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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.

Donor Spotlight: Beverley (Bev) Geltner

Beverly (Bev) Geltner

Bev Geltner with Norman Herbert at a UMS Ford Honors Gala

Beverley (Bev) Geltner, with her husband Gerson, has been a ticket holder, donor, and volunteer for UMS for more than 50 years. Bev’s volunteer roles at UMS have ranged from Advisory Committee member to Board Chair, and she currently is a member of our Sustaining Directors. We talked with her about what UMS has meant to her and why she has been so involved over the years.


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?

My love for the arts began when I was in my mid-teens. I had studied the violin for three years when I was 8 years old, but at the time, didn’t really enjoy it. It was not my idea or wish; my parents had found a teacher for me, purchased a violin, and there I was! I practiced regularly but was not particularly talented or in love with the whole idea. However, at the age of 11, living in Toronto, I caught a television broadcast by the Canadian Opera Company of La Bohème. That was it! I was hooked! It was the perfect opera for a young girl, a truly enthralling experience that brought everything together for me — singing, acting, drama, young people in love, joy, sadness, and loss. That was the beginning of my journey to all the arts including theater, dance, and museums.

 

When and how did you first become involved with UMS?

I first became involved with UMS when I moved to Michigan in 1964. This was my introduction to the amazing experience of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Hill Auditorium. Looking back, I see that my passionate love for UMS has grown over 55 years. We moved to Ann Arbor in 1988 and have been season subscribers since then.

Several years later, I received a phone call from Ken Fisher asking if he and a UMS colleague could meet with me to discuss some possibilities. That was my first personal introduction to Ken Fisher and Letitia Byrd. They had heard of my extensive involvement with students, educators, and the arts from having started arts programs for thousands of students in the Southfield Public Schools. I launched a Cultural Arts Program, directing district and supporter funds to a program which bussed thousands of students to numerous live performances of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, wrote grants which funded professional theater, music, and dance residencies for students K-12, held conferences on youth and the arts at Oakland University, and established the Metropolitan Youth Symphony. Ken and Letitia invited me to join the Advisory Committee and help them create a program for youth audience development. Within a few years, I was a member of the Board and was ultimately selected to serve as UMS Board Chair for four years.

 

Please share your favorite UMS performance or memory?

There are too many to remember! I was privileged to attend several UMS performances by Jessye Norman. Each time, enraptured and in awe, I thought to myself, “I’m in the presence of a goddess!” I remember, vividly, several performances by Arthur Rubenstein, as well. Finally, I remember the deeply moving concert by the Berlin Philharmonic just one month after the tragic events of 9/11. Performing Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, they gave us hope, strength, and support, affirming that Americans were not alone.

 

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?

UMS’s regular weekly emails suggest wonderful online presentations of the world’s best artists. I follow their advice and enjoy many other online programs offered by the Metropolitan Opera, Medici.tv, Amazon Music, and individual artists’ websites and YouTube performances. I also “Stay Present” by reading newspaper articles and magazines I subscribe to about the arts.

 

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.

Over the years, UMS has grown from its original and core role of Ann Arbor classical music presenter to its expanded role of the honored state, national, and international leader of artistic and creative excellence. Its mission says it all: “To inspire individuals and enrich communities by connecting audiences and artists in uncommon and engaging experiences.” UMS fulfills that mission with distinction, serving as a model of creative excellence and the powerful role, and transformational potential, of the arts in key aspects of our lives. My husband and I provide financial support to various organizations and institutions that have enriched our lives. The many ways in which UMS has enlarged our lives and given us joy encouraged our first donation to UMS and our growing support over the decades.

 

If you had to describe UMS to someone new to Ann Arbor, what would you say?

“Count yourself lucky! You have the unique opportunity to enrich your life in unimaginable ways by experiencing the best artistic performers in the world, brought to you — live — in the most glorious concert halls in the world. Give thanks!”

Corporate Spotlight: SavCo Hospitality, Sava Farah

Sava Farah with Yo-Yo Ma at a UMS afterglow, hosted by Sava’s

Sava Farah with Yo-Yo Ma at a UMS afterglow, hosted by Sava’s.

Sava Farah and her restaurant group SavCo Hospitality is one of our most generous restaurant and community partners. UMS staff, artists, and patrons have all been spoiled by the delicious meals and dedicated hospitality of SavCo’s Ann Arbor restaurants. We recognize this has been an equally challenging year for our friends in the restaurant industry and we are very grateful to still be able to count on SavCo’s support for our 20-21 season. We talked with Sava Farah, SavCo’s Chief Executive Officer, and learned more about her history in Ann Arbor, fond memories with UMS, and discussed the harmonious relationship between arts presenters and the Ann Arbor restaurant scene.


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 in an immigrant household in the Bronx and I, frankly, knew very little about the arts before coming to Ann Arbor at 23 to open my first café.  I can confidently say that Ann Arbor has cultured me on many levels and, particularly, in this arena.  I’m so grateful to be steeped in a community rich in the arts and that has impacted so many areas of my life, including bringing more creativity into my own field.

 

When and how did you first become involved with UMS?

I became acquainted with UMS when I opened my first café on the south side of State Street called Sava’s State Street Café.  There I developed a group of lunch regulars who would walk over from UMS for lunch and genuine hospitality. From there, I started catering events, participating in fundraising, attending shows, and learning more about the wide range of musical talents that made their way through UMS.

 

Will you please share your favorite UMS performance or memory?

My favorite memory was attending the Yo-Yo Ma performance and then we had an afterglow at Sava's where we hosted Yo-Yo Ma along with a group of donors.  He was so humble, friendly and had a great sense of humor. Hearing him play the cello live still gives me goosebumps every time I think of it.

 

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

One thing I’m doing right now is enjoying the journey that Ken Fischer has shared in his captivating new book Everybody In, Nobody Out. Ken was very successful yet so kind and authentic with everyone he met. That was so inspirational to me as I came into my own as an entrepreneur – and learning more about the organization and his leadership makes me appreciate him even more!

 

Similar to performing arts organizations, the restaurant industry has also suffered during this pandemic. Despite the struggles that you are currently facing in your own business, why were you still inspired to maintain your support for UMS during this time?

Our relationship and love for UMS runs deep and we recognize the importance and impact that this institution has on our downtown. We are committed to doing our part to keep the show going in any way we can.

 

In the good old days, UMS supporters and visiting artists were frequently seen enjoying the food and great service at Sava’s and other downtown businesses. What do you think an organization like UMS does for the local economy and downtown scene?

Along with many other downtown businesses, Sava’s benefits greatly from the crowds that UMS draws from both the local area and also out of town visitors. People come to Ann Arbor to catch a great performance and take advantage of the great shopping, dining, and sight-seeing while here in town.  The vibrancy and culture fostered by UMS is sorely missed and we just can’t wait for another great season!  We have SO much to look forward to!

Donor Spotlight: Braylon Edwards

Braylon Edwards

Braylon Edwards with his mother, Malesa, at Hill Auditorium

Braylon Edwards, who is no stranger to the University of Michigan campus, is one of UMS’s newest patrons and donors. He was the Patron Sponsor for UMS’s digital presentation of Sheku Kanneh-Mason and Isata Kanneh-Mason.

Braylon was a prolific wide receiver for the Wolverines which led to him being the third overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft. He retired from the NFL in 2014 and then spent a few years as a sports commentator for ESPN and the BIG10 Network. In 2019, Braylon published his first book, Doing It My Way, which chronicled his outspoken life as a Michigan Wolverine. Prior to his support of UMS, Braylon’s philanthropy focused on athletic scholarships in Cleveland and at the University of Michigan. He has recently started working with nonprofits on mental health initiatives.


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?

My first experience with the arts was when my mother took me to see The Nutcracker when I was 9 years old. Then, when I was 11, we saw The Lion King when it was on tour. Growing up in Detroit, I was lucky enough to attend King High School which offered a vibrant arts program for its students. Admittedly, I was probably more focused on athletics and following in my father’s footsteps, as he played for the U of M and later in the NFL. During my own college and NFL career, I always pushed myself to be the best. I definitely took inspiration from the excellence I saw in various forms of human performance, whether it was in sports or in the arts. I have a lot of respect for those who perform at the highest level in their field. Whether it was Michael Jackson or Misty Copeland, going to shows and seeing artists onstage was inspiring. Looking at my involvement with UMS and its mission, I’m grateful for the way that arts enriched my life as a child, and I want to help ensure others of the same opportunity.

 

When and how did you first become involved with UMS?

My first UMS performance was on March 3, 2020 – Emanuel Ax, Leonidas Kavakos, and Yo-Yo Ma. As I mentioned before, my earliest experiences with the arts were because of my mother, so it was fitting that she would come with me to this performance. We even had an opportunity to watch the trio rehearse before the concert. It was my first introduction to classical music, but I sensed the high level of talent and artistry on stage, and with the amazing backdrop that is Hill Auditorium, it felt magical.

 

What about UMS inspired you to become a donor?

While playing at U of M for Lloyd Carr, he told me that “you should become a part of something bigger than you….no man is bigger than the team.” This advice has helped guide me through life and, more importantly, helped inform my philanthropy. Looking back on my childhood, growing up as a Black male in Detroit, I didn’t have easy access to classical music and other traditional or classical arts. I was truly blown away walking into Hill Auditorium and seeing a packed house, for an international phenomenon like Yo-Yo Ma. In Ann Arbor of all places! Since then, I’ve also learned more about what UMS does to extend its programming into the community and into the classrooms of schools across the region. I am hoping that my gift to UMS inspires more student-athletes at Michigan and minority donors to get engaged with “unfamiliar” areas. I support the arts because they matter…now more than ever.

 

UMS’ motto is Be Present. 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’ve really appreciated how many presenters are still providing virtual presentations and creating artistic experiences for their audiences. I’m especially looking forward to UMS’ digital presentation of Sheku Kanneh-Mason and his sister, Isata Kanneh-Mason. I was blown away by this talented family and their story of excellence. I hope my enthusiasm, both as a donor and audience member, will inspire other U-M alumni and student-athletes, as well as Detroit students, to be introduced to the arts. Their digital presentation also felt like the perfect opportunity to make my first gift to UMS. My first UMS experience was watching Yo-Yo Ma, a living legend, and I believe Sheku is the future of cello greatness.

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