Story by Jacob Gibson / UMS
This past week, we interviewed UMS President Emeritus Ken Fischer to talk about his forthcoming book Everybody In, Nobody Out (University of Michigan Press). The book is filled with colorful anecdotes from Ken’s time at UMS and reflects on the power of the performing arts to engage and enrich communities—not by handing down cultural enrichment from on high, but by meeting communities where they live and helping them preserve cultural heritage, incubate talent, and find ways to make community voices heard.
Everybody in, Nobody Out is available now for preorder from the University of Michigan Press. Before October 1, use the code “UMGLFISCHER” at checkout to receive a 30 percent discount and free shipping. UMS will receive a portion of the proceeds from each book sold.
The name of your book is Everybody In, Nobody Out. Throughout your career, this idea became a guiding philosophy for yourself and UMS. Can you say more about what this means to you?
EINO — Everybody In, Nobody Out — was the inclusion policy of my mentor Patrick Hayes, a champion of civil rights, equity, and justice. He played a key role in desegregating the theaters and lunch counters of Washington DC, founded what is now Washington Performing Arts, and was the founding president of what is now the International Society for the Performing Arts. He was committed to assuring that the arts in the nation’s capital would be open, accessible, and welcoming to all.
With Patrick’s enthusiastic support and blessing, I brought EINO to UMS when I began in 1987. EINO served as our guiding principle for 30 years as we diversified our programming and audience and built effective partnerships with educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, sister arts organizations, local businesses, and communities of shared heritage throughout southeast Michigan. EINO, in effect, is about putting your arms around the entire community in a warm and welcoming embrace.
How did your work in the education field prior to coming to UMS influence your arts leadership philosophy over your 30 years as president of UMS?
As a U-M graduate student in the study of higher education from 1966-70, I gained a fundamental understanding that the mission of the university had three legs: teaching, research, and public engagement. I realized after being at UMS for a few years that we could greatly enhance our value to the university if we focused attention on supporting each of those components.
In the area of teaching, this led to significant arts/academic integration. For research, we understood the commissioning of new work important to the knowledge creation process. Finally, we increased public engagement by continuing UMS’s well-deserved reputation as a first-rate classical music presenter while broadening and deepening our offerings to include more varieties of music, well-curated dance, and outstanding classic and contemporary theater. We also built a comprehensive program serving K-12 students throughout the region.
What are three things you are most proud of having accomplished over your 30 years at UMS?
- Hiring three people in the late 1980s who became key members of the UMS management team, nationally prominent in their respective areas of expertise, and were still with UMS the day I retired on June 30, 2017: Sara Billmann in marketing and communications, John Kennard in finance and administration, and Michael Kondziolka in programming and production. We had a combined service to UMS of 114 years during my tenure. This trio was key to UMS’s success during my tenure.
- The diversifying and strengthening of UMS in four areas. First, in its artistic and educational programming. Second, in its audiences, donors, and governance. Third, in its financial structure. And finally, in its relationship to the university and the larger community.
- Accepting the 2014 National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama on behalf of UMS. The National Medal of Arts is the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government, meaning that I had the privilege of representing not only the UMS of today but the leaders, artists, staff, and audiences who created and shaped UMS since its founding in 1879.
If you could only pick one, what performance or project from your tenure would you consider to be the most memorable?
There are so many memorable projects and performances, but the most memorable for me occurred in March of 1997 when Cecilia Bartoli had to cancel because of illness two days before what would have been the highest-grossing regular-season concert in UMS history. The multi-sided response was UMS at its finest:
- Under Michael’s leadership, we found a remarkable substitute in the exceptionally talented but relatively unknown contralto Ewa Podles who flew in from Poland.
- Under Sara’s leadership, we called or left word with each ticket purchaser so that each of the 4,200 persons planning to attend the Cecilia concert would know of the change and be invited to hear someone new to them.
- The 3,600 people who turned up for the outstanding concert gave Ms. Podles a standing ovation before and after her performance.
- The concert sponsor became as enthusiastic about hosting Ms. Podles as he would have been hosting Ms. Bartoli.
- Ms. Bartoli, feeling so sad that ill health had prevented her from singing at the scheduled concert, offered to open the following season, which she did.
The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously made it incredibly difficult to bring audiences together. What role do you see for arts organizations during this time?
First, I see arts organizations being imaginative in continuing to bring the arts into our lives by providing an enormous amount of content that is helping us get through this unprecedented time. Organizations have begun streaming outstanding performances from their archives, creating stay-at-home virtual performances, hosting conversations with artists on a variety of important issues of our time. Additionally, leaders have reassured their stakeholders that live performances will come back, even if things may be very different.
Another compelling role for arts organizations at this time has been recognizing that there is also a pandemic of racial injustice running parallel to COVID-19. Many are seizing the opportunity to pause, analyze, and reflect on past organizational principles and practices, determining what changes need to be made to create more open, equitable, welcoming, and inclusive organizations.
Can you talk about other times in your life when the arts have played a healing role after a tragedy or social upheaval?
I can point to many examples but will cite only one, here, because it was powerful in so many ways. Between mid-morning on Sunday, June 12, 2016, and Tuesday evening, June 14, 2016, four U-M music students organized and executed a deeply moving performance of the Mozart Requiem in Hill Auditorium to respond to the Pulse nightclub shooting that occurred in the early morning of June 12. Called “Requiem for Orlando,” the performance honored the memory of the members of the LGBTQA community who were killed.
The four students accomplished this with little experience in concert management, yet they recruited a total of 337 instrumentalists, singers, soloists, and speakers who participated on stage, and provided for an audience in excess of 2,000 for one of the most moving performances of the piece I have ever experienced. When asked how the requiem sounded, conductor Kevin Fitzgerald, one of the four organizing students, responded, “Remarkable. Everyone was mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and physically aligned.” Austin Stewart, another of the organizing students added, “It transcended everything. For two full minutes afterward, there was complete silence.”
When you first started at UMS, you started a program with WUOM called “Desert Island Discs.” What’s on your playlist now?
- Washington Bach Consort – Bach: Mass in B Minor
- Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman
- King’s Singers – Folk Songs of the British Isles
- Choir of King’s College, Cambridge – A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
- Johnny Mathis – Johnny’s Greatest Hits (including “The Twelve of Never”)
- Cecilia Bartoli – Arie Antiche: Se tu m’ami
- Berlin Philharmonic with Claudio Abbado – Brahms: Symphony No.1
- The Beatles – Meet the Beatles
- The Fischer Duo (my brother Norm and his wife Jeanne) – Brahms Sonatas for Cello and Piano
- UMS Choral Union with Ann Arbor Symphony – Handel’s Messiah
- National HS Orchestra, Interlochen, 1961 – Liszt: Les Preludes
- Paul Fetler and Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra, featuring flutist Penny Fischer (my wife) – “Capriccio”
- Philadelphia Brass Ensemble – A Festival of Carols in Brass
- The Brass of the Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia Orchestras – Antiphonal Music of Gabrieli
- Yo-Yo Ma – Bach: Unaccompanied Cello Suites
- Wynton Marsalis & the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra – Blood on the Fields
- Martha Fischer (my sister) and Bill Lutes (her husband) –Four-Hand Piano Works by Robert Schumann
Reprinted with permission from UMS. For other great stories and more information, click HERE