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Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser must be smartin’ this weekend. In today’s Washington Post, the Sunday Arts section unleashes a five-critic assault on the massive arts center’s upcoming season. “Is the Kennedy Center playing it too safe?” reads the headline of Philip Kennicott‘s package-leading essay. If the answer was no, there’d be no point in asking.
Looking at the 2011-2012 season, Kennicott says the KenCen’s arts programmers are guilty of
failure to collaborate with other blue-chip arts organizations in Washington, failure to capitalize on the academic and intellectual heft easily available in the Washington area and failure to keep Washington abreast of the major innovations and trends in the performing-arts world.
He goes on for a while, and then four of the paper’s critics pile on: Sarah Kaufman says KenCen’s self-proclaimed “huge” dance season is really a grouping of oft-mounted old faithfuls. Peter Marks says the theater season is too heavy on touring musicals, with not enough emphasis on new American playwrights. Anne Midgette writes that KenCen’s upcoming season has some big names, middlebrow taste, and a weak-sauce festival spotlighting Vienna, Prague, and Budapest. Matt Schudel is kindest, but says KenCen’s jazz programming could still use more breadth and depth. Several of the critics compare the Kennedy Center to that other big multidisciplinary arts center, Lincoln Center, and praise the latter for mounting brave productions across the disciplines. But braveness is spread in, they write, across the Kennedy Center’s offerings.
In other words: Kennedy Center just got punished for playing it too safe. While much of its upcoming fare—-like touring productions of Billy Elliot and Les Miserables—-is probably critic-proof, it’s hard to imagine arts consumers not taking notice of three pages of WaPo haterade. It’s not often that five major arts critics—-one of whom has a Pulitzer—-tell a major arts institution to grow some balls.
I can’t wait to read Kaiser’s Huffington Post column tomorrow.
Update, March 14: Blargh. Keiser’s column today is about Zanzibar.