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Donor Spotlight: Neil Hawkins and his Love of ‘The Godfather’

Annmarie and Neil Hawkins

Annmarie and Neil Hawkins

Neil and Annmarie Hawkins are film buffs, longtime supporters of UMS, and enthusiastic sponsors of The Godfather Live in our 23/24 performance season. We sat down with Neil to discuss his interest in the film and why he thinks it’s one of the great movies of all time.

UMS presents The Godfather Live with the Grand Rapids Symphony and conductor John Varineau on Sunday, January 7 at 3 pm in Hill Auditorium (presented with subtitles and performed with one intermission).

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Sara Billmann, UMS: Neil, can you start off telling us a little bit about yourself?

Neil Hawkins: I’m president of the World Environment Center and also a Harvard professor. The World Environment Center is a sustainable business organization headquartered in Washington, DC and focused on bringing together business to solve sustainability challenges, which fits closely with my career. In my Harvard role, I teach sustainability in their master’s program. That’s what I do. I’m a sustainability guy, professionally, when I’m not doing film.

Sara: And how did you get involved with UMS?

Neil: I met [UMS president emeritus] Ken Fischer at a U of M football game about 10 years ago, and Ken and I were talking about theater. We’re big theater junkies, and we wanted more theater in UMS, and he said, “Hey, you get involved with us. We’ll find a way to have more theater,” and that’s how I became involved with UMS. Later on, I met [former board chair] Rachel Bendit, who introduced me to Matthew VanBesien, and then two of them brought me onto the board in 2021.

Sara: That’s excellent, and we’ve really enjoyed your perspective as a board member. So, give us a little bit of the backstory on The Godfather Live and how you ended up sponsoring it. What is it about the film with live music concept that’s compelling to you?

Neil: Okay. First off, we’re really very keen on theater and film, the Hawkins family, Annmarie and I. For me, the film part of that goes back to when I was in high school and college. I have 40 years of intensive film study, and I went through a period of time where, in one year, I was watching about two films a day because I was trying to catch up on all of the classic canon of films.

This love of film is a big thing.

Most cinema, most films have a very integral relationship with the music. There’s this whole subculture of writing scores and performing scores that it’s an art form in and of itself, the writing of a score to match a film. You’ll have a director that has an artistic vision that they put onto film, but then they have to marry that with a composer that really understands what they’re trying to achieve in that scene. When that really works and when it meshes, it’s magical. It’s very fun to experience. It’s very meaningful. The depth of the experience is much greater than if you just had the visual without the score, and the score is not particularly meaningful without the visual because it was written specifically for it.

When you hit those magical moments in cinema and film where you have both, it’s very exciting. If you go back to the silent era, you had music performed in the theater live with organs and whatnot. I recognize and enjoy the interaction of scores with film and scenes. That’s something longstanding.

When we moved to Michigan in 1988, within a few months of moving to Michigan, I noticed in the [Detroit] Free Press that the Detroit Symphony Orchestra was going to have a screening of Alexander Nevsky with the DSO playing the score. It was an amazing experience. Alexander Nevsky was a film from the silent era, a film created and filmed by Sergei Eisenstein, and the score was written by Sergei Prokofiev, one of the great Russian composers of that century. It was magical to be able to see the silent classic and to experience an orchestra playing that miraculous score by Prokofiev. That was my first experience seeing the performance of a score with a film, and that really got me excited about it. It made an impression that this is an area of performance art that the melding of the two can really be spectacular.

UMS has put on some amazing [film-in-concert] performances. I saw On the Waterfront with the New York Philharmonic, which is a fantastic film, but the score is equally amazing. UMS did Amadeus with an orchestra, but also with the chorus singing the Requiem and other choral parts. That was amazing. You’ve also done 2001: A Space Odyssey. So I said to Matthew, “Look, given my longtime interest in film and orchestral performance, we should try to have one.” And he worked on it, and was able to put together The Godfather for the current season.

Diane Keaton and Al Pacino in 'The Godfather'

The Godfather

Sara: You said you first saw The Godfather in high school or college. What would you want people to know about the film?

Neil: The Godfather is one of the great films of all time. It has one of the great film performances of actors, Marlon Brando and Al Pacino, Robert Duvall. These are just spectacular performances. They’re once-in-a-career performances.

The story was based upon a Mario Puzo book, and he also adapted it for the screenplay with Francis Ford Coppola. I actually recently saw the annotated screenplay out in a museum in LA where Francis had… It was the screenplay, and then he was writing in his notes around what he was trying to do with the actors in the scene.

[Read more: Inside Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘Godfather’ Notebook: Never-Before-Seen Photos, Handwritten Notes]

It’s one of the great movie experiences. On paper, it might seem to be about violence. It’s really not. There’s plenty of violence in the film, but I would say it’s more about family. It’s about family ties. It’s about the loyalty within the family. The Godfather himself is extremely loyal to both his family, and to his friends… He really built his crime family through assisting people, not so much the violent kind of crime we think of today associated with organized crime. It was a little different. I’m not saying it was good, but it’s not just a straight violent crime story.

The Godfather

Sara: I love that you focus on it not really being a movie about violence, but more about family. I think I mentioned to you that, over the last, since the pandemic, I’ve been working my way through The Sopranos for the first time, and the same thing strikes me with that. I mean, there are certainly those brutal moments that are eye-averting and pretty awful to watch. But at the end, I think what I find so compelling about it is there’s this person who appears to be in control of everything, but who is also super vulnerable and the tiniest slights really hurt him so deeply. Ultimately, I think both of the shows are really human stories more than anything.

Neil: You have the Godfather, Vito Corleone, and you have Michael, you have Sonny and you have Fredo. You have four godfather men. Plus, you have Tom, who’s sort of an adopted son. Just seeing the differences in the Godfather himself versus Fredo and Michael and Sonny, they’re very different people, yet they’re all in the same family, and the hopes and aspirations that the family had for each of them was very different. It’s very interesting. I know we’re only watching The Godfather coming up here, but The Godfather II is really an outstanding film. The background on how The Godfather got to where he is really completes the family story a lot, and I would recommend that highly.

Let me comment also on the score. I recently re-watched it, and I’ve watched this film many times. I’ve probably seen it 50 times, so quite a few times.

Sara: No kidding? 50 times?!?

Neil: Well, I’m guessing. Let’s say it’s 30, but it’s definitely more than 20.

Sara: That’s amazing.

Neil: Well, I tend to study films, so then, once I’ve watched it, if I think it’s good, I’ll watch it again. I recently watched it, and there’s actually a lot of parts to this film where it’s silent in the background. I had never thought about that before because, a lot of films, it’s playing the whole time. This one, there’s a lot of parts where the orchestra will just be sitting there. I think it’ll be very interesting to experience that feeling of the orchestra coming in after long pauses and understanding where in the film they chose to do that.

Sara: That’s so interesting that you say that because I think I mentioned to you that I did my Godfather immersion last week and watched all three films over five days. I think you’re right about the silence of the orchestra, and I think, particularly in the live orchestra experience, it becomes so much more potent about how important the music is to the film when you have the immediacy right there. It doesn’t fade into the background, and the silent moments are all the more powerful.

Neil: The score itself was written by Nino Rota. It has great beauty and it’s very provocative. It elicits a lot of emotion. I think that it will be thrilling for the audience to hear that score and, at critical moments, match that to what’s going on. Nino Rota was the composer that did almost all of Federico Fellini’s films. I’m a big Federico Fellini fan, and seeing, hearing Nino Rota as part of, I don’t know, 10 or a dozen Fellini films like La Strada or , those are great, great films that are driven by the scores. Linking Nino Rota to Francis Coppola, this is pretty exciting.

[Learn more on our blog: Why Nino Rota’s Score for ‘The Godfather’ is So Memorable]

The other thing is that the 50th anniversary of this film just came by a year or so ago, so this should be a new print that is very high quality. Most people who have seen The Godfather have never seen a clean print. From what I understand, it will be much brighter in the backgrounds compared to what most people have seen so they’ll be able to see pieces of it that they’ve not actually seen before.

Sara: This has been such a fun conversation, and I so appreciate your taking the time to chat about the film. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Neil: One other thing, you may or may not know this, but on Paramount+ Streaming, there’s a fantastic show called The Offer, which was based upon a book written by the producer of the film, and it’s the backstory on how The Godfather was made. It’s fascinating. How did Marlon Brando get in the film? How did Al Pacino get in the film? The studio did not want Pacino because he was a unknown stage actor in New York. They wanted other people to play that role. There’s just a lot in there, and most of it is accurate. It’s a narrative, fictionalized account, but from what I understand about The Godfather, it’s actually pretty accurate.

The man who produced it, he was actually a Rand Corporation security analyst who was a genius, who was bored and decided to get into movies. This was only his second film. He also had to deal with the Mafia itself, because the Mafia was concerned about this movie coming out. The book had already upset them, but then, having a movie about it, that was potentially a problem. He had to negotiate with the organized crime families of that time to get their agreement to allow it to be made. One of the things they insisted upon is they did not want the word Mafia used, and so, actually, in the first film, I don’t think there’s any reference to Mafia. It was due to their sensitivities, but they were pleased at the final result. It required this newcomer producer to manage the studio, manage the Mafia, work with Marlon Brando and all these folks. You would enjoy it. You ought to watch it.

Sara: Ok, I have to ask one last question, which is: what is your favorite scene, favorite lines from the movie?

Neil: Well, The Godfather is full of famous lines, so I don’t really necessarily have a favorite. I think my favorite scene is when his dad has been shot and he’s in the hospital and he goes to see his dad, and all his policemen and protectors are gone, and he’s moving him around within the hospital to protect him, and then Enzo the baker comes. I don’t know if you remember this. Enzo the baker comes and helps, and he’s shaking when he’s trying to light a cigarette. That’s my favorite scene. Enzo the baker. He’s in that first scene where the Godfather’s granting audiences and giving out favors. He is one of the people that gets a favor. He’s not asking for it, but he gets the favor. I will stop what I’m doing and watch that scene every time.

Behind the Scenes: How Oxford Companies Helped Bring ‘The Plastic Bag Store’ To Life

777 Building

Exterior of ‘The 777 Building,’ which hosted 40+ performances of ‘The Plastic Bag Store’ from Jan 17 – Feb 5, 2023.

More and more theater makers are creating site-specific work and work for unconventional spaces. So what do you do when one of the most poignant and impactful works on the season needs a custom-designed space? You turn to the community for help.

On a warm September evening in 2022, Oxford Companies President and CEO Jeff Hauptman (LSA ’92) and his wife, Melissa, were sitting in the back row of an event at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). University of Michigan Vice President for Development Tom Baird interviewed UMS President Matthew VanBesien and UMMA Director Christina Olsen about upcoming performances and exhibitions. The two had been talking about a fascinating project on which UMS, UMMA, the U-M Graham Sustainability Institute, and the U-M Arts Initiative were collaborating as part of UMS’s No Safety Net 3.0 festival, which was also sponsored by the U-M College of Literature, Science & the Arts: Robin Frohardt’s The Plastic Bag Store, an art installation and immersive film experience that uses humor and craft to question the enduring effects of single-use plastics. At the end of their remarks, with the audience leaning in and wanting to learn more, Baird asked where the installation and performance would take place. VanBesien admitted we didn’t yet have a venue, because of the unique needs of the project. Hauptman raised his hand and said, “I can help.”

Robin Frohardt, the Brooklyn-based creator of The Plastic Bag Store, came out to Ann Arbor in October to tour several possible sites for the installation. Oxford’s flagship 777 Building happened to have a vacant space on the main floor that fit the bill. UMS Production Director Ryan Graves and Oxford Companies’ Chief Real Estate Officer Wonwoo Lee immediately got to work on plans to build out what was essentially a raw construction site and load in the art installation in time for the show’s Ann Arbor premiere on January 17. However, the logistical challenges in bringing the installation to fruition were profound.

Vacant first floor space of the 777 Building.

Vacant first floor space of the 777 Building.

As Graves explained, “Moving a production from one theatrical venue to another typically requires adapting measurements and scale within the new structure. Moving and adapting a site-specific, storefront theatrical experience required the management of significantly more variables. In this case, we were converting a raw, non-theatrical restaurant space into a grocery store – and we would only have one week in which to do it once Robin and her team landed in Ann Arbor. Lighting, audio, power, video, and overall scenic designs all had to be customized to preserve the artistic direction of the performance, while following multiple safety measures and the physical parameters of the space.”

Right after Thanksgiving, Oxford learned from the Fire Marshall that the art installation itself used certain materials in such a way that would require significant fire safety upgrades as well as modifications to the sets. It was unexpected news for both the presenting partners and Oxford, and ripples travel fast in this city. Almost immediately, many parties from across the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan sprang into action to bring this project to life.

As Mayor Christopher Taylor stated, “The City of Ann Arbor has long recognized the harmful effects of single-use plastics on our environment. In fact, our A2ZERO initiative to be Carbon Neutral by 2030 includes a goal of moving toward a circular economy by changing the way we use, reuse, and dispose of materials – including single-use plastics. The Plastic Bag Store was an incredibly clever, unique way to raise awareness among our citizens of just how much plastic is used in packaged foods, and how long it will linger on our planet. We all wanted to do everything we could to see this installation come to life for the educational benefits it provided to our residents.”

Now, all parties were locked in a delicate balancing act of maintaining artistic intent while meeting code and flammability requirements.

Lee acted quickly, assembled the team of architects and contractors at Oxford, and contacted colleagues at the City of Ann Arbor. Architect Caleb Marquard worked with the Ann Arbor plan review team who dropped what they were doing to move the project forward with tremendous patience and poise. Marquard also worked with the City’s Building Department to secure permits in less than one week.

The Oxford team provided architectural services, modified sprinkler heads, pull-station alarms, emergency lighting, fireproofing, installation of electrical panels and access controls, Unistrut beam systems to hang theatrical lighting and sound for the show, floor repairs, HVAC zoning and duct modifications for the space, clean-up, and general maintenance – in all, about $90,000 of improvements to the raw space. Typically, this takes at least several months to execute. Oxford’s team completed everything in just nine days during the holiday season.

Graves elaborated, noting “Creativity was essential to satisfy Robin’s vision while working in tandem with inspectors, contractors, stagehands, and non-theatrical experienced stakeholders. This was a complex orchestration that required many to work in sync and mutually learn and flex along the way. I have to give immense credit to my supportive and creative partner at Oxford, Wonwoo Lee. We spoke daily and creatively shifted our planning with every curveball to bring this production to Ann Arbor audiences. Without his commitment and passion, this project would not have been possible.”

The City’s building inspectors came out on a moment’s notice, as soon as we were ready and at the last possible minute, to keep things on track – which is a testament to the City’s understanding of the importance of this project to all parties.

Installation on 'The Plastic Bag Store' begins

Installation begins on ‘The Plastic Bag Store’

As U-M President Santa Ono explained, “The arts have a unique ability to make us see our world in new and different ways. The Plastic Bag Store installation was a great example of that, a fantastic opportunity for multiple areas of expertise across the University of Michigan to collaborate in opening eyes and finding solutions for the climate crisis, one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

From meeting delivery requirements on weekends and evenings, to working with city officials and inspectors to comply and exceed safety standards, Oxford demonstrated its commitment to the arts as a key driver of quality of life in our community through exceptional efforts to bring The Plastic Bag Store to Ann Arbor.

“Bringing The Plastic Bag Store event/exhibit to the 777 Building and working closely with the world-class UMS team was an honor, and we were thrilled to host it in our headquarters building.” Jeff Hauptman, President and CEO, Oxford Companies. “We believe that the State and Eisenhower Corridor is a currently under-utilized, high-potential area of our city that can and should be home to more cultural and artistic events and organizations.”

VanBesien noted, “There really is a certain magic to creating live performing arts experiences. If all goes well, nobody notices, or even thinks about, what it took to get a show onto the stage. In this case, it took nothing short of herculean efforts by a huge team of experts from across the University, the City of Ann Arbor, and our amazing community partners at Oxford – and not least because of our project partners at UMMA, the Graham Institute for Sustainability, and the U-M Arts Initiative. This was a true town-gown effort for which we are immensely grateful. We couldn’t be more proud of the results.”


The Plastic Bag Store was funded in part by many sponsors, including the College of Literature, Science & the Arts, Rachel and Mark Bernstein, Max Wicha and Sheila Crowley, the University of Michigan Credit Union’s Arts Adventures program, Destination Ann Arbor, the Ilene H. Forsyth Theater Endowment Fund, and an anonymous gift supporting programming focused on a sustainable environment.

Michigan students attending The Plastic Bag Store

Michigan students attending ‘The Plastic Bag Store.’

Donor Spotlight: Kathy and Bert Moberg

Kathy and Bert Moberg

Kathy and Bert Moberg have spent a lifetime developing their passion for the performing arts — especially theater. After decades of attending UMS performances and supporting UMS’s mission as loyal annual donors, Bert (B.G.S., ’76, L.S.A.) and Kathy (B.A., ’79, L.S.A.) decided that they wanted to help make a lasting and meaningful impact on UMS’s theater programming efforts by making a significant gift to establish the UMS Theater Endowment Fund.

In the following interview, we talked with Bert and Kathy about their passion for the arts and UMS, what inspired them to increase their giving to establish this endowment fund, and their hopes for others to join them!

Tell us a little about your background with the arts.

We both grew up in homes that valued the arts and literature. We each took music lessons, attended occasional concerts and plays, visited museums, and were voracious readers. Our interest in the performing arts has been a work in progress, increasing over the years. This shared interest even led to the choice for our honeymoon location, Stratford, Ontario!

When and how did you first become involved with UMS?

We attended a few UMS performances when we were dating, notably Handel’s Messiah and Zubin Mehta with the Israel Philharmonic. Live performances fell off our radar for a number of years when we were first married and our children were young. Then, when our eldest son, Eric (BA ’05) was about 13 or 14, he happened to pick up a UMS flyer that arrived in the day’s mail, looked it over, and asked, “Why don’t we ever go to any of these events?” We simply had never thought of it, so Bert and Eric picked out a couple shows to see together and enjoyed them. Sean (BA ’08) and Kelsey (BA ’10 from EMU) didn’t want to be left out, so the next year, we bought a few tickets for the 5 of us and it snowballed from there.

Do you have favorite or most memorable performance memories?

We’ve seen so many wonderful UMS performances over the years, it is impossible to pick just one or two. If we stick strictly to theater experiences, the Royal Shakespeare residencies in the early 2000s really stand out. That is when we began ordering season tickets for our family. The Gate Theatre’s Waiting for Godot in 2000 remains fresh in my mind, as does the Globe Theatre’s Twelfth Night in 2004 where the audience watched the male actors transform themselves into female characters on stage before the play actually began. That was astonishingly moving.

A Christmas Carol performed by the National Theatre of Scotland in December 2015 was extraordinary! It’s also memorable because we were able to attend it with all 3 of our adult children. When we bought the tickets, we thought it would be a fun afternoon out over the holidays, never expecting it to be such a magical, immersive experience. The kids still talk about it, too!

One of our very first theater experiences, back when we were dating in the mid-1970s, was Michael Redgrave’s Shakespeare’s People, a one-man show in Power Center where he performed selections from The Bard’s plays. I remember being thrilled to have the opportunity to see such a legendary actor live and felt grateful that being a student at U-M made it possible.

I love seeing so many students and young people in UMS audiences now — we are all part of a continuum.

What inspired you to establish the UMS Theater Endowment Fund? How do you envision/hope this fund will impact UMS now and into the future?

We love live performances, and theater is a particular passion for us. We appreciate the experience of sharing auditorium space with the actors on stage and the diverse audience around us. The university setting we have in Ann Arbor is a perfect venue for creativity within traditional theater and we are excited to have found a way we can channel our resources to make an impact. We envision this endowment assisting UMS in researching and bringing world-class traditional theater productions to our community. So much is involved, from travel to discussions with companies, to lining up financing, to arranging for visas… it all takes time, expertise, and money. We hope this endowment can be a catalyst for the larger undertaking of presenting plays that attendees will discuss, ponder, and remember for years.

Our goal is for this endowment to grow as practical way to assist UMS in enhancing its traditional theater offerings. We chose a broad, general name for this fund to make it clear that we would be delighted if fellow theater supporters participated with a contribution to the endowment fund at any level.

What advice would you have for someone who is exploring UMS performances for the first time (or even someone who has been a patron for years)?

Be open to new experiences! In addition to attending the many UMS events we know we will love each year, we always purchase tickets to some shows that sound unfamiliar to us. We have learned a lot by doing this and have added many artists, companies, and even some new categories to our list of favorites. We reliably leave the venue having had a fresh, interesting, thought-provoking experience. How lucky we are to have these opportunities!


If you wish to contribute to the UMS Theater Endowment Fund, we welcome your support! Please call the UMS Development Office at 734.764.8489. Every gift makes a difference and will ensure that traditional theater remains a part of UMS now and for future generations to come.

Corporate Spotlight: Sesi Lincoln

Lincoln Aviator in front of Hill Auditorium

UMS’s new 2022 Lincoln Aviator, courtesy of Sesi Lincoln.

From the stagehands who load in scenery and equipment, to the UMS artist services team members who secure elusive hotel rooms during a Michigan home football weekend, a complex web of logistics is critical to make each performance happen. And one of the most important components is making sure our guest artists arrive at the appropriate venue on time…in comfort and style!

When President Emeritus Ken Fischer arrived on the scene in 1987, the soloists and small ensembles UMS presented were picked up at the airport by the head of the organization in his personal vehicle. This worked just fine for an operation that presented roughly 20 performances a year. But as UMS’s programming grew to roughly 60 stage presentations of classical music, dance, jazz, theater, music from communities of shared heritage, and more, not to mention 100+ different learning and engagement activities that took artists all over southeast Michigan to school classrooms and nonprofit partners, a more flexible (and elegant!) solution was needed.

Enter Joseph Sesi. The Sesi Lincoln dealership now on Jackson Road in Ann Arbor was founded by Joe’s uncle and namesake in 1946. Joe and former UMS Director of Finance and Administration, John Kennard, were classmates at Eastern Michigan University’s College of Business. A few years after he began working at UMS, John took Ken Fischer out to meet Joe and explain UMS’s situation.

Joe jumped right in to help, providing UMS with a beautiful new Lincoln vehicle every two years. Not only did UMS now have a vehicle fully dedicated to artist transportation at no cost to the organization, but the use of a beautiful new Lincoln always driven by a staff member or trusted volunteer also helped establish UMS’s reputation for hospitality among artists as “first class.”

Lincoln Aviator in front of Hill Auditorium

A comfortable arrival to Ann Arbor is an important first impression for UMS guest artists.

Joe went on to serve on the UMS Board for six years. Together with his wife, Yvonne, and daughter, Katie, they have also hosted fundraising events, contributed to UMS’s endowment, and introduced UMS to countless friends and family through the years.

This season, UMS’s visiting artists are ferried to their engagements in a beautiful new 2022 Lincoln Aviator, complete with the UMS logo decal on the side. Keep your eye out around town, and you may just catch a glimpse of a world-famous artist inside!

Lincoln Aviator in front of Hill Auditorium

Donor Spotlight: Elaine and Peter Schweitzer

Sometimes, attending a UMS concert can lead a person on an unexpected and fulfilling journey…

Peter and Elaine Schweitzer

Peter and Elaine Schweitzer on a recent trip to Alaska.

Peter Schweitzer knew about UMS as a student at the University of Michigan (LSA ‘61), but after graduation, a busy career in advertising took him all over the world. After retiring, Peter and his wife, Elaine, moved from New York City to Ann Arbor — at the same time UMS President Matthew VanBesien made the same trip, leaving the New York Philharmonic to become UMS’s seventh president.

Elaine and Peter attended a swinging concert of New Orleans jazz by Henry Butler, Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9 held at Ann Arbor’s Downtown Home and Garden, as guests of UMS president emeritus Ken Fischer, whom Peter knew well from his involvement with the U-M Alumni Association. Ken introduced Peter and Elaine to Matthew, and they instantly hit it off, connecting through their time in New York and appreciation for New Orleans jazz. Later that fall, Matthew introduced Peter and Elaine to another NOLA/NYC artist — Wynton Marsalis — at a reception while the legendary musician was in town for a holiday performance.

What followed was a self-guided education about jazz.

“During my cross-country road trips, I listened to recordings of Wynton, NPR programs he hosted, watched Ken Burns’s documentary on him — really anything I could find. I became a member at Jazz at Lincoln Center so I’d get updates and new educational resources, and when UMS brought JLCO’s ‘Swing University’ series to its community during the pandemic, I watched every episode.”

A year or so later, Wynton spoke to the UMS National Council, a volunteer fundraising and advisory group for which Wynton has served as Honorary Co-Chair since 2018. “I had the great fortune to hear Wynton speak to us about his philosophy on music, on education, really on life broadly speaking,” said Schweitzer. “I’ve really come to admire him as someone who knows exactly what he’s thinking and doesn’t hold back on sharing it, always in the most eloquent way. In my opinion, he has both feet on the ground.”

Peter Schweitzer with Wynton Marsalis and Matthew VanBesien

Peter Schweitzer, Wynton Marsalis, and Matthew VanBesien following a JLCO concert at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts at California State University, Northridge

Peter and Elaine’s admiration for Wynton and the ensemble led them to sponsor the JLCO in a one-week residency this October:

“The impact that an artist, educator, and thinker like Wynton Marsalis and, really, all the musicians in the band can have when they are able to sit down in Ann Arbor for a week is just extraordinary.”

In addition to their performances — which include a special, one-hour session just for K-12 students — JLCO musicians will be coaching jazz ensembles in regional high schools; rehearsing for “All Rise” with University of Michigan students in the jazz, orchestral, and choral programs; arranging a brand new set of charts for a half-time show with the Michigan Marching Band; conversing with Athletic Director and fellow NOLA native Warde Manuel as part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series; and much more. Complete details for all public events can be found online at

“Our message to fellow U-M alumni and to residents of the greater Ann Arbor region is this: if you want our students to have these sorts of incredible opportunities — experiences that will inspire them to reach higher, experiences with the greatest performers and artists in the world that they will remember for the rest of their lives — join Elaine and me in supporting UMS through donating and sponsoring UMS’s work. We’ve taken tremendous satisfaction and pride in helping to make the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra’s week of activity possible, and had a lot of fun in the process.”

Bob and Darragh Weisman: A Love Story with Each Other and Music

Bob and Darragh Weisman met at Michigan when he was a junior and she was a sophomore in 1957. We spoke with Bob about his wife Darragh, who passed away in 2021, about how they met, their UMS memories, and what inspired his gift to support an annual performance in perpetuity to honor the memory of his wife forever.

Bob had no idea that answering “yes” to a date with Darragh would change his life…

“Darragh and I met in September of 1956, her sophomore year and my junior year. A mutual friend set us up. I didn’t have a date and she didn’t have a date. I said sure. I had no idea the long-range implications of saying yes to that question.

The one outlet we had to be together on a regular basis was going to concerts here in the second balcony of Hill Auditorium…”

Vladimir Horowitz ProgramDo you have a favorite or most memorable UMS moment?

Our favorite concert without question was the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1978 with Vladimir Horowitz playing Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto. That performance was head and shoulders above any other. But every season UMS delivers something very special.

In fact, the last performance Darragh and I saw together was probably the second-best concert we ever heard at Hill. Just before the world was shut down by the pandemic, on March 3 2020, Yo Yo Ma, Leonidas Kavakos, and Emanuel Ax performed three Beethoven Trios. Darragh and I were fortunate enough to have been sponsors of this performance.

What inspired your gift to UMS?

The original seed was planted way back in 1957 or 1958 when we first started attending UMS performances for $2 a ticket. I couldn’t have afforded $10 seats and knew that someone else’s support of UMS made it possible for me to buy a $2 ticket as a student. I knew then that I wanted to do something like this in the future if I was able to.

When Darragh died I remembered that other UMS supporters had established endowments to fund a performance in perpetuity. I wanted to establish a fund to both honor my late wife and provide a forever gift to an organization that has meant so much to us. It is a true pleasure to be able to make contributions now in my lifetime to build the fund and provide a future gift through my estate plan to fully endow and support a UMS performance in perpetuity for future generations.

Darragh and Bob Weisman with their grandchildren

Darragh and Bob Weisman with their grandchildren

What does a forever gift mean to you?

To have her name go on forever is big, not just for her memory, but for our family. UMS has meant a lot to us over the years. To be able to see that UMS is going to be able to go on, not only for Darragh and the family, but for the Ann Arbor community, that great music will be here for decade after decade. It was 60+ years for us, I think this gift will help it go on longer. I am very pleased. Endowing this concert for Darragh is everything I hoped it would be.

Forever UMS graphic
Make a gift to support UMS forever through a planned gift. Contributions of any size make a difference to support UMS in the future for generations to come. Contact Marnie Reid at 734-647-1178 or

Corporate Spotlight: All Seasons Senior Living, Jerry Beznos

Jerry Beznos

The arts are a signature part of the All Seasons Senior Living experience. Corridors feel more like galleries with specially-curated displays of photography, mixed media, and more. An art studio complete with its own kiln is found just around the bend from a versatile auditorium with a beautiful Bösendorfer piano. We sat down with UMS 2021/22 Season Preview sponsor and Beztak partner, Maurice “Jerry” Beznos, to learn more about All Seasons’ philosophy.

Tell us a little bit about All Seasons.

All Seasons is an upscale, active lifestyle senior living community that has been thoughtfully designed to delight every one of the senses – every day. Each of our locations (there are four in Michigan: Ann Arbor, Birmingham, Rochester Hills, and West Bloomfield) offers residents luxury amenities to stay active, engaged, and connected, including a state-of-the-art fitness center, an indoor-outdoor heated swimming pool, an art studio that offers pottery classes in-house, a purposely curated library and a 70-seat auditorium for continuing education, live musical performances and theater programming, to name a few. Our newest property, located in Ann Arbor, is nestled into the tree line of Parker Mill Park at the corner of Geddes and Dixboro on Ann Arbor’s northeast side.

All Seasons, Ann Arbor

All Seasons Ann Arbor


Why was All Seasons inspired to support UMS?

The answer to this question is derived from the very core of our individual and corporate belief that the support and the experience of the arts, in all of its manifestations, give expression, provide animation and inspiration to the spirit within us. More – and here we think of George Eliot who said it best – “art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot.” What could be more important than that?

All Seasons, as we like to say, is “For the Joys of Senior Living.” To us, the arts are integral to who we are as individuals and what we do. Even more, in one way or another, the founding partners of All Seasons have been lifetime theater and concert-goers and avid museum visitors. Indeed, one has been studying and playing the classical piano repertoire for 50 years, another has accumulated a distinguished collection of modern art, another has led one of the nation’s most prestigious chamber music concert series for over 20 years. Our support of the arts is personal, deep, and long abiding.

All of us at All Seasons passionately believe that presenting diverse social, educational, and cultural enrichment programs constitutes one of the fundamental components of our mission: as important as providing the finest dining opportunities, the most beautifully designed and appointed environments in the industry. We are all about “the best.” It is for these reasons that our communities even feature Bösendorfer concert grand instruments on which artists (and our residents) are invited to perform.


Do you have a favorite performance memory you’d like to share?

With heartfelt enthusiasm I cherish our art experiences of the past while always looking forward to the next experience, which is a renewal of sorts; it is a kind of desire that increases as it is gratified and as it is ever inspired anew. I am happy to declare, “too many to mention!”

Forward Fund Spotlight: Stephen & Faith Brown

Faith and Stephen Brown

Faith and Stephen Brown

Stephen Brown is an alumnus of the University of Michigan (B.A., English, ’66; J.D. ’69), and practiced labor and employment law in Washington, DC and Chicago for 30 years. He and his wife, Faith (B.A. English, ‘69), retired to the San Francisco area in 2001. We spoke with Stephen about his UMS memories, his chance meeting with UMS president emeritus Ken Fischer, and what inspired their gifts to the Forward Fund this past year.


Tell us your fun story of first meeting Ken Fischer, UMS president emeritus.

I was walking down the street in San Gemingano, in Tuscany, and spotted a guy wearing a familiar ‘block M’ cap. I was wearing a similar cap. Naturally, this led to a discussion of our mutual interests. The guy was Ken Fischer, former president of the UMS. It was one of many great encounters I’ve experienced all over the world as a result of wearing a Michigan cap. People have greeted me with “Go Blue” everywhere — from Sydney to Buenos Aires!

Stephen Brown in Tuscany, 2019

Stephen Brown in Tuscany, 2019

When did you start attending UMS events?

I began attending UMS events as a Michigan undergraduate in the ‘60s. It was amazing to have world-class artists so accessible and such a short walk away. I was just discovering classical music back then and the opportunity to attend live UMS concerts really broadened my appreciation and knowledge.

Do you have a favorite or most memorable UMS moment?

May Festival PersephoneI remember paying $1 for a standing room ticket to hear Igor Stravinsky conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in Persephone at the annual May Festival. I also recall other amazing May Festival concerts, such as hearing E. Power Biggs with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra perform the Saint-Saëns organ symphony at Hill Auditorium and artists such as Joan Sutherland and Rudolf Serkin. And I always looked forward to Ormandy conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in “The Victors” at the last May Festival concert of the season.

What inspired your gifts to the Forward Fund?

This was our first donation to UMS, and an opportunity to give back after all our wonderful concert experiences. The Bank of Ann Arbor offered a one-for-one match, which was a nice incentive for us. We wanted to help UMS take full advantage of the match!

Why are the arts so important to our Ann Arbor community?

Ann Arbor may be a relatively small city but it has cultural resources that rival or exceed many major cities. Ann Arbor is often selected as the best college town in the country and one of the best places to live. I believe the arts play an important role in many ways, including attracting top students and faculty and in the ranking and reputation of the University. We hope to play a small part in keeping Michigan on top.

Why should more UM alumni give back to the arts on our campus?

It’s important for Michigan to remain a vibrant and premier University. When I meet other Michigan alumni, the mention of the University and Ann Arbor generally brings a smile and leads to reminiscences about all the great experiences they enjoyed as students. UMS concerts are often a big part of those experiences.

UMS Forward Fund

Make a gift to the Forward Fund and support UMS as we safely return to live events. Contributions made before the end of 2021 will help offset projected operational deficits for the next two years that are a direct result of the pandemic.

Forward Fund Spotlight: Christina Kim

Christina Kim is a financial advisor with Edward Jones, as well as a UMS board member and alumna of the University of Michigan. Discover how UMS and the arts shaped her life growing up in Ann Arbor, and what inspires her family to support the UMS Forward Fund.

UMS Forward Fund

Make a gift to the Forward Fund and support UMS as we safely return to live events. Contributions made before the end of 2021 will help offset projected operational deficits for the next two years that are a direct result of the pandemic.

Forward Fund Spotlight: Versell Smith, Jr.

Versell Smith, Jr. is executive director of Corner Health Center in Ypsilanti, as well as a UMS board member and alumnus of the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance. Discover what inspires him to support the UMS Forward Fund and how the arts have shaped his career beyond performance.

UMS Forward Fund

Make a gift to the Forward Fund and support UMS as we safely return to live events. Contributions made before the end of 2021 will help offset projected operational deficits for the next two years that are a direct result of the pandemic.

Donor Spotlight: Alec Gallimore, Michigan Engineering

Michigan Engineering Dean Alec Gallimore in Hill Auditorium

Dean Alec Gallimore giving welcome remarks at the live presentation of 2001: A Space Odyssey at Hill Auditorium.

Michigan Engineering is an important University of Michigan partner and generous supporter of UMS. Their collaborations have created unique and meaningful performing arts encounters for students and faculty across campus. We spoke with Alec Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at the University of Michigan and a UMS Board Member, to discuss his background with the Arts, favorite UMS memories, and our special partnership with Michigan Engineering.

Tell us a little about your background with the arts – artistic talents, first performing arts experience. Did you grow up with the arts or come to them as an adult?

Growing up, my parents loved to play music throughout our home and encouraged my brother and me to be musicians. We would practice a lot; I was lead guitar and my brother would be on drums. In my youth, I was known for my playing speed and fancied myself a budding Steve Howe, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, or Eddie Van Halen (Eruption!). I don’t play much anymore but I’ve owned a “Made in Michigan” cherry-red Gibson SG guitar since 1977. Fun fact, the Gibson Guitar Corporation was founded in Kalamazoo, Michigan, but moved its production to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1984. Proud to say my ’77 SG was made in Kalamazoo!

When and how was Michigan Engineering first inspired to partner with UMS?

I’ve never viewed engineering as being a purely “left brain” enterprise. Instead, I’ve always seen it as a highly right brain endeavor as so much of what we do is create! One of our values at Michigan Engineering is the combination of Creativity, Innovation, and Daring (C/I/D). We’re always looking for new ways to demonstrate the imaginative aspect of engineering by embracing other forms of creative expression in a very visible way while also illustrating our zest for C/I/D. With this in mind, in 2018, we had the opportunity to collaborate with UMS on a live music-accompanied viewing of 2001: A Space Odyssey in Hill Auditorium for an audience of 3500+. I just couldn’t pass up the chance, especially considering it’s literally one of my favorite movies and has been since childhood.

Please share your favorite UMS performance or memory.

It’s tough to choose since I’ve thoroughly enjoyed so many offerings through both my time as a UMS board member and Michigan Engineering’s partnership. The musical performances have been amazing. Some Old Black Man and the opportunity to meet Wendell Pierce was thought-provoking and riveting. But watching 2001: A Space Odyssey—a movie that set me on my career trajectory decades ago—accompanied by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra in the acoustically perfect Hill Auditorium is a memory I will always cherish.

2001: A Space Odyssey in Hill Auditorium

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?

As I’ve said, engineering is as much a creative field as it is a technical one. I appreciate the various expressions of creativity showcased by UMS and I look forward to when we can come together again in person. In the meantime, all of us can experience the arts in exciting new ways through UMS’ Digital Artist Residencies.

Most recently, Michigan Engineering was a lead presenting sponsor for our production of Some Old Black Man. In addition to the streamed performance, the college held a virtual conversation between the play’s co-star, Wendell Pierce, and Engineering faculty and students. Can you talk about your support for that production and what it means to Michigan Engineering to provide these opportunities for your students, faculty, and staff?

We felt it was important to support this project for two reasons. First, we wanted to do something special for our students, faculty, and staff during this difficult academic year. Second, we wanted to reinforce our increased emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. This upcoming fall, we expect to launch a college-wide DEI education program.

This play and our community’s virtual panel discussion with Wendell Pierce served both purposes exceptionally well. During the discussion, Wendell was able to extrapolate broader issues of social justice from the performance. He reminded us that as engineers “we must solve the problem. Get to the proof.” He further described that, just like in acting, in engineering sometimes the “empty space,” or what is not acknowledged, is what we need to consider.

I marvel how creative people, such as Wendell Pierce, can transcend the physical limitations of our times and still interpret in compelling ways the profound challenges we face as a society. He is an eloquent, insightful spokesperson for the arts and how they can shape our perspective. His digital artist residency, with a focus on social justice and anti-racism, was especially timely and we welcomed the opportunity to be a part of it.

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.

Corporate Spotlight: Retirement Income Solutions, Karen Chapell

Karen Chapell

Karen Chapell, Retirement Income Solutions Managing Partner

Retirement Income Solutions (RIS) are long-time supporters of UMS. For more than 15 years RIS has been a corporate sponsor of an annual UMS performance. In addition, RIS hosts its clients for a pre-performance reception and the performance they sponsor. We talked with Managing Partner, Karen Chapell, to learn more about RIS’s history with UMS, and Karen’s own background with the arts.

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 the Chicago suburbs, we had to drive into the city to see “that one” special performance each year. My folks enjoyed taking us to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Nutcracker performance was an annual tradition. I was so taken aback when I arrived in Ann Arbor as a college student because I realized that performances that were running in Chicago were actually coming to Ann Arbor. I was struck by how easily I could obtain a ticket — and for a discounted rate!


retirement income solutions logoWhen and how did Retirement Income Solutions first become involved with UMS?

Retirement Income Solutions has partnered with UMS as a Corporate Sponsor for over 15 years. Larry Hastie and Griff McDonald, the firm’s Founding Partners, recognized the importance of supporting the arts and making it a philanthropic goal of the company, as well as a venue to engage with our clients, as many have become season ticket holders.


Please share your favorite UMS performance or memory?

Wynton Marsalis met my colleague’s 10-year-old nephew, who also played the trumpet, after a Christmas performance a few years ago. They began visiting backstage and discussed how to improve his embouchure. Wynton then handed this young boy his cell phone number and offered to facetime him so that Wynton could assess his progress!


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?

Staying in touch virtually, I believe, has been an unexpected benefit during this time. Those who are otherwise unable to attend a concert may find that this is a way to connect even though they have not had an opportunity to do so in the past. We need to remember that this will not be the case forever. But for now, taking advantage of a virtual concert offering has been refreshing entertainment.


RIS has been a longtime corporate donor to UMS. What has UMS meant to RIS and why is supporting the arts such an important component of RIS’s corporate philanthropy?

UMS is an incredible gift in our backyard. Having access to world-renowned artists, performances, and student clinics has been a key to this institution’s success and makes them a stand-out in our university community. Retirement Income Solutions recognizes that the arts may be one of the first places budgets are cut during this unprecedented time. We have committed to maintaining our level of support across the arts as we recognize the impact this institution has on our community, its families, and most importantly, for our students.

Donor Spotlight: Joel Howell and Linda Samuelson

Joel Howell and Linda Samuelson

Joel Howell and Linda Samuelson

Joel Howell and Linda Samuelson 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.

Corporate Spotlight: Ford Motor Company Fund, Lisa Gonzalez

Lisa Gonzalez

Lisa Gonzalez, Ford Motor Company Fund Manager of Community Programs

The Ford Motor Company Fund is a long-time supporter of the UMS Education and Community Engagement programs. The Ford Fund’s support of UMS dates back to 1976, but it became a formal K-12 supporter in 1996. We talked with their Manager of Community Programs, Lisa Gonzalez, to learn more about Ford’s history with UMS, Lisa’s own background with the arts, and the pivots the Ford Fund was able to make to assist in this unprecedented time.

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?

I grew up with the arts for sure. I started playing the flute when I was 4 years old, all the way up to my senior year. A fun fact is that my daughter also started playing the flute at the same age, all the way up until her senior year. I have a huge heart for music. My husband and son are both musicians as well, so it’s a central part of our family. My very first performing arts experience was at Interlochen Center of Arts. That was the most amazing experience ever to go on campus and experience all the talent.


Lisa Gonzalez and Matthew VanBesien

Lisa Gonzalez and UMS President Matthew VanBesien backstage at a 2019 performance by Las Cafeteras at the Michigan Theater

When and how did you first become involved with UMS? Please share your favorite UMS performance or memory?

I first became involved with UMS two years ago when Arts/Culture was given to me to manage at the Ford Fund. Every single time I attend something offered by UMS, I am in AWE! Having to answer this question, “what is my favorite performance?” is tough because they are all my favorite. But if I had to choose, Las Cafeteras would be at the top of my list. The energy they brought into that room was amazing. I loved seeing those kids up on their feet just enjoying the music.


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?

I am so thankful for technology!! That is for SURE!!! I really keep myself connected to our arts/culture partnerships by watching videos! I love being able to enjoy a free concert right in the comfort of my home. It is helpful on busy days to just be able to click on a link and connect with UMS and their artists.


Ford Motor Company Fund

Ford has been a longtime corporate donor to UMS. What has UMS meant to Ford and why is supporting the arts such an important component of Ford’s corporate philanthropy?

The Ford Fund BELIEVES that the arts have the ability to really educate, inspire, and transform the community where we live, work, and play! One thing I would like to highlight is our pride in being able to support UMS’s K-12 education programming. It’s truly in our DNA as a company because we believe in the power of community building!!


The Ford Motor Company Fund made some shifts when Covid hit, can you talk about what you did and why?

When COVID hit, our organization wanted to find another way to support our nonprofit partners and their surrounding communities by providing resources at a click of a button. We’ve created a library of free online resources to help our employees, their families, and anyone else looking for things to do while we’re stuck at home during this pandemic. The activities include virtual tours, downloadable worksheets, online tutorials, videos, and more — all designed to help entertain, educate, or inspire people of all ages.

You can learn more about what we’re offering on the Ford Motor Company Fund’s website.

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.

Love great music, theater, and dance?

Love great music, theater, and dance?

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