The Russell Block building in Muskegon will be the new home of the West Michigan Symphony. Courtesy West Michigan Symphony
The West Michigan Symphony announced today that it is embarking on a $480,000 capital campaign and has already received a $250,000 lead grant from Michael and Kay Olthoff for the enhancement project.
West Michigan Symphony will relocate its administrative offices and ticket booth to the Russell Block building, located at 360 W. Western Ave. in Muskegon, as part of the project. It will also add a two-story performance hall in the space.
In total, the Symphony will take up 4,900 square feet in the newly restored Russell Block building.
The new performance hall, which is expected to seat 130 people, will allow WMS to expand its entertainment offerings to include additional artist performances, bring in artists from different genres — such as world music and jazz — and to host cabaret-style events with dinner, among many other possibilities. It will give WMS greater flexibility for hosting events and in scheduling artist performances that it currently does not have.
Many symphonies are finding that expanding genres and offering a variety of performance options is helping them retain and increase their audience.
“One of the joys of this space for all of us is that we will get to do things that we can’t do now,” Carla Hill, president and CEO of WMS, said about the performance space.
West Michigan Symphony symphonic performances occur in the Frauenthal Theater, which the organization rents for its concerts. The new space will allow the organization to program additional and more intimate performances without having to compete with other organizations for the space.
“There are opportunities to utilize our guest artists who, for instance, would love to do a recital in that space,” Hill said. “We have one lined up already and then a couple of others that we are talking to. This will be a great opportunity for some of our own musicians to perform in a recital or a trio, quartet, quintet or whatever they bring to us. It’s a way for our musicians to be seen in a whole different way. That’s really exciting to me.”
The performance space is being designed to accommodate a wide variety of uses and will not have permanent furniture. All seating, tables and a portable stage will be easily movable to adapt to whatever needs are required of the room. There will also be a 600-square-foot balcony, expansive windows facing Muskegon Lake, a performer dressing room, and the performance hall will be connected to the Symphony’s administrative offices by a comfortable lounge area.
In addition to recitals, the performance space will also be used to accommodate the Symphony’s educational programming. Hill is particularly interested in adding opportunities for youth education programs.
“There will be a lot more things for young kids,” she said. “We really want to have a program for the under 5 year olds and their parents, where they learn basic music, moving with the music, clapping with the music, learn to understand a little bit more about music as play; not as serious, as play.”
The Youth Symphony and the Debut Strings program will both be able to utilize the hall.
Hill is also happy to be able to offer patrons a more accessible ticket booth out of the new space. In the Symphony’s current office it is quite a trek for patrons to reach the ticket booth, an elevator ride to the fourth floor and a walk down a long corridor. In the new location, the ticket booth will be located on the first floor and easily accessible and visible. It will also offer expanded hours, which are still being determined.
In order to complete the project, the Symphony is now turning to the community for additional funding. Hill currently does not have a timetable for completion of fundraising efforts or a building move-in date.
The Russell Block building is being restored by Port City Construction, and West Michigan Symphony will serve as an anchor for the building, which will also have other tenants, including retail businesses.
Gary Post, manager of Port City Construction, noted that WMS is providing an excellent example of its commitment to the community through contributing to the redevelopment of downtown Muskegon. He hopes to see other businesses and nonprofits follow the Symphony’s lead.