West Michigan Symphony announces $5 million campaign to build endowment and expand educational programs

MUSKEGON, MI, August 26, 2021 Earlier today, the leaders of the West Michigan Symphony (WMS) announced the Play Your Part campaign, a $5 million fundraising effort to build their endowment while investing in music education programs for underserved area children.

Celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2020, WMS annually presents an 8-concert series of classical masterworks and lively pops at the Frauenthal Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Muskegon. Additionally, it offers a 10-concert series featuring jazz, crossover-folk, and classical music at The Block, its intimate live listening room located nearby on Western Avenue. Finally, WMS enriches the lives of area youth through education programs provided free or at low cost to ensure broad access. Offered at The Block and in more than 50 area schools, these programs build children’s creativity and enhance school achievement across diverse subjects. Throughout the pandemic, WMS has continued to fulfill its mission via a groundbreaking Virtual Concert Hall format, engaging subscribers, ticket buyers, and area schools online.

More than $3 million—60% of goal—has been raised to date during the “quiet” phase of the Play Your Part campaign, which began last November. More than 60 community donors, local businesses, and area foundations have supported the campaign to date.

An important goal of the campaign is to secure the long-term future of the Symphony. Successful symphonies across the nation typically generate at least 15% of their organizational budget from endowment earnings. The West Michigan Symphony currently only generates 2% of its budget from the endowment. The Play Your Part campaign will help increase the size of the endowment to put the WMS on par with its peers around the nation.

The campaign will also help fund Tune Up, a new youth orchestra program slated for launch in fall 2022. Tune Up will provide access to high-quality music instruction to Muskegon children with the fewest resources and greatest need, helping to develop well-rounded students through the study of instrumental music and academic support in an afterschool program.

Tune Up will take place in partnership with Muskegon Public Schools as part of MPS’s 21st Century Community Learning Center IMPACT program, which provides after-school academic enrichment opportunities. This will leverage Impact’s already established safe, supportive environment—including tutoring, snacks, and fellowship—while adding a needed musical element. Students will receive free use of a musical instrument, learn to play that instrument, participate in ensemble and sectional lessons, build friendships, and receive music and academic support from teaching artists and qualified staff.

At today’s public announcement of the fund drive, the operational chairs of the campaign, Jan Deur, retired Verizon executive, and Kay Olthoff, longtime community volunteer, invited the public to join in the fundraising effort, which will continue through the end of the year.

“As we work to provide the very best in arts programming for area children and youth, I am pleased to be part of an effort that improves outcomes for children in the classroom,” said Olthoff, a longtime champion of music education who has consistently supported the growth of WMS programs.  

“Securing the future of the Symphony is a critical aspect of this campaign,” said Deur, “Symphony performances bring thousands of people into our downtown each year, and our audience members support local restaurants and businesses with their patronage.”

Olthoff and Deur announced that the campaign has received broad support from local and regional foundations, area businesses, and generous community donors. “We have been so fortunate to receive gifts to this important campaign. Our Campaign Cabinet joins me in thanking the community for their meaningful gifts. We now invite the larger community to help us complete this campaign effort. We welcome gifts of all sizes.” said Deur.

Today’s announcement marks the beginning of the public phase of the $5 million campaign.

“This is an exceptional opportunity for the community to help strengthen an outstanding arts organization,” said Scott Speck, Music Director of WMS. “In order to deepen our impact on the community, we need to bring music and music education to areas where the need is greatest.”

Michigan Arts & Culture Council
National Endowment for the Arts