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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 would say at my core, I’m a connector. I get the greatest joy and satisfaction at connecting great artists, whether they be national superstars or people who have notoriety within the industry—like the Chick Corea’s or the Branford Marsalis’s of the world—with an audience who appreciates the art. So connecting great artists with great patrons and supporters of the music. 

What would you like to be known for? 

At the end of the day, I would like to be known first and foremost as a fan of the music and supporter and advocate for the arts and culture in general.

I get my greatest joy because I know what it’s like to be on the other side as a fan. When you go to a concert, you have certain expectations. I think music is one of those things that still brings us together. It has unifying effects. I know it’s a cliché, but music is a universal language. I still think it has the power to connect people in a way that not a lot of things in the world does now. I think there are so many things going on right now that divide us, but I music is still one of those things that has the ability to bring people together from all walks of life regardless of socioeconomic status, gender, race, or political affiliation, so the fact that I have a critical role in presenting that music to people who want to come and be healed or have this unsurpassed musical experience, I would like to be best known for that. 

What does a vibrant arts and cultural community mean to you?

By nature of the word vibrant, I think of lively, I think of basically what’s going on right now. What’s happening now in Midtown with all the work we’re doing at the DSO, I’ll start there because we present over 150 concerts over the course of a year. That ranges from classical and jazz to pops and family. We have a special series where we present programs like the Music of Journey or the Music of Prince. In December, we’re going to be presenting Home Alone with the orchestra playing the live score. There’s literally something at the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Center for everyone. 

But in addition to the work that we’re doing there, you have organizations like next door to us at the Garden Theater. The Little Caesars Arena that’s being built, your jazz clubs going south, and then the DIA, we’re right in the midst of the cultural district, so the fact that we’re all here presenting art that’s relevant, I would say we’re living and breathing a vibrant arts scene.  

How does The Cube [the DSO’s revamped performance space that debuted this September] fit into Detroit’s changing cultural landscape? 

"CUBE is also an acronym that stands for Curated, Urban, Boundless, Experiences, which describes what attendees will enjoy at all events schedule to take place in this space." 

That’s a very interesting question. The Cube not only refers to a physical space, which has a contemporary vibe and unique geometry, but CUBE is also an acronym that stands for Curated, Urban, Boundless, Experiences, which describes what attendees will enjoy at all events schedule to take place in this space. This fresh approach is our quest to fully activate the Max, cultivating an urban audience, being boundless in our presentation of artists, art forms and genres, and delivering a unique experience for all.

One of our main goals, and I think it’s aspirational, but I think we actually do it, is to be the most accessible orchestra on the planet. So we’re playing multiple concerts in Orchestra Hall, we’re going out into our community for our concert series, into seven neighborhoods throughout Metro Detroit to reach people who don’t have the ability to come to Orchestra Hall for whatever reason, or if they just want to see the DSO in their own backyard. The Orchestra is now playing in schools and hospitals, and senior centers and things like that, and I think we do all that great.

The interesting thing about The Cube is it gives us an opportunity to mean more to more people in the community, and it really supports one of our strategic goals, and that’s to be a community gathering place for, I would say Michigan in general, but especially Midtown. It gives us an opportunity to present music that’s not only accessible, but music that’s relevant, and that I think reflects the culture in which we live in. Detroit is known for so many different styles of music, from Motown to gospel to funk, and I think the opportunity we have at The Cube is to present programming that’s relevant and that’s reflective of the rich cultural fabric of Detroit.

CH CUBE2What are some examples of The Cube’s programming?

When I first stepped into this role, Peter Cummings, who is one of the visionaries who 10 years ago saw what this space could be and what it could mean to the community, he basically told me, ‘you should only be limited by your imagination.’ 

We just launched our new season in September with a band called Red Baraat, which was North Indian Bhangra meets funk and soul, so it was an evening with a South Asian twist, and we had restaurants and vendors to support that. 

A couple weeks ago, we presented our first of a series that’s called ‘The Hang.’ We have a very successful jazz series [the Paradise Jazz Series, of which Harrington is the Managing Director], and it’s one that I’m probably most proud of. We have a captive audience here at Orchestra Hall. I think ‘The Hang’ or what happens after the jazz concert is a very critical or important part of the experience. After people come in on a Friday night and see one of the top jazz musicians in the world, they want to hang and have a chill spot where they can talk about the performance or have a drink and enjoy good music. So people were always asking, ‘where’s the hang, where can we go after this?’ We now get to provide this service to the 1,500 or more patrons that are at Orchestra Hall, so they don’t have to worry about where to park or what restaurant to go to. 

In The Cube, we’re able to present local talent. We presented the Marcus Elliot Trio, a hometown hero. We get to present the top musicians from all over the world in Orchestra Hall, but also showcase the great talent we have here in The Cube; I think it’s a win-win for all. 

We’re sort of in this mode of learning what works best in this space and what the community responds to. We presented our first salsa dance party to live music, and we had over 230 people show up on a Friday night, pay $15, and attend a class from 8-9pm, and then an open dance floor from 9-11 with live music from our Civic Jazz Orchestra and a DJ. Over 50 percent of them had never been to the DSO before, or never purchased a ticket before. 

What local cultural destination have you visited recently (besides your own)?

I saw Kamasi Washington at UMS. He’s a phenomenal jazz musician—I don’t even know that I would call him a jazz musician because it transcends genre now, the great work he’s doing. I love UMS and the programming there. I try to get out to a lot of the local jazz clubs. I go to Cliff Bell’s a lot. There’s so much going on in the city, and I try to get out as much possible and support places. 

Who, to you, epitomizes arts and culture in Michigan? 

I’m a little biased, and I’m going to say the DSO, and the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center. I just think the diversity of our programming and the fact that we’re known in the industry for being adventurous in our programming while balancing that with some of the classics. The fact that we do classical programming, we do pops, we do jazz, we do family programming—we have things for kids from ages 6-12 and our Tiny Tots program. We have our Civic Youth programs where we see over 1,000 students over the course of a week, and have ensembles they can play in. We do so much.

"I like to look at the DSO and the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Fisher as the Kennedy Center of Detroit, or the Lincoln Center of Detroit, given everything that’s going on."

I like to look at the DSO and the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Music Fisher as the Kennedy Center of Detroit, or the Lincoln Center of Detroit, given everything that’s going on. We can have nights where the Orchestra is playing in Orchestra Hall and we have an event going on in The Cube, and Detroit Public Theatre has a production going on in Allesee Hall, and to see those different audiences connect and cross-pollinate in the course of an evening, the energy in that space is just palpable, and it’s a great feeling. 

With all of our leadership [at the DSO], they’re forward-thinking leaders, and always pushing us to think about what’s next. What can we do to mean more to more people, and to continue to be the most accessible orchestra on the planet? How can we get our webcast into the phones of people from all over the world or on the computers or into schools? 

Being out in the community, and being community-supported and being community-supporting is at the core.

There are other great organizations in our community, there’s the DIA, the Jazz Festival. They do great work over Labor Day weekend as the world’s largest free jazz festival. And then there’s The Carr Center and other organizations that we partner with. 

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

I always like to take them to Belle Isle. I think it’s just a cultural gem that we have here that’s still hidden, and it’s just a beautiful place to be. And also with the development of the RiverWalk, I always like to take people there. They’re always fascinated they can see Canada from there. And then of course to jazz clubs and other performances around town. 

What excites you most about the future of Southeast Michigan’s arts and culture scene? 

We have so many organizations that are presenting art on a very high level and bringing in top talent from all over the world. I think the fact that we can provide that for all of the citizens of Southeast Michigan and Midtown and Downtown and basically have this rich arts and cultural significance, I think I’m most excited about that. We have so many things to offer; I remember a time when you came downtown and you didn’t have dozens of concerts going on at the same time. I don’t look at it as competition at all, I look at it as, there’s enough arts and culture and audience here for everyone. Not everyone is going to come to a concert at the DSO, but if they go support another organization, that’s great as well, because I think the more art you consume, the more art you consume. 

I’m just excited about the volume and the diversity of the programming going on here. Not to mention the popular music. When I went to see Kamasi Washington, Kanye was here that week, and a couple weeks before it was Beyoncé, so you know, it’s all different genres being displayed and being presented at a very high level for Detroiters. We’re very lucky to be in a town with this rich art scene. 

Photos courtesy of Ben Breuninger. For a complete list of upcoming programs at The Cube, click here.

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