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Straight from The Source, a regular interview series taking you behind-the-scenes to Southeast Michigan’s cultural destinations to hear from the curators, programmers, leaders, doers and makers.

What are you best known for?

I hope it’s for my artistic fervor. At the moment, I’m still sort of finding my way [in Michigan]. I think I’m at the stage of my life where I’m putting in the hard work.

What would you like to be known for? 

Well certainly for being a good arts administrator and being able to enable classical music to develop further to find new audiences in order to develop new works, new opera works, so something along those lines. And being able to continue in music and the arts and furthering our message of what we do as artists. 

Tell me a little about Rackham’s new direction, and where you hope to take it.

It was very much on their radar to at some point bring in a full-time staff [Fuhrig is the choir’s first full-time employee], and be able to develop further on a program level. They always had a very high artistic level of involvement with Suzanne Acton, who is the Artistic Director and has been since the ‘90s. It’s a very high level artistic product that we are able to offer. Now, it is about finding ways to share our programs with more audiences, and to increase the programs that we can develop. I think that it is just as important not just to be active as a choir and a community choir, but to be active as a community arts organization that really delves into the outreach, that delves into the education work as well.

MaxFMax Fuhrig, Managing Director of Rackham ChoirWhat are some of the things you’re most looking forward to?

I think the key in terms of our long-term planning, and I’m talking three, four years down the road, is we want to make sure we can create programs that can directly link with community and education programs as well. 

This is something that Too Hot to Handel at the Detroit Opera House on December 10th does at the moment, and something that some of our programs did in the past like Voices of Light. These were all collaborations Rackham did with other institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts or the Detroit Opera House, and what we are able to do around those is that we can provide, for example, tickets to students in Detroit Public Schools, bring people to dress rehearsals—which is something we do with Too Hot to Handel—or we can offer education programs, where we actually take the artists, and we bring them into schools and they can do master classes or workshops with particular school classrooms, and we share what a particular program, like Too Hot is about, musically. 

That is something that we really want to continue doing, and we really think that’s important, to always link those elements. I think the DSO does it well, Michigan Opera Theatre does it really well, there’s no reason why a smaller organization like ours shouldn’t be able to do that as well if you have the means and the connections and the willingness for the community to participate. And honestly we have all those, we’re an 80 piece choir, we have all of those community members who are also willing to share and participate in our process, so that is something we are going to do much more of. 

As a recent transplant to Metro Detroit, what is your perception as to the vitality of the region’s arts and cultural community? 

It’s a continuous work in progress. It always has to be, and it’s a tough work in progress. We’re all participating. I do like that coming in as an outsider, I like this very enthusiastic sense that, especially in the arts, that it was a good time to come to Detroit, there was that revitalization going on. Obviously, you would like to think that the arts and culture are right at the center of that. I do think that it is linked, but it’s hard work as well. You can’t be complacent. 

But I do like that landscape at the moment, there does seem to be a lot of possibility, creativity, and a lot of areas that everyone can tap into. It’s great for networking and great for sharing in each other’s visions. Everyone is very interested in each other’s work and what everyone is doing, and that is wonderful to be a part of because that is not always the case in other cities. I think it’s a good moment. But we do have to monopolize on it. Now is the time to make that count.

What local cultural destination have you visited recently?

We try to go to everything, the DIA, we like visiting those places. This summer, we saw Shakespeare in the Park, that was fantastic, there’s so much on offer here. The DSO, we’re always going there as well, since obviously I like the heavier link to music. I also like the activity that is going on in Ann Arbor. They do fantastic work—UMS is amazing, but even things like the Opera School at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and their opera performances that they do. Così fan tutte in May was fantastic. I still want to get more exposure to the jazz clubs and the jazz scene. 
(Editor’s note: Fuhrig also appeared on stage as a German soldier in this fall’s presentation of Silent Night from Michigan Opera Theatre). 

When you have visitors in from out of town, what is the one cultural destination you make sure they see during their visit? 

Over Thanksgiving, we sent family to the Nutcracker at the Opera House. The DIA and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, they are the institutions that seem to be very important, especially when you talk to your guests about what has happened as Detroit develops. Obviously, the DIA is a very poignant story, so you want to make sure you share that and make sure people recognize that artistic value coming in from outside, just as much as everyone in Detroit should value it. And the DSO is always great to go to. 

What excites you most about the future of SE MI’s arts and culture scene?

We really hope that all of this development of Detroit continues as an urban center. It can get a bit more leverage against cities like Chicago and the arts are closely linked to that. 

"You buy into a community investment, an education investment, an investment into the future for your children. That is the top product that we ought to market."

Nowadays, it’s become more than just being a patron for the arts. I think that’s what all of the institutions are trying to do, and ideally that really that is the mission that we will all excel at is, you don’t only just invest in the arts or into something that you like, the music that you like or the artistic endeavor that you buy into, but you buy into so much more. You buy into a community investment, an education investment, an investment into the future for your children. That is the top product that we ought to market.

The DSO has done such a fantastic job since 2011 to really re-hone in on their target audience and their target mission, and that is something that can become sustainable over time. These bigger arts organizations, including the Opera House, the development that they can do, I hope that that reflects down on the smaller organizations. One of the wishes that I have is that we are able to collaborate on many more levels with bigger arts organizations. I think that there’s a lot that can be done to continue these connections and these developments. 

The funding structure is something that is interesting to me from a European perspective. The private donation and private sponsorship [to support the arts] and the level of importance that that needs here in the States for the arts, that’s new to us because we have much more public spending on the arts. As a naive European coming to the States, you always think maybe there can be more support through the state, especially if we say that what we are doing in the arts is linked to education, is linked to community outreach—it ticks so many more boxes that state funding should also support. I know that’s not always the case unfortunately. 

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