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November 19, 2020

Donor Spotlight: David Featherman

Jo-Anna and David Featherman

Jo-Anna and David Featherman at a Cabaret Dinner fundraising event at Cafe Zola

David Featherman, former director of the Institute for Social Research, and his wife Jo-Anna have been involved with UMS since the mid-1960s. David is a former UMS Board Member and was a member of the Finance Committee. David and Jo-Anna have hosted a Delicious Experience fundraising event in their home, have attended many UMS events over the years, and are generous supporters of School Day Performances. In his interview, David shares about the role the arts and UMS have played in his life.

Tell us a little about your background with the arts: Musical talents? First performing arts experience? Did you grow up with the arts or come to them as an adult?

Growing up in a Pennsylvania mill town, my first exposure to anything other than church music or big band sounds (78 RPM) came serendipitously via Radio Moscow and Radio Canada—on a war surplus shortwave receiver. Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Beethoven, Bach, even the muscular voices of the Soviet Red Army Chorus—into my Dad’s headphones (he was radio officer on Merchant Marine ships dodging U-Boats in the Atlantic) late at night. In grade school, I started piano lessons and then migrated to sax and clarinet, eventually playing in the high school PA State Orchestra Concert in Philly. My voice was never Red Army quality (forget the muscular part), but I did sing in Franklin & Marshall College men’s Glee Club that toured the East Coast (loved those women’s college counterparts) and later, madrigals with a Wisconsin early music group.


When and how did you first become involved with UMS?

I met my future wife Jo-Anna while in grad school at U-M. She introduced me to Hill Auditorium and the magic of UMS’s Choral Union Series. Sitting high in the balcony for the first time, I felt thrilled, as I did as that kid in his bedroom, discovering for the first time Radio Moscow and Canada. Of course, the sounds and resonances were infinitely better! Thirty years later, returning to Ann Arbor after living in Manhattan—season ticket donors to Opera and Symphony, musical theatre and drama on- and off-Broadway—I felt honored when Ken Fischer asked me to join the UMS Board.


Please share your favorite UMS performance or memory?

Jo-Anna and I had just returned from our wedding trip, March of 1967. Artur Rubinstein was to play Chopin (J’s favorite composer of that era; she still practices his Etudes) the next afternoon in sold-out Hill. We queued for turn-back tickets and, with newlyweds’ luck, sat keyboard side in premium seats. We marveled at his command of the keyboard; the majesty of his artful interpretations. For me, another favorite was a brief exchange backstage with Maestro Valery Gergeiv, after a 2015 performance by the Mariinsky Orchestra; he smiled as I shared my first encounter with Russian music, compliments of Radio Moscow in the early 1950s.


What about UMS inspired you to become a donor and volunteer?

Serving as Treasurer of its Board only underscored for me the critical importance of donors to the innovative aspirations of UMS. Arts organizations operate on a thin margin, and while UMS has flourished far better than many other university-affiliated presenters, its capacity for creative risk-taking rests upon its loyal donors. Jo-Anna and I have a long-term commitment to UMS’s K-12 educational program in our region; we sponsor or co-sponsor a day-time performance each year. Experiencing first-hand the astonishing enthusiasm, the disciplined attentiveness of hundreds of school kids is simply thrilling; it bodes well for musical artistry (theirs, we hope) into the future.


UMS’ motto is “Be Present,” but during these times we hope our community “Stays Present” until we can safely return to our normal programming.  How are you Staying Present with the arts?

Thanks to WRCJ (a UMS partner) and Dave Wagner’s musical erudition, we rise each morning to its soul-salving sounds and Dave’s enlightening commentaries.


As a former Board Member please reflect on how UMS has changed over the years and the value you think it brings to the community and university.

I’d highlight two evolutions. One is ever greater diversity in presented and commissioned works—by genre, world region, emerging artistry—inviting fresh audiences and longstanding patrons to experience the emotional and aesthetic contours of the less familiar. The second enables the first, namely, a more systematic medium-range (two- to three-year) program development cycle and commensurate fiscal discipline (risk management, imaginative marketing, and partnership and donor cultivation) necessary to navigate and sustain creative arts presentation through volatile economic times. Kudos to past and present visionary Presidents and their talented and dedicated M-Team; but especially to inspired Programming Director Michael Kondziolka, imaginative Marketing Director Sara Billman, the business acumen of the late John Kennard, and last but not least, the foresight and vigilance of UMS’ Boards of Directors.


If you had to describe UMS to someone new to Ann Arbor in two or three sentences, what would you say?

If you have ever spent even a few days or weeks in New York City partaking its unrivaled array of musical and dramatic theatre, opera, dance, symphonic and chamber concerts, and blues and jazz orchestras, then you’ll get a feel for what a typical season of UMS-sponsored performances might be like. It’s a smaller sample of that full range, perhaps, but the performers are often identical. Add the touring orchestras, drama companies, and solo artists from abroad, some having skipped NYC. And bear in mind that the logistics of getting to see all of that with ease, at prices affordable by most folks in SE Michigan, and students as well, make UMS unrivaled. No offense intended, New York.