By Jan Worth-Nelson
A two-day visit Feb. 27-28 by internationally-acclaimed cellist Yo-Yo Ma began with Johann Sebastian Bach, but has expanded to focus on Flint and culminate in a “Day of Action” and performance at Berston Fieldhouse, the University Musical Society (UMS) of the University of Michigan announced this week.
The event already has drawn the participation of local arts powerhouses like songwriter and recording artist Tunde Olaniran and community activist and artist Natasha Thomas-Jackson.
More than a dozen Flint community cultural and activist organizations and four major Flint funders also have signed on in support of Ma’s visit, which is designed not just around his own performances, but around the potential impact of culture on community.
His schedule will include a talk on “Culture, Understanding and Survival” Wednesday, Feb. 27 at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium.
The heart of Ma’s itinerary will be a “Day of Action” Thursday, Feb. 28 in Flint, where he will meet with 50 Flint-based community leaders for an invitation-only “working session on cultural collaboration for social change,” according to the UMS. The day’s theme is “Flint Voices: Culture, Community and Resilience.”
Ma will be accompanied for his Flint activities by Olaniran, who grew up in Flint and whose work and performances have garnered him national attention and numerous awards.
The strategy session, designed “to find new opportunities for collaborations across Flint’s cultural communities and organizations,” according to the press release, will be held from 1-3 p.m. at the Flint Fresh Food Hub, 3325 E. Court St.
From 4-6 p.m. at Berston Fieldhouse, 3300 Saginaw St., Ma will join in a “community cultural showcase” free and open to the public, including Olaniran and local performers and curated by Thomas-Jackson. UMS spokespersons said the playbill for that part of the day still is evolving. No reservations are required.
Ma’s visit to the Ann Arbor campus started as part of his two-year international Bach Project which began in August, 2018. But Mallory Shea, UMS media relations coordinator, said the cellist requested an expanded scope for his visit to Michigan — specifically to spotlight Flint. The Flint focus is the first time he’s enlarged the project beyond Bach to engage a broader audience, Shea said.
“Flint is a place where resilient and talented people have used creativity, arts, culture and activism to shape the life of the city for a long time,” Thomas-Jackson said. “So, it makes a lot of sense to me that Yo-Yo-Ma would choose Flint to host a Day of Action.
“This day is a wonderful opportunity for our community to explore how we can better cultivate a culture of inclusion, accessibility, and diversity in both large institutions and small grassroots organizations,” she added.
More than a dozen community organizations are participating in planning for the visit, including Kevin Colins African Drum and Dance, Berston Field House, Boy’s and Girls Clubs of Greater Flint, Communities First, Inc., Chosen Few Arts Council Ed Morrison and Strategic Doing, Dallas and Sharon Dort, El Ballet Folklorico Estudiantl, Factory Two, Flint and Genesee Chamber of Commerce, Flint Area Chapter of The Links, Inc., Flint Cultural Center Corporation, Flint Fresh Food Hub, Flint Institute of Music, Flint Neighborhoods United, Flint Public Art Project, Friends of Berston Field House, Greater Flint Arts Council, Mayor’s Office of the City of Flint, McCree Theatre, Rachel Bendit, the Sphinx Organization, Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village, Tapology, University of Michigan Regent Michael Behm, and The Wallace House of the University of Michigan
The project also has engaged a host of Flint sponsors, including the University of Michigan – Flint Chancellor’s and Provost’s offices, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Hagerman Foundation, the Ruth Mott Foundation, and the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, identified in press materials as “a convening partner.”
“Culture matters because it helps us connect and understand one another,” Ma said. “And it’s only through connection and understanding that we can create strong, inclusive and resilient communities and build a better future.
“I have watched with the nation as Flint has done just that,” he said, with the project’s design “exploring how culture has raised the city’s many voices, forging a strong community and a shared, forward-looking narrative for Flint.”
Ma launched his project to perform Bach’s six suites for solo cello in 36 locations around the world, performances that he said he sees as “part of a much larger conversation about culture’s role in society.”
At each location, UMS spokespersons said, he has been partnering with “artists and culture makers, cultural and community organizations, and leaders from across sectors to design conversations, collaborations, and performances.”
More information on the Day of Action activities and tickets to the Feb. 27 Ann Arbor talk is available at ums.org/dayofaction or by calling 734-754-2538.
UMS presents over 70 music, theater, and dance performances by professional touring artists at the University of Michigan each season. according to UMS Media Relations Coordinator Shea.
“When Yo-Yo Ma approached us to help him organize his talk in Ann Arbor and Day of Action in Flint we were thrilled and honored to help lead the effort, building and facilitating new partnerships in the Flint community and creating opportunities for these important conversations to take place,” Shea said. “We look forward to long-lasting relationships that extend well beyond Mr. Ma’s visit.”
Banner image: Yo-Yo Ma in Leipzig (Photo by © Mustafah Abdulaziz for the New York Times)
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.