The art of making art, as Stephen Sondheim observed in “Saturday in the Park with George,” is putting it together, bit by bit.
Many notes make music, many musicians make an orchestra, and many performances make a concert season. Making all of that happen takes many dollars.
The Grand Rapids Symphony has achieved a $40 million goal to build an endowment to help secure the orchestra’s financial well-being for years to come.
The Legacy of Excellence Campaign, launched in 2012 with a $20 million commitment from philanthropists Richard and Helen DeVos, now has garnered an additional $20 million in pledges, promises and estate plans that assures the Grand Rapids Symphony’s performances, programs and educational offerings will be there for the next generation and beyond.
“The Grand Rapids Symphony is one of the cultural gems that makes West Michigan a wonderful place to live,” said Dottie Johnson, co-chair of the Legacy of Excellence Campaign Cabinet and a member of the Executive Committee of the orchestra’s Board of Directors. “Symphony friends have responded enthusiastically to the campaign, which is a major milestone in our ongoing work to attract and retain exceptional musicians while keeping our orchestra's concerts and educational programs affordable.”
Over 150 individuals, couples, corporations and foundations contributed to the Legacy of Excellence Campaign through a combination of cash plus continuing pledges over time and future gifts through estate plans.
“Although some of the total raised will be received in the future, the campaign helps give all of us the confidence that our community will continue to be home to a wonderful orchestra,” said Larry Robson, co-chair of the Legacy Campaign Cabinet and Vice Chairperson of the GRS Board of Directors.
Income from the $20 million designated to endowment continues more than four decades of generous, annual funding for the Symphony from Richard DeVos, co-founder of Amway Corporation, and from Helen DeVos, a past member of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Board of Directors and now an Honorary member.
“Helen’s love of music drew us into the organization, and we’ve experienced the Symphony’s growth into an orchestra recognized nationally for the quality of its concerts and educational programs,” said Richard DeVos. “We are glad to help preserve and sustain our orchestra, which helps create a positive atmosphere for growth in our community.”
A key goal of the Grand Rapids Symphony, which today has an annual operating budget of more than $9 million, is to grow an endowment to supply more than 25 percent of the annual expenses of the orchestra that was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover recording in 2007 for its album, “Invention & Alchemy” with harpist Deborah Henson-Conant.
Similar to other orchestras, ticket sales account for only one-third of the cost to operate the Grand Rapids Symphony, which produces nearly 50 different programs and gives about 130 concerts per season, both free and ticketed. Annual giving must supply most of the rest.
Artistic excellence and engagement, education and outreach are affected by the bottom line and the orchestra’s economic impact on the region, said Peter Perez, co-chair of the Legacy Campaign Cabinet and Immediate Past Chairperson of the GRS Board of Directors.
“This campaign is an important part of the organization's long-term financial roadmap to help sustain and advance the orchestra's programming and extensive collaborations in the years ahead,” Perez said.
Last fall, a $2 million contribution to the Legacy for Excellence Campaign from philanthropists Dan and Pamella DeVos launched two new Grand Rapids Symphony programs, Free for Families and Symphony Scorecard, to offer greater access to events and activities by reducing economic barriers.
Free for Families, for children and teenagers through 12th grade, allows up to two youngsters to attend concerts for free when accompanied by an adult buying one full-price ticket.
Symphony Scorecard offers up to four complimentary tickets per concert for community members receiving financial assistance from the State of Michigan as well as for families of active-duty U.S. military personnel or for those serving in the Reserves or National Guard.
Since September, Free for Families has provided more than 500 tickets, and Symphony Scorecard has distributed nearly 1,500 tickets in its first eight months.
Richard and Helen DeVos, the campaign’s lead donors, have been longtime supporters and benefactors of the orchestra, which wraps up its 86th season in May.
In 1974, the couple provided the support to hire and pay five full-time musicians, beginning the Symphony’s transition to a nationally recognized, professional orchestra.
The Grand Rapids Symphony’s DeVos String Quartet was named in recognition of their support.
The couple was instrumental in building DeVos Performance Hall, the orchestra’s principal performance venue since the hall opened as part of the former Grand Center Convention Center in 1980s.
“The Symphony’s extraordinary partnership with Rich and Helen DeVos has been vital in developing our extraordinary orchestra,” said Peter Kjome, Grand Rapids Symphony President and CEO. “Their leadership has provided inspiration and encouragement to ensure the success of the campaign, which is a crucial part of our strategic plan and ongoing efforts to support the work of our superb musicians and the Symphony’s broad range of programs.
Helen DeVos was recognized in 2007 with the Grand Rapids Symphony’s BRAVO! Lifetime Achievement Award for decades of service to the organization.
“After attending many concerts over the years, we know that the orchestra provides inspiration, education, and enjoyment for the people of West Michigan,” Helen DeVos said. “We believe in the Grand Rapids Symphony and are excited to help the orchestra continue to serve thousands of people and their families each year. We appreciate the generous participation of the many people who have joined together to support the Symphony and the artistic excellence and educational programs our region appreciates.”