With Music Hall at risk, it’s time once again for Detroiters to stand up

Editor’s Note: This editorial originally appeared in the Michigan Chronicle Feb. 3-9, 2016 edition. 

In Detroit, when somebody needs help, people stop what they’re doing to contribute.

That same principle holds true to the cultural institutions we cherish so dearly. When the fates of places like the Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan Opera Theater, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra were thrown into doubt, Detroiters stepped up to the plate to make sure these vital and historic organizations could keep the lights on and have a bright future.

Now another of our great cultural treasures faces a threat to its survival.

Dan LoeppLike a lot of organizations around town, the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts struggled to stay afloat during the Great Recession. Major funding sources evaporated, and it had to borrow money from non-traditional sources to maintain its entertainment and educational programming.

Now, the bill’s coming due: The venerable institution must raise $1.7 million by the end of April to avoid defaulting on debt dating back to 2008.

Music Hall needs help. Without it, the 88-year-old institution that helped cement Detroit’s place in the global arts and culture circuit — and provides invaluable educational programming for Detroit Public Schools — could go dark.

There’s been a lot of positive momentum established in our city in recent years. More needs to be done, but we can’t afford to let up on the gas now. I believe it’s important to step up when we have the opportunity to help author Detroit’s turnaround story.

As a stakeholder deeply invested in the city’s success, and a neighbor separated by just a few blocks, Blue Cross is proud to serve as title sponsor of Save the Music Hall, a concert and special event fundraiser Friday, Feb. 12. The concert will feature Chaka Khan, Michael Cooper of Con Funk Shun, Jon Barfield and Irresistible, and much more.

The festivities also include a challenge grant: Barfield and his wife, Vivian Carpenter, have pledged to donate $100,000 if attendees contribute $300,000.

It’s also a kickoff to the five-year, $7 million capital campaign — of which Music Hall has already raised $930,000 — to permanently erase $4.2 million in accumulated debt and put the performance venue on a path to long-term operational sustainability.

Built by Matilda Rausch Dodge Wilson as the Wilson Theater in 1928, Music Hall has begun its 88th season, with its reputation of booking a diverse array of first-class jazz and classical music, dance, theater, family attractions and multicultural events going strong. This is a place that has played host to greats including Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Andres Segovia, the Four Tops, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Fred Astaire, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis and many, many more.

Perhaps more important than the names that have adorned its marquee over the years is the educational partnership Music Hall is committed to maintaining with Detroit Public Schools.

For years, Music Hall’s educational programming with DPS has been a shining example of the possibilities of public-private partnerships. Music Hall reaches 22,000 students per year through programs such as jazz vocal instruction, studying under visiting professional dancers, jazz curriculum created by Wynton Marsalis’ Jazz at Lincoln Center, and in-class music and theater programs.

Can there be any doubt of the importance of this curriculum to creating well-rounded, creative children — particularly when the district faces so many financial and other problems?

I hope you’ll considering joining me and many others to help one of our city’s most beloved institutions get back on its feet. Visit musichall.org to donate or learn more, and I’ll see you Feb. 12.

Daniel J. Loepp is president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

 

Photo credit: François Philipp (main)

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