The 2013-14 Academy year is underway. As the students, faculty and staff gathered for the 52nd year of the arts boarding high school, we marked the occasion with special remarks from Olivia Hagerty, a four-year senior and visual arts major; Michael Mittelstaedt, director of the motion picture arts program; and Jeffrey Kimpton, president of Interlochen Center for the Arts at an Opening Convocation on Saturday, August 31, 2013.
The Legacy We Live, The Legacy We Leave: President Jeffrey S. Kimpton
Good evening, and welcome to Interlochen Center for the Arts. On behalf of the entire Interlochen community and our Board of Trustees, I welcome you here to Corson Auditorium - and our many viewers around the world who are joining us via live webcast - to the first program of the 87th year of Interlochen, and the 52nd year of Interlochen Arts Academy.
This evening, we arrive, ready to teach and learn, to create sculpture and songs, poems, plays and films, choreograph a new work, and give new meaning to the great works of the past so that we can create new works that bring the arts to new generations. We will explore the rich ground that lies between the academics and their intrinsic relationship to the arts.
As students you are in the company of some of the most talented students from around the country and the globe who will become your friends for life. You will be inspired and challenged by a distinguished artist-teacher faculty, guest and visiting artists, and a professional staff in student affairs dedicated to your growth and achievement. This is a year that will define your future role in the arts as creator, performer, advocate, citizen, teacher and leader. This is Interlochen Arts Academy, and we welcome you here.
I take the inspiration for this evening’s remarks from three recent and strangely related events.
The first experience was this past Sunday afternoon, when I got back from vacation and came over to the office to take care of a mountain of mail. It was a beautiful afternoon, the campus completed deserted, and after finishing my work I decided to take a solitary stroll down a deserted Giddings concourse, the long hallway of display cases that provide a glimpse into the last year - and the last 51 years of the Academy and eight decades of Interlochen achievement. I got caught up, gazing once again at the amazing display of pictures, people and events that have made Interlochen what it is today. Two things struck me: the amazing legacy we have at Interlochen, and perhaps more important, that a great legacy must continue to be energized in order to live on into the future. As I walked past new videos and faded pictures of the past, I wondered how this year’s students, faculty and staff were thinking and preparing for the year that lies before us. How do we meet the dreams of so many who come here this year wanting and expecting so much?
Indeed, the Interlochen legacy is not something to take for granted. It’s a big responsibility for all of us, but one made easier because we have this amazing collection of talent and energy sitting before us tonight, ready to give our legacy new life and energy for another year.
The second inspiration came from a recent trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, where I worked with a large group of arts, cultural, and education organizations trying to create a new coalition to revitalize a performing arts park. Throughout my time working with them, they asked a repeated question: what is the secret to Interlochen’s long term success?
There is no secret potion or silver bullet to excellence. But it strikes me that there is a parallel between the longevity of an institution and its commitment to excellence. Our next speaker, Michael Mittelstaedt, said it best during a retreat about six years ago when we were trying to define that word "excellence." He told us that excellence is a mathematical equation really, so in your head write down this equation.
Excellence = value / time
So the legacy that we live today, and the legacy that we will leave for all time, is shaped by a single core purpose, to ignite lifelong passion in the arts. We must continually reaffirm and reframe our standards, respect and modify traditions to meet new challenges, new times and new generations. Everything that we do has to be focused on how we make that journey one of great value, over time: a journey that is inspiring, nurturing, enlightening, transforming, and enduring, no matter the year or generation. A searing vision of the future and the quality we must have to get there sets us apart from others, and is central to building our legacy.
And now the third source of inspiration. Every summer I have a series of “meet the president” sessions with all of our junior and intermediate campers, and a lunch with representatives from every high school cabin. I really enjoy these, because after those sessions the students feel that they can come up and talk to me on the mall; suddenly I have 2,700 new best friends, and the fact that I give them coupons for ice cream cones helps. So near the end of Camp this year two intermediate girls came up to me and said, “Mr. President, we have a question. Why are there so many buildings with people’s names on them?” So I explained how people who care about a place that is special to them and who want it to grow for future generations often give money for buildings and other things so that our work can continue.
Being the typical precocious Interlochen students that we seem to attract, they asked “Isn’t that egotistical?” I said that wanting to give something back because you received something of value is really the ultimate act of caring about an institution, about a community and its people. In exchange for treasure to secure a future, all these people ask is to be remembered. In fact, some generous donors hesitate to be recognized by name, but we encourage them to accept this honor because we know it will inspire others to give back. The two girls thanked me for my answers, and then they asked if I had any more coupons for free ice cream from the Melody Freeze!
This brings me to the second half of the title of my remarks, the Legacy we leave. At the meeting of the Board of Trustees in July we made the decision to begin planning and organizing for a capital campaign to raise significant new funds for Interlochen over the next four years. It takes about two years to get prepared, and the public phase of this will begin sometime in 2015. A capital campaign is all about the legacy that we leave, but a successful campaign cannot occur unless we have a legacy of excellence that we live every day. Put more simply, what we can expect to receive in a campaign is directly influenced by the quality of what we have put into it our work - this year- and in the future.
Interlochen alumni, parents and friends have given generously so that we can provide numerous scholarships to our students, many named for their donors. We also have about one hundred named funds that support our programs, whether math and science, visiting artists, travel and touring, creative writing competitions or our leadership institute. Alumni, parents, and friends have contributed millions of dollars to build facilities like Kresge Auditorium, the Dendrinos Chapel, Frohlich Piano and Percussion Building, Dow Visual Art and DeRoy Center for Film Studies, and of course Corson Auditorium where we sit tonight, to name but a few. Interlochen simply would not be the place it is today were it not for the generous philanthropy of generations of supporters who have left their legacy here, because they lived part of our legacy.
I want to finish with two short stories that illustrate the relationship between the legacy we live, and the legacy we leave.
This past summer a former Academy graduate approached us about establishing a scholarship fund. Earlier this decade he sat in Corson Auditorium just like you, and when he left, it changed his life, his values, and endured through his intensive experience in one of this nation’s great arts universities. And then he got into technology, helped found a start-up that was recently sold for millions, and now he wants to give back, to leave a legacy because he received - in his own words - enduring transformational value from living the legacy here.
Earlier this summer Tom Corson came to campus to visit, the person whose name is on this auditorium -Corson Auditorium. Their daughter came here and had a life-changing experience, one they always say was transformative, and for the Corson family has been enduring.
Tom and and his wife Dot are getting older and their visits to campus less frequent, and on this visit, they asked to sneak in here to see it one more time. It was the Sunday before the opening of our summer musical theatre production, "Oklahoma," and they both watched backstage and out here alone in the hall as students rehearsed intensely for the coming opening night.
Tom and Dot were visibly moved by watching the rehearsal, and said with great emotion afterwards, “that’s all the payback we ever need for what we did; to see that this building is still giving kids and Interlochen a fantastic experience means so much to us.”
And so we come full circle in this discussion about the meaning of legacies drawn from three seemingly unrelated experiences. Our work this year of living the Interlochen legacy to the fullest is deeply and intrinsically linked to the legacies that we leave throughout our lives, artistic and philanthropic. It is a generative process, one process feeding another, processes of commitment that drive excellence and achievement. Let us use this as a reminder of how we must constantly renew this spirit that is Interlochen. I am so eager to see how you live the legacy of this great place during this coming year.