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January 21, 2021

Donor Spotlight: Tim and Sally Petersen

Tim and Sally Petersen backstage with Tim’s mother and Yo-Yo Ma.

Tim and Sally Petersen backstage with Tim’s mother and Yo-Yo Ma.

Tim and Sally Petersen are long-time supporters of the Arts and UMS. Tim has been on the UMS board since 2013 and became Board Chair in 2019. Tim and Sally have been generous supporters of our more adventurous programming and most recently sponsored our production of Some Old Black Man. In his interview, Tim discusses an interesting first year as Board Chair and why he sees the importance of supporting and creating art during these challenging times.

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?

While I was fortunate to be exposed to the arts as a child (and was not a bad piano player!), it was not an overriding element of my childhood – I was busy playing every sport I could!  At the same time, I had enough exposure so that there were no barriers to becoming much more engaged as an adult.  One of the things we’ve done right as parents was to expose our two kids as well – through participation as well as travel tied to artistic experiences.


When and how were you inspired to first become involved with UMS?

While Sally and I had occasionally attended UMS performances since moving to Ann Arbor in 1996, we became much more engaged when I was asked to join the board in 2013. I joined the board for three reasons – (1) the overall reputation and excellence of the organization was an obvious draw, (2) I thought I could contribute in a way that was additive rather than redundant, and (3) a bit selfishly, I was interested in the “arts education” I would receive through my involvement.


Please share your favorite UMS performance or memory?

We have jumped in with both feet over the past decade, and really sampled all that UMS has to offer, which in turn has led to many memorable experiences. Answering the question directly is not difficult, however, as one moment really stands out: the fall 2014 performance of Kiss and Cry. I’m not sure I will even try to explain it, other than to call it experimental theatre that hits all the right notes – entertaining, enthralling, and thought-provoking. A shout out to Michael Kondziolka for cajoling me to attend! Experimental theatre has enriched our lives and has become a focus of our giving to UMS.


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?

UMS has done a great job ‘pushing the envelope’ in terms of its digital programming – the production value of the December 2020 Wynton Marsalis holiday concert is one good example. Really beautifully set and recorded, a far different experience than simply watching a ‘recorded concert.’ We have also had the opportunity to visit the incredible modern art museum (MassMoca) near our place in Western Massachusetts on a couple of occasions. The spaces are so large that it can be safely experienced during the pandemic and is another way we have “stayed present” with the Arts.


From opening the season with a sold-out live orchestra performance of Amadeus to an unforeseen early end to the season, this must have been an interesting first year as Board Chair for UMS. As Board Chair, what has been your main takeaway in terms of continuing to support and show up for the arts in our community during this moment?

It has been extremely gratifying to see the intensity and consistency of support for UMS during these incredibly difficult times. All of our constituencies – patrons, donors, artists – have remained active by continuing to participate in digital programming, donating, and enthusiastically working with us in completely new and different ways. Even more gratifying has been to see the UMS staff, under Matthew’s leadership, step up in such impressive ways during a period of time that has placed us all under such enormous stress. I cannot thank the UMS team enough.


You and your wife, Sally, were one of the first sponsors to step up and support our Digital Artist Residencies, specifically our production of Some Old Black Man with Wendell Pierce. What was it about this project that inspired you to make such a generous gift to help launch this endeavor for UMS?

It was a combination of a couple of factors. First, a deep appreciation for the excellence and breadth of Wendell’s work through the years combined with his genuine enthusiasm for working with UMS in general and on this project in particular. (Am I an unabashed fan of The Wire in general and “Bunk” in particular? That would be Yes!) Second, from being close to UMS’s careful planning, I knew that this project could serve as a model for executing creative work in these incredibly challenging times. In other words, it would not just be about the work itself but how similar productions could be created safely.