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Arts and culture institutions collaborating to imbue the arts into the fabric of MSU

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L to R: Steven Bridges, Eric Olmscheid, Shawn Turner, Russ White

Three of Michigan State University's arts and culture institutions are celebrating significant milestones this year.

WKAR Public Media is celebrating a century of service as AM 870 went on the air in August of 1922. Wharton Center for Performing Arts is celebrating 40 years of providing a wide array of world class arts and entertainment for mid-Michigan and beyond. And the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum opened its doors 10 years ago. The three leaders of these MSU institutions join the program today. Shawn Turner is the interim director of broadcasting at MSU and general manager of WKAR Public Media. Eric Olmscheid is executive director of Wharton Center, and Steven Bridges is interim director of the Broad Art Museum.

“You don't get to stick around for 100 years without doing something right,” says Turner. “WKAR went on the air on August 18 of 1922. When we originally went on the air, WKAR was about providing agricultural information to local farmers and quickly evolved to providing additional programming to the local community. If you look at what's happened over the past hundred years, WKAR has been a leader in innovation when it comes to providing news and information and entertainment to the community. We've come from providing those very direct and limited broadcasts to providing programing and education.

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Russ White | MSU Today
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Shawn Turner in the MSU Audio Studios

“Today we have one of the most popular classical radio stations in all of Michigan. And when we look to the future of WKAR, our viewers and listeners are going to see additional content that's really going to connect with this community. Our evolution has been one of responding to people in the community, responding to our listeners and our viewers, and making sure that at every turn we're doing the right things to support them and their needs.”

“Wharton Center is coming up on its 40th anniversary on the 25th of September,” says Olmscheid. “On September 25, 1982, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra opened Wharton Center with a grand affair, and it's been nonstop since then. It has been nonstop in the sense of that commitment to the community and to mid-Michigan and world class performing arts and educational opportunities. The organization continues to think about what's next. We're celebrating 40 years, but we're excited about how we fit into this greater MSU 2030 Strategic Plan, the Arts Plan, and how our units collectively work more together to amplify what's happening from an arts and culture standpoint on this campus. We are continuing to evolve and thinking about how we engage and support what's happening here on campus and how are we connect with the community to be a leader in education, both in university and K-12.

“It's truly just beginning, and there are so many more things ahead. As we look at developing our own strategic plan, I think of it as more of a roadmap. Where do we really want to go? And how do we want to connect with our community? People love the Wharton Center for great Broadway programming and amazing concerts, and we’re home to traditional and contemporary performing arts. All of that's going to stay, but I think how we package it and how we connect to our audiences and how we get new audiences in the door is our next chapter and our next focus.”

“In the past 10 years, there's been a lot of great work, and I think we've accomplished a lot and made a lot of inroads, both in our community and as a campus leader in arts education,” says Bridges. “We’ve been a strong collaborator and partner to many different disciplines throughout those 10 years. We recently celebrated a major opening of a Zaha Hadid exhibition, which is the largest, most major retrospective of her design work to date. To have Zaha Hadid's design work placed within the architecture of her building is a truly unique and unparalleled experience. I'm very proud of that exhibition, and for us, it also signals an important shift for us looking forward into the future.

“If we look back at the Broads and Hadid, they were important figures for us as an institution. Looking at the ways that they carried themselves and that they invested and provided opportunities for growth and development within their spheres of influence, there's a lot of inspiration to be taken there. Zaha Hadid famously said, ‘I think there should be no end to experimentation,’ and that's something that we take whole heartedly at the museum.”

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Russ White | MSU Today
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Wharton Center Executive Director Eric Olmscheid in the MSU Audio Studios

WKAR, Wharton Center, and the Broad are all part of a comprehensive campus-wide strategy called University Arts and Collections, which supports units across campus that hold significant cultural and intellectual collections that serve the research, scholarship, and outreach missions of MSU. What is it? Why now, and what are its goals and mission?

“Let me start out by saying that I think this is a really amazing collaboration for the community,” continues Turner. “The fact that the three of us are here talking about our organizations and our collaborations and our willingness to work together, and that you have this broader collaboration that will really bring a level of intensity in the arts to this community that we've never seen before, is something that we're all very excited about. This is an opportunity for us to recognize that in the time that we've been a part of this community, we all have touched different parts of this community. We all have different audiences and different followings and different supporters, but those interests that this community has all converge at some point, and what we recognize is that that point is the arts. We're going to work together across the campus to make sure that these collections and these collaborations not only bring us together as organization, but those collaborations then create new and interesting opportunities for this community to engage with the arts.”

“Michigan State is such a large organization that if we don't have the intentional connectivity, it's easy for us to all drift into our own focus,” adds Olmscheid. “We all have our own priorities and strategies that roll up into this greater university plan, which I think is critically important as far as setting direction and intention and shared goals. But if we don't have that intentionality of collaboration, it's easy for us to all be in our own lane not even focused on the greater good. I think that's great. It’s really about access, and this idea that the community can come together is important as we think about our next stage and step in evolution and what we do because that's such a critical piece to our human condition. The arts are that fabric that brings us together. The weaving of the human condition is really through the arts. The arts are such a core piece of who we are and how its evolved in our day-to-day lives is very different today, but I think it's important to remember that.”

“These anniversary years weren’t planned, but what a great moment to seize that opportunity and recognize the opportunities that lie before us,” Bridges says. “Culture isn't just something that kind of happens to us. It's something that we create, and we create it together. We all work in the service of this university, the student body, and the faculty and staff and researchers here. But we work for the greater community of mid-Michigan, Lansing and beyond.

“Moving forward we want to create more porousness, if you will, between our organizations, but also with the communities that we serve. We want feedback from them directly about what they want to see from us and meet them where they are to create a greater sense of belonging and collectiveness that I think will be more important in terms of ingraining the value of arts and culture within our communities and within our lives.”

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Russ White | MSU Today
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Steven Bridges

“Eric talked about access. And when we think about access over at WKAR, part of that for us is going out into the community and finding out what the community wants and what the community needs to feel supported by WKAR,” says Turner. “What is the community interested in with regards to the arts? This is a collaboration, not only between us, but between these organizations in the community. This is an interactive relationship, and so I hope that people feel as excited about this as we do because you're going to have an opportunity to shape the future of these organizations and shape the future of the arts in this community.”

“The arts have this really important place in us as human beings, and they connects us,” Olmscheid says. “It's a natural connection, a connective tissue. Here at MSU, the arts have that same kind of connective tissue across campus and across our organizations. What are our plans as we look at connecting to the research endeavor and to looking at academic connections and many other tentacles into the campus community that are beyond just the arts and cultural components? That's the piece that I think is the chapter that is yet to be written. How are we continuing to evolve in that way across the campus and really infusing the arts to be a valuable tool across every piece of MSU?”

“That resonates with the values of the museum and the University,” adds Bridges. “It has a large part to do with creating vibrant, welcoming communities and the next generation of arts leaders and stewards of culture within this country and region. The place of the arts as a generative force within our communities and the understanding that a creative approach to thinking and knowledge production are applicable far beyond the arts and into all disciplines. The integration of the arts across campus and into our daily lives is critical to creating exactly that kind of community.

“There's a great opportunity to always see and experience and know things differently through the arts, and I think there's a real educational value, but also an expansion of your mind and awareness, which allows you to engage with different cultures, lived experiences and perspectives. That creates more well-rounded individuals and therefore better communities and better societies.”

“We're all living at a time when there are a lot of stresses,” concludes Turner. “There's a lot going on in our environment that can make us feel anxious. And as we sit around the table here today, I think about the ability of these organizations to not only help people be well informed about their world, but to Eric's point, it's an opportunity for people to go to a place where we can let the stress go, and we can let the anxiousness go, and we can experience the arts in ways that help us all feel rejuvenated and help us all refresh and help us come back to our world with a new perspective. As I sit here with these gentlemen, and as I think about the collaborations that are to come, that excites me, especially at a time when I think that's something that we all need.”

MSU Today airs Saturdays at 5 p.m. and Sundays at 5 a.m. on WKAR News/Talk and Sundays at 8 p.m. on 760 WJR. Find “MSU Today with Russ White” on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and wherever you get your shows.