Q&A with Terri Trotter, president and CEO of Midland Center for the Arts

Terri Trotter, president and CEO of Midland Center for the Arts, has over twenty years of experience in the arts and entertainment field. Since joining the Center in January 2016, Trotter has been involved with quite a few changes with both the facility and the broader community. We caught up with her on the new connectivity with Whiting Forest, her favorite shows and the new additions to the museum at the Center.

Q: We noticed it looks a bit different outside the Center. Can you tell us about the new sign?

A: Putting up the new sign on Eastman Avenue is a big milestone for us. The old red sign is down and by the end of November we will have a brand new sign up that showcases the myriad of things going on in the Center, that highlights the museum, and that is fitting for a campus as alive with activity as ours now is!

While the sign is very different from Dow Gardens and Whiting Forest because of the nature of what we do, it was designed by the same firm to ensure that there is a complementary look and feel. We are also thrilled that our new video board on the sign will be the highest resolution screen in use in Michigan.

Q: The Center is becoming more connected with the two bridges connecting Whiting Forest to surrounding properties, can you talk a little bit about how that relates to the Center?

A: We are excited that Whiting Forest is now open! It was great to see the thousands of people walking around the broader campus, visiting the Forest, Dow Gardens and the Center and hearing their excitement about the new canopy walk. We are lucky to be part of the campus and the addition of Whiting Forest is such a big opportunity for Midland and our region.

To have a cultural campus like we do where you can explore nature, gardening, science, architecture and art of all kinds is unique and special. We take that opportunity seriously, particularly as it relates to our museum and ensuring that it is a vibrant part of the campus. The Museum at the Center is a huge community asset and it is very complementary to Dow Gardens and Whiting Forest.

We have been working to upgrade the museum and have plenty of new exhibits, interactive activities and programs – to make it a fun, entertaining, inspiring, hands-on museum and we will continue that work into the future. We appreciate Whiting Forest pushing our campus forward and we are working to do the same. If you haven’t been in the museum at Midland Center for the Arts in a few years, I encourage you to come by and see what’s new – we think you will be surprised!

Q: You have been in Midland for a couple years now. What is it like living here compared to other communities you have been a part of?

A: My family moved to Midland three years ago next month and I can’t believe how time has flown! We love the schools, and since we have kids who are oriented toward math and science and also extremely engaged in the performing arts and music, Midland is a great fit for them.

Prior, we spent 16 years in Northwest Arkansas, living in Fayetteville, and we definitely see similarities in Midland and the Great Lakes Bay Region. Northwest Arkansas is home to Wal-Mart and the Walton Family Foundation, both of whom have driven the community to be bold and more than what might be expected in a relatively small area in the middle of the country. I loved that aspect and I see that same spirit here with The Dow Chemical Company, our generous family foundations and regional businesses who are pushing to ensure our area is a great place to live and work.

One of the things that struck me as different about living in Midland is that it’s a community with so many scientists –and they are so creative! I love the rich community of artists here – chemist by day and performer or painter by night. I haven’t encountered this level of collective creative talent and interest in arts participation in a community before and it’s such a fun environment.

Q: Midland’s community is certainly vibrant and the Center for the Arts is helping celebrate the diversity around us. Can you tell us about the feedback you have received on the Perspectives Series? Will there be more of those events to look forward to?

A: Our newly created “Perspectives Series,” is an umbrella term we are using for events that build dialogue around important topics in our region, most recently, LGBTQ+ issues. We started this fall when we had the opportunity to bring in the renowned choral group Conspiriaire as they were touring a piece called Considering Matthew Shepard, in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of Matthew’s death.

We saw an opportunity to create a community dialogue, so our Perspectives Series included film screenings and talk-backs, a story-telling event, a panel discussion and other activities focused on topics of concern around the LGBTQ+ community in our region.

The overwhelming response surprised us quite a bit. We had stronger attendance that we expected at all of the events and people came from all over Mid-Michigan to participate. It showed us the importance of and the power in bringing people together around issues that matter to them.

Our mission is to be a cultural destination where people find meaning and connection. The arts give us a platform to have conversations that may not come up in other contexts or that are more difficult without a focal point. So you can expect the Perspectives Series to return and we will continue to do these kinds of events around various topics that impact our region.

Q: Performances at the Center have really ramped up in 2018. Did you have a favorite?

A: I’ll tell you about a couple of my favorites, but first I have to mention that this type of ramp us takes a lot of effort! Adding more shows and expanding the programming was deliberate and my team stepped up to make it happen. The result is that more people are attending and ticket sales have doubled in two years.

One of the performances that stood out was Jersey Boys this past May. It was part of our new Broadway Series and we had four completely sold out shows and the house was buzzing – I think the audience was louder than the performers at times! Our presentation of Jersey Boys was particularly exciting because it was the first time the show toured to markets of our size, so getting them at the Center was a big deal. It also stands out for me because the lead performer on the tour was a University of Michigan graduate. In fact, of the five national Broadway tours presented this past season, four had cast members who were from the Great Lakes Bay Region, which really speaks to the talent this community produces!

My other favorite show was part of our Windows on the World Series (WoW), from a group called Che Malambo. The goal of WoW is to bring artists from around the globe into our region to give people a chance to explore other cultures. Che Malambo is a percussive dance group from Argentina and their performance was hugely popular, both with our regular audiences, and with our school matinee audiences. I just loved the letters we got from teachers about bringing their students to the show. We get schools from all over the state and one in particular commented this may be the only time her students might ever see a live performance, or even people from other cultures. It is powerful to be able to provide that experience.

Q: Do you have any events, performances or programming coming up that you are excited for?

A: I am looking forward to Something Rotten kicking off this November. The show is a smart, funny Broadway musical. When it opened in New York a few years back, it starred Brian D’Arcy James, a Saginaw native who was a regular on the Midland Center stage when he was in high school.

There is also a huge opportunity for theater lovers to see a classic play by Anton Chekov when CenterStage produces The Cherry Orchard this winter. Very few theaters produce this play but we are able to do it as part of our 5-year project entitled “The Cornerstone Series”.

Also exciting, CenterStage Theatre has just opened their season with the popular Halloween-style fun of The Addam’s Family. It’s on stage the next two weekends (although tickets are going fast, so hurry!). I’m also excited about our holiday production of A Christmas Carol because it is a contemporary adaptation from one of our local artists and I love seeing something familiar made new.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.