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Housed on the campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, the University Musical Society is one of the oldest performing arts presenters in the country. A past recipient of the National Medal of Arts, the nation’s highest public artistic honor, UMS connects audiences with wide-ranging performances in music, dance, and theater each season.Between 1987 and 2017, UMS was led by Ken Fischer, who over three decades pursued an ambitious campaign to expand and diversify the organization’s programming and audiences—initiatives inspired by Fischer’s overarching philosophy toward promoting the arts, “Everybody In, Nobody Out.”
The approach not only deepened UMS’s engagement with the university and southeast Michigan communities, it led to exemplary partnerships with distinguished artists across the world. Under Fischer’s leadership, UMS hosted numerous breakthrough performances, including the Vienna Philharmonic’s final tour with Leonard Bernstein, appearances by then relatively unknown opera singer Cecilia Bartoli, a multiyear partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Elizabeth Streb, and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.
Though peppered with colorful anecdotes of how these successes came to be, this book is neither a history of UMS nor a memoir of Fischer’s significant accomplishments with the organization. Rather it is a reflection 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.
About the Author
Ken Fischer served as President of the University Musical Society for thirty years until his retirement in 2017. In 2019, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of fine arts from the University of Michigan.
Robin Lea Pyle is author of First in the Field: Breaking Ground in Computer Science at Purdue University. She directs and writes plays for her company To the Rescue Theatre to benefit animal rescue.