Donor Spotlight: Joel Howell and Linda Samuelson
During this most uncommon season, UMS has been especially grateful for our donors and community partners’ continued support of and belief in our mission. Thanks to their generosity, we have been able to continue to invest in artists and their work, widen the impact of the arts by making our digital offerings free to everyone and explore new ways of delivering uncommon and engaging experiences with artists. Although we are not able to share and celebrate these stories of support in person, we are excited to unveil this Donor Spotlight blog to recognize these important contributions as well as offer a nostalgic look back on some fond UMS memories.
This week, we recognize Joel Howell and Linda Samuelson. Joel and Linda have been involved with UMS since the early 1980s. Linda and Joel have each loved the performing arts for a long time. Joel is a former UMS Board Member and was a member of the Development and Program Committee. Joel continues to serve as a Sustaining Director. Joel was instrumental in establishing the ongoing Medical Arts Program, a partnership between UMS, the health system, and other arts organizations to engage medical students and house officers with the arts. Joel and Linda have attended many UMS events over the years, and they are generous performance sponsors.
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?
LINDA: When we first got married, we lived in Chicago, where we were enamored of the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony. Then Joel moved to Philadelphia, home to a distinguished orchestra and only an hour from the many wonders of New York City.
In 1983, we found ourselves looking for jobs, trying to find two positions in the same city. Fortunately, we were both offered wonderful opportunities at an excellent university. But the university was located not in a large metropolitan area, but in a small, Midwestern college town. We loved the jobs but were concerned that taking those jobs would mean that we would have to give up being able to experience top-tier performing arts.
And then we heard about UMS. We looked over recent programs and soon realized that one could live in Ann Arbor and continue to experience wonderful arts. Thus, our decision to move to the University of Michigan was driven in part by the existence of UMS.
When and how did you first become involved with UMS?
LINDA: As soon as we moved to Ann Arbor we started going to UMS performances. We especially enjoy the subscription series, which often led us to enjoy performances that we would not otherwise attend, often by relatively new composers and writers.
For about the past decade Joel has directed the Medical Arts Program, which was created jointly between UMS and the Medical School, and continues to offer medical students and residents the opportunity to improve their skills as a physician through engagement with the arts.
Please share your favorite UMS performance or memory.
JOEL: This one is hard. For me, it came at the end of András Schiff’s amazing performance of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas. At the very end of that journey, in the sublime silence that followed the mystical end of opus 111, I will always remember experiencing the soundless space of Hill Auditorium for a few seconds as the audience started to process what they had heard and felt. This was one of those incredible, life-sustaining moments that can only come from a live performance.
LINDA: It’s the surprises that I most enjoy. For example, after Cecelia Bartoli canceled a highly anticipated performance, I loved hearing, instead, the amazing concert performance by Ewa Podleś, who has since become one of my favorite artists.
What about UMS inspired you to become a donor to — and volunteer with — UMS?
BOTH: UMS is one of the organizations that makes Ann Arbor and the surrounding area such a wonderful place to live. We are fortunate enough to be able to offer support, which we do in the belief that UMS is valuable for all members of the community.
UMS’s 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?
JOEL: We are very excited about the upcoming digital artist residencies, and especially the planned interactions between (virtually) visiting artists and medical students. The Paul Taylor celebration was amazing!
UMS: As a former Board Member, can you take a moment to reflect on how UMS has changed over the years and the value you think it brings to the community and university?
JOEL: UMS has become much broader, much bolder, more edgy, more willing to push the margins. Yes, it’s wonderful to hear the Berlin Philharmonic play Brahms symphonies, and we hope to do so again. But to hear Einstein on the Beach is an unexpected treat. The diversity of artists has increased. The outreach to schoolchildren is amazing. This is all due to the superb leadership and staff who have guided UMS through the years.
And now, as we wind our way down an uncertain path, it seems obvious that the world at the end of the path will not look the same as before the pandemic. Knowing about the sort of innovation and insight that the people who run UMS have displayed over the past few decades gives us confidence. It makes us believe that, although just what it will look like is unclear, UMS will continue to be a leader for the community and a source of pride, inspiration, and enjoyment for all of us.
If you had to describe UMS to someone new to Ann Arbor in two-three sentences, what would you say?
BOTH: UMS brings to our community outstanding performers and creative arts events. Go enjoy something familiar that you know you will love. Go experience something totally new and surprising. Get to know about the many opportunities to expand your horizons. And you will realize how lucky we are to have UMS to enhance our lives.