Deborah F. Rutter Named Next Kennedy Center President by John R. Dow

David M. Rubenstein. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
David M. Rubenstein. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Yesterday, David M. Rubenstein, Chairman of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, today announced the selection of Deborah F. Rutter as the next Kennedy Center president. Ms. Rutter currently serves as the President of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association and will assume her Kennedy Center duties on September 1, 2014. She will serve as the Kennedy Center’s third president, following Michael M. Kaiser who will step down from the position on August 31, 2014.

“The Kennedy Center is fortunate to have found in Deborah an individual with an undeniable passion for and knowledge of the performing arts; a long, well-respected track record of managing and enhancing performing arts organizations; and a commitment to making the performing arts accessible and appealing to people of all ages and backgrounds,” stated Kennedy Center Chairman David M. Rubenstein. “I applaud Michael Kaiser for his 13 years of leadership and look forward to watching Deborah bring her unique experiences and interests to this position.”

Ms. Rutter stated, “It is a true privilege to be asked to lead this unparalleled institution. The Kennedy Center represents the very best of American culture of all forms, and I am honored at the prospect of building on the great work of my predecessor, Michael Kaiser. I thank the search committee and especially its co-chairs David Rubenstein and Tony Welters, for their commitment and the significant dialogue we had in the course of the last few months. I am incredibly excited about the future of this institution and the opportunity to work with its great artists and leaders: Christoph Eschenbach, Suzanne Farrell, Jason Moran, Francesca Zambello, as well as the The Kennedy Center’s many talented staff, volunteers, and supporters.”


Known for emphasizing collaboration, innovation, and community engagement Ms. Rutter is considered one of the most influential arts administrators in the nation. Under her leadership, the CSOA named legendary conductor Maestro Riccardo Muti as the orchestra’s music director and renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma as creative consultant.  In collaboration, they have ushered in a new era of exceptional artistry and innovative programming—across a wide variety of musical genres—ranging from a performance of Verdi’s Requiem enjoyed by more than 100,000 people through live simulcast and internet streaming to innovative education and training programs for people of all ages. At the same time, the CSO has experienced record-breaking fundraising and ticket sales along with critical acclaim.

Deborah Rutter. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.
Deborah F. Rutter. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

“Deborah Rutter has a vision for the role of the performing arts in society that closely mirrors John F. Kennedy’s words: ‘The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction, in the life of a nation, is close to the center of a nation’s purpose—and is a test to the quality of a nation’s civilization.’ Today these words seem even more prescient, and I look forward to Deborah putting her great skills, experience and creativity to work in fulfilling the promise of these words in our nation’s Performing Arts Center,” said Yo-Yo Ma.

Bill Osborn, former chairman of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra remarked, “I’ve dealt with many executives in the business world, in academia, and in the non-profit community, and Deborah is one of the best. She would be a top executive in any field, with a rare talent for strategic vision as well as detailed execution and administration.  She understands the challenges and opportunities facing arts organizations and is very creative about developing a path forward—like using social media and technology in different ways. She will be a great asset to The Kennedy Center.”

Riccardo Muti, music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, stated, “What Deborah has done in Chicago speaks of her strong commitment to the great importance of the arts and culture. I am happy that in this new position she will be able to share her deep love for music and the arts with the entire country. With friendship and respect, I offer all my best wishes knowing, from what she has accomplished in Chicago, that she will be very successful. The Kennedy Center will be an even stronger institution because of Deborah’s leadership.”

As president of the Kennedy Center, Ms. Rutter will be the artistic and administrative director of the world’s busiest performing arts center, managing all facets of the Center, including expansive theater, contemporary dance, ballet, chamber music, and jazz seasons as well as its affiliates the National Symphony Orchestra and Washington National Opera. The Center encompasses one of the nation’s largest arts education programs, reaching millions of people of all ages each year, and includes VSA, the international organization on arts and disability.

Through her work at the CSO and in her past positions, including the Seattle Symphony, Ms. Rutter has spearheaded broad-based arts programming incorporating a wide-variety of musical genres as well as dance and theater components.  In Seattle, Rutter introduced non-classical music presentations and initiated the building of a new home for the symphony, Benaroya Hall, which helped revitalize downtown Seattle.

Under her leadership in Chicago, the CSO continued to present internationally known guest artists in jazz, pop, world, and classical music. The organization also introduced an innovative series, entitled Beyond the Score, which weaves together theater, music and visual elements to draw audiences into the concert hall and into the spirit of a work. The series is currently licensed by the National Symphony Orchestra, as well as other orchestras across the U.S. and in other countries.

Rutter’s leadership in Chicago is also marked by a significant expansion and stronger focus on what she and the CSO call “Citizen Musicianship”—using and promoting the power of music to contribute to one’s culture, one’s community, and the life of others.  This focus included the establishment, in 2008, of the CSO’s Institute for Learning, Access, and Training, which coordinates and ensures the quality of the CSO’s broad range of education and community programs.

Ms. Rutter’s long biography may be found in supporting press materials.

In January 2013, The Kennedy Center announced the formation of a search committee which was co-chaired by David Rubenstein and fellow Kennedy Center trustee Anthony Welters. Mr. Welters stated, “During the last 11 months, our national search led us to many qualified candidates. In Deborah, the Center has found an individual who commands respect of the performing arts community. I thank the members of the search committee for all their time and hard work as well as Russell Reynolds, the search firm who aided us in the process.”

Michael Kaiser. Photo by Nancy Ellison.
Michael M. Kaiser. Photo by Nancy Ellison.

Michael M. Kaiser will step down as Kennedy Center president at the end of August 2014 when he will lead the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland. About Ms. Rutter’s appointment, Mr. Kaiser stated, “Deborah is smart, creative, kind, and experienced. I cannot imagine anyone in whom I would have more confidence to lead the Center.”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here