Arts, Culture & Humanities

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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Black Arts and Cultural Center/Face Off Theatre Company

The Black Arts & Cultural Center’s Face Off Theatre Company is dedicated to fostering community, cross-culturally, through theatre. Face Off was founded by African-American alumnae of Western Michigan University in order to fill a void in local theater offerings representative of Kalamazoo’s diverse population. Face Off presents classic and modern pieces that explore issues within the black community. In 2016, Face Off was awarded The Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo’s Epic Award for work of high artistic quality that also enhances life in the community. Face Off attracts audience members from different racial, class, and ethnic backgrounds, allowing audiences to connect across various cultural lines. Each performance is followed by a talkback, encouraging the audience to engage with the work, the actors and, most importantly, each other. The company hosts acting and writing workshops for youth and every season includes a youth show. Face Off strives to do work that is authentic and culturally relevant and is always looking for opportunities for the community to grow and learn from one another.

For more information, please visit

Kalamazoo Institute of Arts / The Art of Connectivity

In 2016, the KIA added an assistant curator of youth and family programs, with a goal of the organization becoming a more inclusive, education-aligned community resource. This new position is part of an effort to connect with people who are not already part of the KIA family. The public response has been gratifying, with a significant increase in attendance.

With this position, the KIA was able to add more programs that empower parents to become learning partners with kids, such as:
• Art Detectives, a collaboration with Lift Up Through Literacy, utilizes stories, interaction with exhibits, and hands-on opportunities so as to encourage young people and their families to imagine, create and innovate.
• The Back to School Block Party, a collaboration with Kalamazoo Communities in Schools, features an introduction to the KIA’s redesigned Youth Interactive Gallery, as well as related activities that encourage participants to stretch their imaginations.
• A Dia de Muertos (or Day of the Dead) Festival, a collaboration with the Hispanic American Council, celebrates the Mexican holiday with traditional food and dance, while introducing festivalgoers to the KIA, its programs, and its activities.

Parents connect with their children and, together, they connect with art, the creative process, and the KIA. The KIA connects with a variety of new community organizations. That’s the art of connectivity.

For more information, please visit

WGVU Public Media/Kalamazoo Lively Arts

WGVU’s Kalamazoo Lively Arts series connects artists with the community through the creation and sharing of stories about the many artists and art forms helping to define Kalamazoo. In 2016, through 13 weekly programs, Kalamazoo Lively Arts shared the stories of more than 50 artists and groups, representing a wide variety of visual art, performance, and many other forms of expression. This series is designed to give the public a deeper look, striking a balance between entertainment and educational value.

To provide multiple viewing opportunities, expand the reach of the series, and give the featured artists and arts groups maximum exposure, WGVU broadcasts each weekly episode several times throughout its 28-county-wide coverage area, home to approximately 2.5 million people. This series is also shared via social media and uploaded to a dedicated WGVU Kalamazoo Lively Arts webpage at:

Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo & Fontana Chamber Arts / Third Thursday Jazz

Hot summer nights, great jazz, and Bronson Park are the winning combination that the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, Fontana, and the City of Kalamazoo have created for their Thursdays in the Park — Mix & Mingle series. In its second year, this series welcomed jazz greats for lively, interactive experiences targeted at a younger, non-traditional audience, jazz that Kalamazoo has never before experienced in a summer outdoor concert series in Bronson Park.

World-renowned jazz guitarist, vocalist and band leader John Pizzarelli opened the season. Featured on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Letterman”, Pizzarelli’s utterly cool and resonant sound wowed Kalamazoo with a standing-room-only performance (thanks to a summer thundershower!) at First United Methodist Church. It may have rained outside but there was hot jazz in the house. Kalamazoo native and local icon, singer and songwriter Nat Zegree brought screaming fans from tweens to seniors out to Bronson Park on a picture perfect evening in July. Performing a combination of jazz and contemporary favorites and work from his debut album, Zegree had the audience on their feet (and on the Rotary Stage) as part of a high energy performance. Possessing confidence, oozing with charm and an amazing voice, it was easy to see why Kalamazoo loves this favorite son.

Closing out the series in August was master drummer Herlin Riley. A regular at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Riley has recorded with artists such as George Benson, Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr., and toured with Wynton Marslis. Riley’s sound is timeless — a sound that has at its foundation the various musical styles that make the New Orleans sound unique. It’s gospel, it’s the blues, it’s the sound of celebration, the sound of life. He left Bronson Park pulsing with soul and celebration.

Watch for another great Thursdays in the Park series in Bronson Park. You won’t want to miss it!

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Kalamazoo Civic Theatre / Theatre Kalamazoo

In the fall of 1998, meetings between the leaders representing the Civic, the University Theatre of WMU and Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College catalyzed the establishment of a collaborative consortium of theatres in Kalamazoo County (Theatre Kalamazoo). The mission of the consortium is simple: To promote the diversity and richness of the many theatre offerings in Kalamazoo, and to foster a spirit of cooperation and support among the theatres in order to benefit all.

Over the past 16 years, with the support of the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the organization has grown to include the Black Arts & Cultural Center of Kalamazoo’s Face Off Theatre, Center Stage Theatre, the Civic, Fancy Pants Theater, Farmers Alley Theatre, Festival Playhouse of Kalamazoo College, The New Vic Theatre, Queer Theatre Kalamazoo, All Ears Radio Theatre, WMU Miller Auditorium, and WMU University Theatre. Due to these collaborative efforts, Kalamazoo benefits from more diverse theatrical seasons.

Consortium members promote other member-theatre’s productions in printed programs throughout the season. This consistent effort and presence increases awareness amongst current and potential patrons. Members of the consortium have access to update Theatre Kalamazoo’s website (which includes a calendar of all member events) and social media pages. The consortium also works to promote member-theatre events by having a presence at festivals and events such as the KIA Art Fair, Kalamazoo Pride, and the Black Arts Festival along with more traditional means of marketing. And, during the Annual New PlayFest, Theatre Kalamazoo’s signature event, messaging and graphics are created and provided to all theatres to distribute to their own audiences for consistent messaging and brand recognition of the event and of Theatre Kalamazoo as a whole.

Nearly 125,000 tickets were sold for productions at Theatre Kalamazoo member-theatres during the 2014 – 2015 season. It is the goal of Theatre Kalamazoo to strengthen each theatre as well as enhancing the cultural life in greater Kalamazoo by promoting the arts and enriching our community.

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Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra / Kids in Tune

Kalamazoo Kids in Tune is an orchestra, an after-school program, and as the students love to say, a family. A high-energy, musical family! Students spend four afternoons per week together learning to play instruments and jumping right into big symphonic music, including themes by Beethoven, Dvorak, Mahler, and the students’ all-time favorite, Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Major musical works are central to the program philosophy of inviting even the youngest musicians to share in the beauty and power of great orchestral music.

KKIT is a unique cross-sector collaboration developed by Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra (KSO), Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo (CIS), and Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS). The program is free to the 85 participants, students in grades 1 – 6 at Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts. The partnership relies on the expertise of each agency. KSO provides the curriculum, professional instructors, and instruments through local and national grants. The site framework is funded as a 21st Century Community Learning Center through CIS, providing a site coordinator, after-school coordinator, youth development staff, transportation, and enrichment options, and additional individualized services such as food packs, health and mental health services. KPS provides facilities, evaluation data, access to KPS busses and federal meal program, and band instruments.

KKIT program days are filled with music lessons, orchestra rehearsals, and clubs of choice, bookended by a daily nutritious meal and supported homework time. Embedded mindfulness work helps students learn healthy observation, reflection, and kind self-evaluation skills, all critical to making musical learning fun and transferrable to academic learning. A six-week summer program keeps students playing and practicing with their KKIT family through the break.

KKIT students are not just excelling musically — they are missing fewer days of school than their peers, turning in completed homework more regularly, and re-enrolling in the after-school program at a rate of 90%.

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