Your Cart UMS
September 13, 2010

Arts in Education Week: The UMS Perspective

By Ken Fischer

Back in July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring this week as Arts in Education Week. To that end, will post a series of articles this week focused on arts education. This first post features UMS President Ken Fischer talking about UMS’s arts education focus, which was virtually non-existent when he arrived in Ann Arbor in 1987.

UMS is proud of all of our education programs, but as our K-12 program begins its third decade, I want to take a minute to acknowledge its origins.  I’ll never forget my first meeting with Ann Arbor Public Schools arts coordinator Deb Katz in 1988.  I wanted her advice about how we might begin a K-12 program.  Deb was on maternity leave, so I met with her in her home.  As she sat with her infant daughter in her lap, she passed on this clear and authoritative advice:  “Start with fourth graders and expose them to opera.”  That’s exactly what we did.  We engaged the NYC Opera National Company each year well into the 1990s, and as part of their residency, they performed two abbreviated one-hour shows for Ann Arbor fourth graders who were able to experience Carmen, La Bohème, Barber of Seville, and other well-known operas, sung in their original language with English surtitles.  Each teacher received a resource packet about the opera and how its elements could be tied to the curriculum – geography, math, language, cultural traditions, etc.  Each year the Company invited a dozen students to appear on stage in crowd scenes, complete with costumes.  Deb’s advice was right on:  Opera had all of the elements – music, dance, and drama – to engage curious, open, and enthusiastic fourth graders.

Ben Johnson’s arrival in 1995 as our first full-time education director came at the same time UMS was expanding and diversifying our programming.  With extraordinary support from the UMS Advisory Committee, who identified our K-12 program as the beneficiary of their Ford Honors Program and On the Road fundraisers and who serve as the volunteer greeters and ushers for all of the youth performances, UMS’s K-12 program now serves up to 20,000 young people from throughout the region who experience the rich diversity of cultural expressions from all over the world.

In 1997, UMS was named a “Partner in Education” by the Kennedy Center. Working with the Ann Arbor Public Schools, UMS participates in an annual institute that provides models and planning strategies for expanding professional development programs in the arts for all teachers, as a way of increasing the artistic literacy of young people. In addition to youth performances, we now provide workshops, daylong immersions, and in-classroom experiences that complement the youth performance series in the concert venues.

We are so fortunate to live in a community that recognizes the value of arts education. Attendance at teacher workshops and youth performances continues to grow, and we regularly hear that these opportunities have been “game-changers” in the classroom for students and educators alike.

Each year, we host an “After-School Luncheon for Teachers” to talk about the season’s upcoming programs [pdf]. This year’s is tomorrow – Tuesday, September 14 at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.  All are welcome to attend and learn more about UMS’s programs that will help create lifelong lovers of the performing arts.


Ken Fischer is the President of the University Musical Society (UMS) of the University of Michigan (U-M). Under Ken’s leadership UMS has expanded and diversified its programming and audiences; deepened its engagement with the U-M and southeast Michigan communities; created effective partnerships with corporations, arts organizations, educational institutions, and community organizations; and received significant grants from the leading arts foundations. Ken has contributed to the presenting field as speaker, workshop leader, writer, consultant, panelist, and U.S. State Department cultural ambassador to Brazil, China, Lithuania, and Mexico. He chairs the board of National Arts Strategies and the national advisory board of the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project. He serves on the boards of the Sphinx Organization, International Society for the Performing Arts, Cultural Alliance of Southeast Michigan, and Ann Arbor SPARK. Ken received ISPA's Patrick Hayes Award in 2003 and APAP's Fan Taylor Award in 2011 for his career achievements and the Mariam Noland Award for Nonprofit Leadership from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan in 2012. Ken has been recognized by The Links, Inc., Ann Arbor Public Schools Foundation, Jewish Family Services of Washtenaw County, Ann Arbor Convention and Visitors Bureau, Michigan Taiwanese American Association, and Performance Network for his contributions to the Ann Arbor community. Ken has degrees from The College of Wooster and U-M and is a graduate of Plymouth (MI) High School’s Class of 1962. Ken’s home was Plymouth, Michigan, between 1950-67 where he grew up with his three siblings Jerry, Norman, and Martha, and with his parents Beth and Jerry Fischer. Ken’s wife is flutist Penny Peterson Fischer whom he met at Interlochen as a teen in 1961. Their son Matt is Senior Director of the App Store at Apple and lives with his wife Renee and sons Alex and Reid in the San Francisco Bay area. Ken's personal interests include mentoring U-M students and emerging arts leaders, Interlochen, Detroit Tigers, skiing, photography, and the efforts of Zeitouna to find effective ways to resolve conflict.
Love great music, theater, and dance?

Love great music, theater, and dance?

Surely your inbox has room for one more email... Sign up for notifications on new digital and live performances, plus season updates.

Thanks! We'll keep you updated.