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Sunday, 14 October 2012 21:55

West Michigan Symphony trying to step outside the box with new space

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Russell Block, Muskegon Russell Block, Muskegon Courtesy photo

MUSKEGON — The Russell Block restoration is alive with the sound of music – or it soon could be as a new tenant looks to more than triple the size of its footprint in downtown Muskegon.

The West Michigan Symphony recently signed a long-term lease with Russell Block developer Gary Post for 4,900 square feet on two floors of the facility at 360 West Western Ave. Construction on the project should start this month.

Having plowed through the first phase of a private capital campaign, the symphony so far raised $360,000, which is allowing the organization to expand to the new space. The symphony hopes to raise about $480,000 in total.

Nichols Paper CEO Mike Olthoff and his wife, Kay, contributed a lead gift of $250,000 to the campaign.

With the expansion, the symphony is growing its ticketing operation, establishing flexible administrative offices and will ultimately be adding a small performance space and education center seating up to 130 people.

“This is the answer to some of things we’ve not been able to do as an organization,” said Carla Hill, CEO of the West Michigan Symphony. “It’s a new opportunity to step it up and do something that people might not expect.”

As the 75th anniversary of the symphony approaches, Hill said the organization is looking to step outside of the box and hopefully draw in new and younger patrons with non-traditional programming and concerts.

The move comes at a time when symphony organizations across the nation struggle to stay open or face union strikes and lockouts.

With an annual budget of about $1 million, the West Michigan Symphony is a small, non-union outfit, which allows the organization to have budget flexibility without sacrificing any level of talent. In fact, the Muskegon-based symphony is attracting more and more skilled musicians, Hill said. She attributed that rising interest to the efforts of the organization’s music director Scott Speck, Hill said.

“(Speck) has been rebuilding this orchestra for 10 years,” Hill said. “A testament to that is more people wanting to play here. As positions open up due to pure attrition, we’re finding stronger and stronger players.”

Audiences seem to be taking notice, too. This season, the organization already surpassed its subscription concert goal.

Hill wants to keep that trend going and is looking forward to the new venue as vehicle for engaging a younger audience.

Without getting into specifics, Hill suggested the symphony could work together with its soon-to-be neighbor at the Russell Block facility: fledgling craft brewery Unruly Brewing Co.

The hope is that the two seemingly unlikely partners could come together for events and other activities.

While there haven’t been any formal discussions, Eric Hoffman, one of the partners and brewer for Unruly, said ideas have circulated around doing something special for symphony’s 75th anniversary.

The mix of patrons to both establishments is a mutually beneficial relationship, he said.

“There are quite a few season ticket holders who are some of our biggest advocates,” Hoffman said. “I look at craft beer as an art, and I think (the symphony and craft beer) go well to together.”

Read 2628 times Last modified on Tuesday, 16 October 2012 11:02

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