museums. In this capacity, Nicole led the day-to-day operations of the 13-person Development Office and worked closely with this staff to continue fundraising growth across the corporate, government, foundation, events and individual giving areas.  Nicole joined the fundraising team of the Armory in 2015 and has grown fundraising 30% from 2015 to 2017.

From 2005 to 2015, Nicole served in a variety of capacities in the Development Office of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  In her last role at the Kennedy Center, she served as one of the Directors of Development, focusing on the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO) and Washington National Opera (WNO).  Her portfolio included identifying and raising over $25 million annually, with a team of 18, through individual, government, foundation and corporate support. Her portfolio included 4,700 donors, with 150 at the $25,000 level and above. She focused particularly on Board development, Major Gifts, sponsorships of concerts, productions, series, and educational initiatives, and event fundraising including the annual NSO Season Opening Ball, the annual WNO Opera Ball and over 170 cultivation events throughout the year.  Nicole designed the $10 million fundraising campaign for the WNO’s 2016 Ring Cycle. Also at the Kennedy Center, Nicole served as the Director of Affiliate Individual Giving and the Manager of National Symphony Orchestra Development. In her time as a Director and Manager at the Kennedy Center, she and her teams raised approximately $120 million.

Prior to that, Nicole coordinated Kennedy Center major giving for the Washington, DC area and also facilitated the international donor travel program and major giving for international festivals and programming.

Nicole has a degree in Art History from the Ohio State University.

About The DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland
The DeVos Institute of Arts Management provides training, consultation, and implementation support for arts managers and their boards. The institute has served more than 1,000 organizations from over 80 countries since Michael M. Kaiser founded it during his tenure as President of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. while environments, objectives, and disciplines vary, the institute works with each of its clients and trainees to create, market, and sustain exemplary cultural programs.

About San Antonio Symphony
The San Antonio Symphony, established in 1939, is a nonprofit performing arts organization with the mission to inspire and enrich its community by vigorously influencing the artistic fabric of San Antonio through excellent symphonic performance, education and service. Under the dynamic leadership of Music Director Sebastian Lang-Lessing and Assistant Conductor Noam Aviel, the San Antonio Symphony gives more than 100 performances annually, including classics, pops, educational programs, movie concerts, and performances with our fellow resident opera and ballet companies.With more than 70 professional musicians, the Symphony serves over 130,000 people per year including over 50,000 students. For more information about the San Antonio Symphony, please visit

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