My Visit to Prague

I have written before about visiting Prague, the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic.

This visit was different for two reasons. While my previous reason for visiting this city was to teach arts managers, this time I came for the annual summit of the Kennedy Center International Committee on the Arts. This is a group of major patrons, both American and foreign, who support the international work of the Kennedy Center. Each year we visit a major city and enjoy the culture, people and sights of the city.

This visit was also distinguished by the weather: just preceding our visit, there was a long and intense rainy streak that caused massive flooding in Prague and elsewhere. Many museums and parks were closed; the itinerary for our group had to be reformed every day.

What was not unusual about this trip was that some of the most exciting moments were not associated with visiting churches and museums or sampling local culture or food. Instead, the Committee members were fascinated to interact with the arts management students at our DeVos Institute of Arts Management -- my "children."

Since we have so many former Fellows in Prague -- those who studied with us at the Center -- I thought it would be interesting for the members of the Committee to hear them discuss the way the Fellowship experience changed the way they do their work.

The Committee members have observed my teaching before, but they never heard from our former students or had an opportunity to evaluate the true impact of our teaching activities. They were fascinated as they heard six of the Fellows describe the new approaches to fundraising and marketing they now employ. Lukas, for example, who is head of marketing and development for a local theater, now receives 40 percent of his funding from individual donors -- up from zero five years ago.

Eva, who is executive director of an orchestra that plays contemporary Czech music, said her problem now is not selling tickets but to find larger venues since her concerts routinely sell out.

Marek, who runs two music festivals (one of which he founded 18 years ago), now holds an annual fundraising gala that attracts over 1,000 guests each year.

And on and on.

Each Fellow had an important and impressive story to tell.

What was most interesting is that they all agreed that the most important thing they learned at the Kennedy Center was courage, the courage to ask for money, the courage to embrace a new funding paradigm, the courage to do something different than others in the Czech arts ecology.

In the end, my Committee members were truly inspired and engaged; they recognized that their philanthropy, which helps fund our international fellowship program, is of true importance.

This in itself was a good lesson for my Fellows. Showing donors the impact of their work is the best tool for ensuring that their giving continues and grows.

In the end, the power of doing good work overcomes a flood any day!