Q&A with Terri Trotter, Midland Center for the Arts

Terri Trotter has served as the president and chief executive officer of the Midland Center for the Arts for over five years. The Center is 50 years old this year. Before COVID-19 impacted the facility, 166,000 persons attended shows and exhibits in 2019. The Center’s budget was at $9.8 million. Revenue is down by over a third because of the pandemic and the Tittabawassee River disaster that flooded some of the building. Prior to the pandemic, the Center employed 75 persons, including 55 full-time. That number has dropped to 46, including just a few part-time employees. 
Terri Trotter is the president and CEO of the Midland Center for the Arts.
Trotter, her staff, and the board of directors have responded with innovative programming including outdoor events, pop-up exhibits, and the new Pendulum Lounge.  The Center also had a unique role this year, hosting COVID-19 vaccine clinics, working with the Midland County Department of Public Health and Walgreens. Trotter says, “It’s been a lot more emotionally satisfying (than anticipated).”

Trotter was born in Nebraska. She graduated from high school in Marion, Indiana. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and a master’s from Indiana University, both in communications. Trotter got her first job in arts administration in communications and marketing in Arkansas. She later managed the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Idaho before coming to Midland. 

Q: After 50 years, what does the Center for the Arts mean to this community?

A: Our mission is to be a cultural destination where people find meaning and connections, where people can gather for experiences that are meaningful in whatever that means to them. 

The front entrance of the Center for the Arts has served as the front porch for outdoor programming in the age of COVID.I’ve been in the industry for 20 years now; I’m unable to find a facility like ours. I’m part of a group of facilities in the country that gathers (on occasion). Nobody else has the depth of programming we do under one roof, with the arts and sciences. It truly is an opportunity to engage in so many different things, where you can meet people and discuss ideas. That was Alden Dow’s vision (the building’s architect). We’ve spent time recently looking at his original writings. There are two core tenets. The first is some of the time we appreciate and the second is some of the time we create. You can be on stage, take a class, hone skills, do hands-on, try to solve problems. That’s what we’re trying to do, to build on that in the museum.  Arts and science are necessary components in life. Innovation is creativity — one feeds the other. The community needs both. 

Q: Describe the challenges you’re facing.

A: We’re operating under COVID-19 restrictions and the impact of the flood (May 2020).  We’re dealing with these two limitations. The Center for the Arts is operating at 60% power capacity. There’s no power in our offices. In our main building, one area of the lower level was flooded, which included rehearsal space, and our electrical power system, six of our seven transformers were underwater. We also had substantial water damage at the Dow Museum and the Doan Center. Our archives and collections had substantial damage. Those items are being repaired and restored with much of that stored at the Center. 

We’re working with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to get help to restore the building, fix the damage, and do mitigation going forward. We’re trying to get as many resources as we can. It’s incredibly complex. We’re going to be in a position to start repairs in the next few months.  
Q: A special concert was performed by the Midland Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the 50th anniversary on May 1. What’s planned going forward? 
A: We are really excited about the summer season upcoming. We’ve learned a lot through COVID. We started to do more outdoor programming through the summer (last year). We moved our lounge and the comedy stage outdoors. The public loved it —Michiganders love the summer. It’s caused us to rethink our summer programming. We’re still not at a point where we can do or want to do a lot of indoor programs. We’ll have a brand new outdoor stage. We’ll have a season of entertaining musical events, comedy, and theatrical events on the outdoor stage. (The “Front Porch” is the pop-up stage and event space at the front entrance of the building). We still have our lounge serving cocktails and food. 
The Midland Symphony Orchestra performed on the 50th anniversary of the Center for the Arts on May 1.
A couple of highlights: We’re doing an exhibit in the lobby inside the center. It’s called “From the Inside Out.” It’s about health and wellness, how to live a healthy lifestyle, amidst all the germs. It’s a fun exhibit. We’ll also have components of our Spark!Lab, — very interactive, STEM-based.  

We’ll have the region’s very first performance to a live audience, the musical “Grease” at the end of June. It’s being performed by high school students from across the region. We just finished casting the show. We call it “Rising Stars.” These kids didn’t get to do a musical in their junior or senior years at high school so we thought we could give them one more opportunity. We’ve brought in a creative team from New York: director, musical director, choreographer, and voice coach. They get an opportunity to be coached by people working on Broadway. We grow such incredible talent in the region. We could see this continuing.

The Center Stage Theater in August is doing “Jesus Christ Superstar,” outdoors. That show is also 50 years old. It premiered on Broadway. People are starting to get ready to be back at the Center again, to get back in the habit. We’re hopeful to get back inside the theaters. 

This summer, we’ll be announcing our 50th season, “Broadway.” We’ll have a season of live events. The Broadway series starts in January 2022, but people will start performing on our stages by the end of September. 

Q: Why do you work in the arts?

A: I didn’t know there was arts administration when I was in college. I started in commercial radio and then moved on to corporate event production. I really fell into the arts opportunity when there was a position available in Arkansas, first worked in communications and marketing. 
The Midland Center for the Arts is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
I was in plays and musicals growing up. Played in the marching band at Northwestern. What keeps me doing what I do is the idea of community connections. The big campuses (like ours) that sit in these communities. It’s where people connect. We can help drive economic development and make this a great place to live.

I want people to feel a connection to the Center here even if they never come. I want them to say they know how important it is and how glad they are it’s down the street. I’m encouraging them to come, but the value of what we do goes beyond what’s just on the stage.

For information on programs and tickets, go to the Center for the Arts website.

Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom has served as the managing editor of Catalyst Midland since October 2020. He's also a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He's the co-producer of two WDCQ documentaries about the Tittabawassee River Disaster in 2020, "Breached! and Breached!2-The Recovery."