It seems a small miracle to my friends and musical colleagues around the world that Door County enjoys such richness in the performing arts. Perhaps more miraculous is that so many have succeeded, and that new arts organizations, thankfully, spring up every few years.
The legacy of community and volunteer support which at their inception nurtured such notable institutions as Peninsula Players, and the Peninsula Music Festival is still alive and well in the Door. Over the years the Peninsula Arts Association has helped foster many fledgling organizations including Midsummer’s Music and the Francis Hardy Center for the Arts. And, starting with the Door County Visitor’s Bureau, there is a growing understanding of the symbiotic relationship between the arts and economic activity in the county from jobs to investments.
Each organization has a unique life story. Midsummer’s Music began to take form in 1990 when my wife Jean and I responded to a small group of friends and neighbors who shared a vision of providing the Door community with an expanded range of classical music and educational experiences. We envisioned staging chamber music concerts in intimate settings around the Peninsula, including private homes. The decision to present such a season in June resulted from the conclusion that the Door County arts season, and the tourist season, should, and could be broadened. In fact one of the original members of the group, Bob Hastings, subsequently became Executive Director of the then Door County Chamber of Commerce.
Concerts actually got underway the next year, centered on the Ephraim Fyr Bal Festival. That first year’s festival featured eight musicians in five concerts and was over in one week. Thanks to our wonderful 11 donors that year and free services from a lot of folks we actually broke even and opened a bank account.
Those early years were very much bolstered by the fact that community leaders such as Peter and Dianne Trenchard, the Hake’s, the Yeomans’, Cynthia Stiehl, Marianna Collins, Virginia Terhune, and others, hosted home concerts. Our office was housed in the back part of the lower left hand drawer in Hugh Mulliken’s desk at County Walk.
From the beginning we operated under the umbrella of the Peninsula Arts Association, which has been supporting such organizations since 1937. How fortunate that we have an organization such as this in Door County. A quick look at their grants over the years illustrates their role in promoting and helping to build new arts organizations.
In 1995 we took flight on our own when we elected a board of directors and were recognized by the IRS as a 501(c)(3) organization. By 1999, we were giving 11 performances in a little over two weeks time. Although we were blessed with very ardent supporters, we were still viewed by the community, as a whole, as a small, relatively unknown, group who somehow, against all odds, kept re-appearing every spring.
In 2001 we hired our first employee who worked solely for Midsummer’s Music, and who, remarkably, transformed her living room closet into our office. Small organizations find a lot of things to celebrate. Here was proof that we were ‘on our way’. We had grown from a partial desk drawer to a full-size closet.
It was evident that the future would require a source of funds not likely to be available through ticket revenue and annual fund campaigns alone. Financial projections indicated that what was required was an endowment of at least $1,000,000 – a daunting task. But, in 2003, a very generous supporter made the always necessary initial major leading pledge. The campaign was successful.
Over the years we have increased the breadth of our concert offerings. First, Labor Day Weekend concerts, then Haydn’s “The Seven Last Words of Christ,” a spring presentation of the Pro Arte Quartet, and “A Renaissance Christmas” program of early music. The 2010 June/July Festival included 22 concerts and 6 different programs over nearly six weeks. We believe that not only the arts, but environmental stewardship, and social services are important to the community. To that end we have actively sought out opportunities to partner in fund-raisers with organizations such as The Ridges Sanctuary, HELP of Door County, Inc., Birch Creek Music Performance Center, the Peninsula School of Art, The Nature Conservancy, The Clearing, and the YMCA.
Four years ago, we hired a full-time Executive Director, and we have come full circle by opening a permanent office in the very same building which housed our ‘desk drawer’ office fifteen years earlier. Too bad we don’t have that original desk drawer. It should be prominently displayed on a pedestal.
Reprinted with permission from the Peninsula Pulse