Arts, Culture & Humanities

Center Stage Theatre

Center Stage Theatre began in 1974 as Comstock Community Theatre. Since then, the mission has always been to create a safe environment where families and individuals of all lifestyles can enjoy the world of theater together. Center Stage Theatre is unique because we do not make cuts during the audition process. No matter what the level of experience or differing ability, everyone who auditions and commits to the rehearsal schedule is given a place on our stage. This inclusiveness does not diminish but adds to the quality of our productions. Extending the inclusiveness to our audiences, Center Stage Theatre produces both a sensory friendly and an ASL interpreted performance of each show.

Our season begins with a fall youth show for 6–18-year-olds. We celebrate the holidays with an all-age cabaret. An adult show for those 16 and older is staged in February. Our largest show is our summer family musical in July. The multi-generational cast for this show often tops 125 members.

After being given the opportunity to shine on our local stage, Center Stage Theatre
graduates have gone on to shine on and off Broadway, star in traveling shows, light up
the field of technical theatre, produce, direct, and manage other community theatres.
Center Stage Theatre is thankful for the volunteers, on and off the stage, who give their
time, effort, and passion to the production of each show. Without them, we would not
have been putting the “community” in community theatre for almost 50 years.

For more information, visit

Gull Lake Community Schools

Gull Lake Community Schools is delighted to be in a new space dedicated to K-12 fine arts programs and guest artist performances that enrich the lives of the school community. The Gull Lake Center for the fine arts (GLCFA) showcases a variety of events that bring the community together in an intimate environment that engages the senses and encourages participants to communicate with purpose. This new space was designed to elevate the art of presentation in multiple modes and formats. It can host any event ranging from an elementary matinee to a world- class symphony or musical.
Fifteen full-time Fine Arts educators collaborate with a full time auditorium manager to bring student performances to the stage. Community members and guests can find events and procure tickets through the district website and GLCFA box office. Guest artists and ensembles are marketed to the local community and regional arts organizations and foundations. The new space is attracting attention from a variety of professional groups who find it to be an ideal venue featuring state-of-the-art technology and exceptional acoustics that enhance any performance.
The new Gull Lake Center for the Fine Arts is the realization of a dream that began growing over three decades ago. It has been a true collaboration involving a talented and diverse coalition of individuals who were able to articulate the vision and sustain focus to see this project through to completion. It is a rare occasion when a teaching and learning space can serve everyone in a community. The Gull Lake Center for the Fine Arts accomplishes this purpose beautifully and is serves as a beacon to the future of fine arts in the Richland area and surrounding community.

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The Kalamazoo Community Chorale

The Kalamazoo Community Chorale completed its 89th season in 2022 under the direction of Jacqueline Stilger. We are a women’s choir that welcomes members seeking an opportunity to be involved in choral music without the requirement of an audition or an extensive musical background. Our central focus is to provide area women the chance to participate in the fellowship of song for educational and non-professional purposes. Our membership averages between 50-65 women of different ages from very diverse backgrounds. We perform secular and sacred pieces at two admission-free concerts annually that are open to the public. We also perform at community events, public organizations and private facilities. The group often features local musicians to provide additional accompaniment at our concerts. Another important facet of the Chorale’s activities is that we provide scholarships to qualifying college students with a major or minor in music. In addition to assisting them with their school expenses, the students gain the experience of rehearsing and performing outside of the academic world, but still within the local area. In return, they greatly contribute to our ensemble with their energy, talent and enthusiasm for choral singing. The benefits of sharing the joy of music are many and we look forward to continuing to share it with our membership and the community.

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Irving S. Gilmore School of Music, Western Michigan University

A legacy of generosity leads to naming the WMU School of Music

Celebrating the extraordinary generosity of former philanthropist and arts patron Irving S. Gilmore, Western Michigan University is naming its school dedicated to educating its outstanding musicians the Irving S. Gilmore School of Music.

Daniel G. Guyette, dean of the College of Fine Arts, made the announcement to the campus community during its 50th anniversary celebration on October 14, stating the new name will begin being used officially in January.

A former business leader and concert quality pianist, Gilmore died in 1986, leaving a legacy of charitable giving through the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

On campus, the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation has been enormously generous, granting more than $30 million to Western since the mid-1980s. In the College of Fine Arts, past grants from the foundation total more than $17 million.

“In light of this legacy of philanthropy and Mr. Gilmore’s devotion to music and the arts, recent conversations with members of the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation trustees have brought about an extraordinary opportunity,” Guyette said at the celebration. “We thank Irving S. Gilmore and the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation for their profound leadership and generosity, which supports and enriches the cultural, social and economic life of greater Kalamazoo.”


Western has offered music instruction since 1904. The first music majors and minors were offered in 1942, and the department became a school in 1980. Today, it offers a broad range of programs including 11 undergraduate degree, eight graduate degree and two certificate programs to nearly 440 registered students that prepare them for careers and further study in performance, research, music education, music therapy, composition and multimedia arts technology.

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Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo

As we emerge from a year of civil and social unrest, a global pandemic, and the immense loss, pain and suffering that has gone along with it, artists and arts organizations have a daunting task ahead. As storytellers, conveners and our community’s healers, it is the Arts Council’s job to support our artists in their recovery and rebuilding of their livelihoods.

The Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo remained open through the pandemic, serving our community’s needs through funding, resource connection and an open door (although virtual) for artists to come together with other artists to talk about the challenges we faced. In 2020, we awarded over $351,000 through nine grant programs (three of them brand new), but the most immediate and needed support was our COVID-19 Bridge Fund Program. This program awarded grants to support the operational needs for our arts organizations. In all, we were able to support 27 area organizations. 

In addition to funding, the Arts Council wanted to make sure that our artists and organizations were connected to each other, and to professionals that would help make some sense of how to navigate such unforeseen circumstances. If you were a member or a grant recipient, you were invited to a four-part series led by Mia Henry entitled “Where Do We Go From Here?” These workshops were a collaboration with ONEPlace @ KPL and were designed to offer insight, support and connection at a time when connection was difficult. They gave rise to a monthly virtual Artist Happy Hour, as well as a Town Hall on racism in the arts.

The funding we received from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation gave us the footing to leverage other dollars and grant as much as we possibly could back into the community as well as allow for a continued connection with each other.

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Ballet Arts Ensemble

In March 2020, the COVID-19 shutdown only minimally affected the last nine weeks of the Ballet Arts Ensemble (BAE) 2019-20 season, with both concerts completed. It did not immediately affect the 2020-21 season.

That said, numerous spring state orders/directives delayed BAE auditions. When performance venues were closed, BAE Artistic Director Cathleen Huling deemed her 2020-21 season plan impossible. So in July, we had no plan and no dance company. Determined not to cancel the season, our organization immediately tackled three important issues:

  1. Set an August date for virtual auditions to select BAE dancers for 2020-21.
  2. Update studio technology to support virtual and hybrid class/rehearsal needs.
  3. Create a “pod” rehearsal strategy to use for 18 dancers while observing group numbers and social distancing rules.

Our first virtual concert was a December mixed rep in three parts, all rehearsed using the “pod” system. The entire company never danced together until the final taping! The concert aired on the weekend before Christmas and garnered 750 views.

Initially reluctant to deal with technology, our organization ultimately embraced it for advantages such as:

  1. Do-overs.
  2. Reduced concert expenses without venue rental and ticket vendor fees.
  3. Opportunity to connect for the first time in many years with those who live out of the area.
  4. Easy viewing and donation without parking or weather issues.

The December concert so energized our organization that BAE’s second virtual concert aired in March – and we anticipate virtual concerts in future seasons!

For more information, visit

Photo credit Linda Culver

Crescendo Academy of Music

For 33 years, Crescendo Academy of Music has helped students achieve their musical potential by offering individualized music instruction in a positive and supportive atmosphere regardless of the student’s age, ability or income. Highly qualified teaching artists provide private instruction on all string, woodwind, brass and percussion instruments, as well as piano, voice, guitar, mandolin, theory, and composition. We offer Music Together, an internationally recognized early childhood music program for children from birth to age seven and the adults who love them. Crescendo Fiddlers gives string players of all ages the opportunity to explore folk fiddle music.

When COVID-19 closed our studio doors in March 2020, we immediately pivoted to online private lessons, with teaching artists and students embracing the move. We designed and equipped a remote studio for teaching artists who did not have an adequate internet connection in their homes. Music Together moved to an online model, reaching families from eight additional states (VA, WI, TX, MN, AL, MA, ME, NE). When two teaching artists moved to Minneapolis for full time employment, both continued to teach remotely for Crescendo. A student moving to California continues to study violin and piano with her Crescendo teacher. Crescendo Fiddlers also continues to meet online.

Crescendo is home to the Kalamazoo Mandolin and Guitar Orchestra, a plucked string ensemble for adults, and the Community Voices Ensemble, providing teens and adults with intellectual disabilities the opportunity for a variety of musical experiences. These ensembles will return when our doors fully open once again.

Bringing highly skilled teaching artists to young students during their formative years and offering enrichment activities to the adults in our community are the primary goals of the Academy. Need-based financial aid is available for all our programs. We are your community music school.

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Fire Historical and Cultural Arts Collaborative

In January 2020, we purchased the building we’ve resided in for 15 years. At the peak of excitement for youth enjoying space in the building, we had to translate our cultural space online. During this past year, we began to see our social media not only as an extension of our space and programming, but a proud platform that can spread youth voice. With the limitations prompted by the pandemic, we grew 85 percent in engagement since the first quarantine and totaled over 2,000 followers on Instagram and on Facebook.

While we conducted intimate and small gatherings with youth last summer, and online, our social media accounts allow us to have relevant and authentic relationships with the wider community and village that surround teens in our community. Through sharing youth creations, direct messaging, “stories,” memes and calls to action, we stay connected even throughout deep and widespread hardship.

For more information, visit

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Like many organizations, the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts underwent a radical paradigm shift after the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread through Michigan in March of 2020. When the governor ordered a mandatory shutdown of many businesses, we transitioned much of our engagement with the public online. While we are seeing more public back to our building, we continue to offer myriad ways to connect the community to our mission of the arts for everyone.

KIA’s Kirk Newman Art School now offers two different modes to participate in our high-quality studio art courses, with online Zoom courses and onsite, in-person offerings and workshops. To help stay connected, we have also offered “Spring Break at Home Art Kits” with instructions and materials for hands-on projects. Also included were “Take Home Figure Sculpting Kits” and “Cyanotype Kits,” both of which are popular with community members of all ages.

Finally, we are pleased to provide free art materials to any elementary student for participation in our upcoming Young Artists of Kalamazoo County exhibition. We are also working with the Kalamazoo Public Library this year to include an age-appropriate book in each child’s kit. That is over 500 kits and books made available to local children! The pandemic has offered unique challenges, but our staff, faculty, students, members and patrons remain dedicated to the KIA’s vision that the arts are for everyone. 

For more information, visit

Public Media Network

When theatres and arts venues closed their doors due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need to reach audiences through media platforms became critical. With support from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation and local municipalities, Public Media Network assisted local arts organizations with the transition to online.

This initiative helped local groups, including Farmers Alley Theatre and The Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, to produce virtual performances for their audiences. In addition, music groups like the Kalamazoo Bach Festival collaborated with Public Media Network to produce their traditional holiday and spring concerts for their audience in an online format. Public Media Network’s team worked with these arts organizations to create complex videos combining multiple performers into an online arts experience.

The Fall Bike Celebration, El Concilio, Wellspring/Cori Terry and Dancers, and the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo reached new audiences for traditional in-person events through video concerts, presentations, interactive fundraisers and discussions. Many people enjoyed concerts featuring local musicians that were traditionally part of an in-person summer concert series.

The Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association produced videos for the 2020 Blues Fest through media production facilities at Public Media Network, exposing current and new audiences to this artform. In addition, content was developed to support local arts collaborations and Black voices in the arts.

Through guidance, training and production support, many arts performances will reach new audiences as they continue to broadcast on Public Media Network, showcasing the diverse and rich arts community in Greater Kalamazoo.

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