07/25/2011 08:27 am ET Updated Sep 24, 2011

A Most Unstable Summer

Once again this summer the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center is hosting its Summer Intensive Fellowship program.

This year 36 arts managers from 28 countries are studying with us. Each Fellow comes to us for three consecutive summers. They represent music, theater, dance and museum programs from countries large and small. We teach planning, marketing, fundraising, programming and a host of other subjects relevant to our Fellows and their organizations.

What strikes me most this summer is the way world events are affecting their work. Virtually every American arts organization is dealing with the residual effects of several years of deep recession; we are all struggling to find new sources of revenue, to cut budgets in appropriate ways and to establish firmer places in our communities. But many of my international Fellows are dealing with far more difficult and dangerous situations.

Our students from Egypt are facing a period of remarkable political instability. The revolution this spring has given way to... what? Nobody seems to know what the future will bring. This makes developing a strategy so difficult in a country where government support has meant so much and the future path of the government is so uncertain. So much of our teaching revolves around the benefits of planning but in such an unstable environment planning is virtually impossible.

My Greek Fellow is coping with an environment in which government funding is evaporating before her eyes as her country's debt crisis paralyzes almost every aspect of the economy. She considers herself fortunate to have her job but has been told her budget has been reduced to zero. What great artistic programming can she conceive when she has literally nothing to work with?

To a lesser extent my Fellows from England and Jordan are also facing change, from reductions in government support and political change respectively. And my Nigerian Fellow has become somewhat numbed by the violence surrounding his town of Jos. While he was once considering moving his theater to another city, he now says he can keep his theater where it is because "the number of rapes and murders has fallen since the election." It is difficult to comprehend.

I know that the education each Fellow receives over the three summers they spend with us is changing the way they do their work. One of my Czech Fellows, a rather skeptical fellow, has raised over $40,000 from individuals; he never thought that was possible in his country. Great strides are being made in introducing the concept of private fundraising in many of the countries represented.

And numerous Fellows are making wonderful progress in building audience size, visibility, memberships, joint ventures, etc.

But it is hard to find the appropriate strategy for a country in great flux. And it is painful to watch these smart, creative, passionate young people struggle to find solutions to problems that none of us can solve effectively.

The limits to what we know and can do have never felt so restrictive.