Meeting Notes for April 18, 2018: A Plan for UMMA

Notes by Ed Hoffman; Photos by Fred Beutler

Joanie Knoertzer provided a wonderful piano prelude to the luncheon meeting as President John hovered nearby, with truncated tie, swaying to the music. Suddenly he grasped the gavel and gave the bell a hearty whack. Your reporter made a special note of watching the bell-ringing this meeting: How much effort does it take to have the bell reverberate through the Anderson Room? Does the ringer exhibit any obvious strain during the undertaking? Does he seem to enjoy it? From John’s example, it seems to require deliberate and consistently forceful application to propel the sound to the room’s four corners. The answer to the other questions is a resounding YES. At the moment when wood and brass met, John’s eyes seemed to contract; a momentary wince, not unlike that displayed by a weightlifter executing the climactic thrust, creased his face. But only for a second, for it became clear to anyone watching that he relished the act. Can it be that great Rotary meetings are born of such cathartic beginnings?

With a nod from John, Doug Gross came up to deliver the Inspiration. It was art-centered, and brief, as you might expect from a financial advisor. Doug quoted several artists, among them Vincent Van Gogh: “I dream my paintings and then I paint my dreams.” Several Rotarians were heard to say, “Now, that’s how to do it,” while nodding demonstratively.

Joe Diederich then led us in song, accompanied by Joanie. Joe, donning his signature leather jacket, was clearly in the thrall of his zesty alter-ego, Joey. For her part, Joanie had adopted an edgy persona; together they formed Joey D and the Dip-Sticks and Dip-Chicks. “Today we’re going to sing something warm, to get away from this winter we’ve been having,” Joey began. “And we’re going to sing it in harmony. You all know Carole King’s music, right? We’re going to sing Up on the Roof….” A more-than-passable rendition it was, too. Joey and Joanie did the heavy lifting while the assembly provided a steady, harmonious up on the roof. This was the first time your reporter had read the lyrics carefully; they certainly paint an indelible image of tranquility. Great job, Joey D and Dip-Chicks.

After warm greetings to the members, guests, and visiting Rotarians, John imparted sad news: “I am sorry to inform you that our fellow-Rotarian, Scott Westerman, died this morning at Glacier Hills.” A general moan circled the room as Rotarians came to grips with the loss of their friend. Distinguished educator and former Ann Arbor public schools superintendent, under whose leadership Huron High School was built, Scott will certainly be remembered for his cogent questions of our Rotary speakers. Indeed, his enthusiasm, generosity, and continual quest for knowledge were evident in every question he asked. Scott was the embodiment of Emerson’s great revelation: “In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.” We will miss you, Scott.  (Click here for a remembrance posted by Scott’s family.)

Laura Thomas, PR/Branding Committee chair and Junior Rotarian spokesperson (with Mary Jean Raab), then came to the podium to introduce three Junior Rotarians from Huron High School: Ria Kakaday, Ahmed Ahmed, and Sasha Rich. It would be safe to say that the audience was astonished at the interests, accomplishments, and future goals of these students. One, a language student who had spent several years in China, actually held a patent for a pollution mask. Laura concluded her remarks, in her usual gracious way, by thanking the parents: “Parents, we LOVE you. We have you to thank for these students; [the product] of all your care and attention.” She then urged the three achievers “to remain in Rotary, to become Rotaractors in college.” Exuberant applause echoed through the room.

Great job Joanne, Laura, Mary Jean – and, of course, our Rotaractors and Jr. Rotarians!

Susan Smith Gray, wearing a gorgeous spring hat, addressed the room from her table: “It’s hard to think of a Spring Fling when it’s so cold outside, but it’s going to take place Thursday, May 3rd, from 5:30-8:30 p.m., at the Yankee Air Museum. Tickets are still available – they’re $50 each, and we need to have payment in by Wednesday, April 25th, because we don’t have control over this [Spring Fling has joined forces with the organizers of the District Conference].” Then Susan revealed the hook: “There will be heavy hors d’oeuvres and a story about the Rosies. Please come!” 

Rotaractor advisor Joanne Pierson bounded to the mic next to urge everyone to attend the upcoming Rotary International Convention in Toronto. And, if you’d like to help some Rotaractorstet there, donations will be gladly accepted.

Moving to Weber’s

Redoubtable Club administrator, John White, turned the audience’s attention to a video presentation highlighting the move to Weber’s in two weeks. Really, Moses could have utilized such an address in simplifying procedures for the Exodus. John explained everything: 1) Luncheon cost would rise to $12 a plate; an inconvenience, yes, but an advantage when factoring in the free parking; 2) The menu will revolve for the first several months around four basic dishes, but these will probably be augmented after that time; 3) Sign-in will occur at a table outside the dining/meeting room. Perennially charming Rotarian volunteers will be there to greet you on arrival; 4) John acknowledged that transport will be a problem for some as the City bus does not travel from Stadium up Jackson. “Car pools will be set up” on an informal basis, he noted. Bottom line – things will work out, but it will call for patience from all members. “Yes, please be patient,” John counseled.  (Click here for more detail from John W.)

A new  direction for UMMA

Dennis Powers gave a moving introduction to our speaker, University of Michigan director Christina Olsen. “My wife, Jeanette, and I would often visit the Williams College Museum of Art [during Christina Olsen’s tenure as director]…Imagine how happy we were to learn that Christina had been chosen to lead the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce Christina Olsen.”

Ms. Olsen took the podium brimming with enthusiasm. “My family and I are delighted to be in Ann Arbor,” she began. “I talked to the Rotary club of Williamstown—and it was really different from this—about six people! I grew up in New York City, in a loft, because my father was an artist. Art was all around. It really informed us about the world. It was there during every social event at home.” Ms. Olsen then listed her goals as director:

  1. To socialize the University of Michigan Museum of Art
  2. To make it profoundly diverse and inclusive
  3. To implement ambitious ideas

It became clear to her audience that these were more than professional goals, they were her cause célèbre. From a background ‘learning at the easel,’ at the elbow of her father, Olsen is committed to providing UMMA visitors with an expansive, exquisitely personal art experience. “When I first arrived in Ann Arbor I had ‘office hours,’ when anyone could come in and talk to me about art and their concerns. It was very stimulating.” One idea she and the UMMA staff are taking seriously is installing a café. “It’s in the works. We’re getting approval from the University now,” she declared. Other initiatives include live music by local musicians, more convenient hours for visiting, and “featuring the work of contemporary artists [and keeping the art on display for a year].”

Ms. Olsen wants to spark copious discussion about art among the public. A subtitle to her address could have been “Inclusion,” for she sees the relevance of art today as depending on its ability to speak to a broad range of people. The political question many of us ask ourselves, ‘Do I feel represented?’ is, in fact, at the center of the Director’s agenda. “A student attended one of my open houses. She strongly pointed out that ‘if you want to represent me, [the Museum] must change the way it acquires and exhibits art.’” She then emphasized her message succinctly: “The museum has to be a place where you see yourself.”

Her first exhibition will be highly personal – “1970s Abstraction, especially women artists…Debates in the early 70s centered on the political relevance – and political capabilities – of abstract art, that representational art [was better] at conveying political and social change.” Other subjects will be “’Art and the Internet’ – how we communicate; our bodies; electronic surveillance, etc.” Also, an exhibition funded by the University focusing on the Peace Corps is planned. In short, it’s about “hearing what people want…What is UMMA going to look like in five years? People will see themselves in the art,” Olsen asserted. Hearty applause filled the room as John thanked Ms. Olsen warmly. Then he reminded everyone of JET – “Join leaders, Exchange ideas, Take action!”

Administrator’s Notes

by John White

Weekly Meeting Statistics:

A whopping total of 123 Rotarians learned about the new directions at the U-M Museum of Art. We also had three visiting Rotarians (Stephanie Baldwin-Ross of Parker CO, Manish Mehta of Ann Arbor North and B. Yawson of Ann Arbor North), three Jr. Rotarians and a whopping 19 guests. Two committees, Jr. Rotarians and Program, met in conjunction with lunch. A total of 17 members participated. Early in the day, 20 Rotarians attended the monthly board meeting. Also reported was the meeting of twelve Rotarians of the STRIVE committee on April 13.

Makeup Cards for Roving Rotarians:

None this week.

The Passing of Scott Westerman:

The world is a good deal dimmer after Scott’s passing on April 18 at the age of 92. He joined our club in 1998 and was awarded Emeritus status in 2014. He resigned at the end of 2016 due to failing health and was granted Inactive Emeritus status. Scott was a Distinguished Service Awardee, a multiple Paul Harris Fellow and a member of our Sustainers’ Society. A service at First Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor is scheduled for Sunday April 29 at 2:oo p.m.