WASHINGTON (AP) — The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced the largest private donation in its history Monday — a $22.5 million gift from Dick and Betsy DeVos to endow a management training program for arts leaders.

Arts organizations have been struggling or even closing their doors in the recession and need expert leadership to survive, Betsy DeVos said. The gift is among the largest ever by the Michigan couple.

"We spend millions and billions of dollars training the most talented artists in the world, and yet we have invested very little historically in actually helping train and prepare their leadership, those who manage and employ them," she said.

The gift will help fund two-year arts management training programs across the country. The center already has trained leaders from more than 400 small to mid-sized groups in New York, Chicago and Washington since 2001. It also hosts fellows each year.

The donation recalls a huge $50 million gift announced in 2001 by Internet stock guru Alberto Vilar to underwrite the arts management institute. Only a small portion of the donation was fulfilled, though, and Vilar was sentenced to nine years in prison this year for stealing from investors.

The DeVos gift is now the largest ever devoted to arts management, Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser said.

The program will be named the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center. A new effort will begin soon for arts groups in Michigan, a state hard hit by the recession.

"It's only been more recently that funders have said, 'If we don't want to waste the money we're giving to arts organizations, we have to make sure their managers are better trained,'" Kaiser said.

The couple runs the private Grand Rapids management firm The Windquest Group, which oversees their investments, including a factory that makes closet storage equipment.

For years, Dick DeVos ran the direct marketing company Amway Corp., founded by his father Richard DeVos Sr., who is No. 61 on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans. The family also owns basketball's Orlando Magic.

Dick DeVos, 54, ran unsuccessfully for governor as a Republican in 2006. It was Michigan's most expensive race ever as DeVos spent more than $35 million of his own money to challenge Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm.

President George W. Bush appointed Betsy DeVos, 52, a former chairman of Michigan's GOP, to the Kennedy Center's board six years ago. Her term expires this year, though she expects to remain active with the institute.

The gift is an endorsement of Kaiser, who has been traveling to all 50 states, aiding arts groups in financial crisis. If not for him, "we would probably view it differently," Betsy DeVos said.

On Monday, the center's board announced Kaiser would remain as president through 2014 and then will lead the DeVos Institute through 2017.


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