Arts, Culture & Humanities

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!

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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.

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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. 

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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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Western Michigan University College of Fine Arts

COVID-19 brought unprecedented disruption to higher education. While the financial impact has been profound, innovation has propelled teaching and creativity. Funds from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation enabled the College of Fine Arts (CFA) at Western Michigan University (WMU) to creatively teach online, while reaching out to patrons via live stream technologies. One exciting outcome of this investment was a new work created for the Winter Dance Gala.

Early in the pandemic, the Department of Dance was uncertain what the Winter Gala, their flagship event, would look like come February. Would it be a live performance, or would it be virtual? Kelsey Paschich, Assistant Professor of Dance, wanted to create something that would stand up as vital work no matter the delivery method.

The solution? A collaboration with Kevin Abbott, the CFA’s new Director of the Center for Advanced Art Research (CFAAR). They decided to create a dance film that could either be projected during a live performance or streamed online. The resulting work, Recode, explores dualistic identities as they exist during the pandemic. 

Recode examines how information can be misunderstood or lost through the current modes of communication, transforming how humans are interacting with each other. Combining choreography with motion capture, video, animation and video game technology, they created vibrant virtual dancers whose bodies respond to the music, and composed choreography using 3D space in ways that would be impossible to do with live dancers on a stage.

The cast of student dancers was thrilled to be part of a new work that expands the horizons of what dance can be. Plans are being made for new collaborations, with patrons and students alike eager to see what the future brings!

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Kalamazoo Cultural Center — Epic Center Renovation

The Kalamazoo Cultural Center, in partnership with the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, has re-envisioned the garden level of the Epic Center in downtown Kalamazoo. This project will take place in two phases, the first focused on increasing the capacity of the Crescendo Academy and the second to rework the north end of the level. A grant from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation helped to create the financial foundation of our project. This renovation will activate and re-invigorate this space that invites creatives, makers and anyone seeking space for creative expression. Our new garden level, which will open in late 2021, will include more studio space, more office space, a multipurpose theatre and additional public gallery space. We are so thrilled at the prospect of being able to offer enhanced amenities for use by all of our arts community.

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Western Michigan University Foundation — WMUK Public Radio

2020 has been a transformative year for WMUK 102.1 FM, the regional NPR station from Western Michigan University. This year began a significant strategic expansion of the station’s commitment to news, information and the arts, with assistance from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

The cornerstone of this project was the launch of a new dedicated classical music station, serving listeners in Kalamazoo and Portage on 89.9 FM. The service, called “Classical WMUK,” can also be heard on the HD-2 digital channel of 102.1 FM. Locally-hosted programming on this new service begins with “Let’s Hear It,” a morning arts interview program hosted by Cara Lieurance. That’s followed by midday classical music with Jack Perlstein. Grant support also showcases some of the best and brightest jazz talent from our region through hour-long “Jazz Currents” special features presented by Keith Hall, an associate professor of Jazz Studies at WMU.

WMUK’s coverage of arts and culture doesn’t end there. The Foundation also directly supports the station’s weekly local feature “Art Beat,” as well as reviews of local theatre productions at The Civic, Farmer’s Alley, the Barn Theatre and more. These features reach a weekly audience of almost 25,000 people across Southwest Michigan and Northern Indiana.

Since 1951, WMUK has served at the forefront of technical and programming innovation for our region. We continue to do so, broadcasting award-winning, in-depth local, national and global news and analysis, as well as cultural coverage, entertainment and music programming 24/7.

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Portage Community Center

Portage Community Center’s Youth Program’s mission is to strengthen the community by developing life skills through social-emotional learning to build a society where all youth thrive. Our programs target underserved youth who have limited access or no access to quality out-of-school time programming.

At PCC our youth programs have always approached our work through lenses of youth voice, social justice, and equity by:

  • Meeting the youth where they are.
  • Embracing and celebrating diversity.
  • Providing strengths-based social-emotional learning to engage youth in the practice of knowing their own emotional lives and building empathy for others.
  • Offering youth-voice opportunities to counter ageism and adultism.

We are active members of the Kalamazoo Youth Development Network and are committed to providing the highest level of youth program quality through evaluation, planning, and the continual professional development of our staff. We utilize evidence-based methods from leading youth development partners, including the David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, Devereux Center for Resilient Children, and the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. Our staff are known statewide and nationally as leaders in youth development, social-emotional learning, and trauma-informed practices — all built on a foundation of collaboration and a deep respect for the youth and families we serve. We believe that all youth need safe and supportive environments where they can learn and have fun while developing skills to make life better for themselves and their community.

We are proud of our youth and of the fact that, when asked about our youth programs, they told us that “Portage Community Center feels like home.”

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