- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Stephen A. Schwarzman, president and chief executive of the New York investment firm the Blackstone Group, is the new chairman of the Kennedy Center, effective immediately, officials announced yesterday.

Mr. Schwarzman, 57, cut his economic teeth as head of the global investment firm but takes over a center in the midst of major construction and another ambitious arts season.

The businessman, who will keep his Manhattan address for the time being, replaces James Johnson, who stepped down last year after an eight-year run.

Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser runs the day-to-day operations; Mr. Schwarzman’s duties will include balancing the center’s creative vision with the harsh realities of arts fund raising.

Mr. Schwarzman, a longtime arts advocate who has worked with the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the New York City Ballet, among other groups, said the position would help him “get to know Washington better.”

“This is one of the great arts centers in the world. It already had terrific management,” Mr. Schwarzman said. “It’s not broken, so I don’t have to fix it.”

The new chairman, who has been president and CEO of the Blackstone Group since co-founding it in 1985, said he not only read everything he could about the Kennedy Center before taking the job, but also chatted up D.C. residents. The conversations, he said, gave him a better insight into the center than any article could.

“I was not aware of the kind of remarkable support and focus the Kennedy Center gets from the local community,” Mr. Schwarzman said.

In New York, patrons stick to individual companies, of which there are dozens. Not so in the District, where, he added, many arts patrons pledge their allegiance to the Kennedy Center.

Mr. Schwarzman, who diplomatically said he likes all the arts equally for different reasons, promised to travel to the District regularly as part of his new role. He will not be stepping down from his duties with Blackstone.

It might seem peculiar that the new chairman’s home will remain outside the Beltway, but Mr. Kaiser said Mr. Schwarzman’s housing decision isn’t “inappropriate,” citing previous chairman James D. Wolfensohn’s initial New York residence as precedent.

“Telecommunication works really well these days,” Mr. Kaiser said with a chuckle. “Jim Johnson traveled a lot. … It’s about communication.”

Though the position might sound straightforward, Mr. Kaiser said the chairman must oversee a complex organization that’s involved in everything from producing new plays to juggling the center’s educational duties.

“The chair has to be able to understand each element,” he said.

The Kennedy Center’s previous chairmen were, in chronological order, Roger L. Stevens, Ralph P. Davidson, Mr. Wolfensohn and Mr. Johnson. The center opened in 1971.

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