GRAND RAPIDS PRESS HEADLINE: “BALLET COMPANY’S NEW THEATRE TAKES A BOW”

balletsideThe September 14, 2007, Grand Rapids Press announced the opening of the Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s new 300-seat Peter Martin Wege Theatre, named for Peter Wege’s father and Steelcase founder. The $6.3 million new theater more than doubled the Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s space bringing it to 40,000 square feet.

Press reporter Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk described the area where the Grand Rapids Ballet Company had been rehearsing. Just seven years ago, the professional company of dancers rehearsed in the basement of Grand Rapids’ Masonic Temple downtown. Its ceiling was so low, ballerinas who were lifted into the air had to duck to avoid hitting air ducts. On Thursday, (September 13, 2007) Grand Rapids Ballet Company’s dancers stepped into the footlights of their own theater adjoining the headquarters the ballet as occupied since 2001

The Press article described the new theater as an “environmentally friendly addition.” Over 240 people attended the black-tie opening “named for the father of lead donor Peter M. Wege.” Peter Wege was quoted as saying, ‘It’s a gorgeous building, and it’s wonderful for Grand Rapids.”’

The Peter Martin Wege Theatre adjoins the newly named Meijer-Royce Center For Dance, named for Peter’s friends and fellow benefactors, Fred and Lena Meijer and Chuck and Stella Royce. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, long-time ballet patron Stella Royce described the events leading up to the new Theatre and Center for Dance as “a real Cinderella story.”

The article notes that some 250 students take classes at the GRBC plus another 700 in the outreach program. Again, this gift of a ballet auditorium is not just about Arts & Culture, but about Education, with the GRBC students, and about Human Services, with the outreach classes. Of course, the Peter Martin Wege Theatre is green built making it touch the Environment Pillar as well.

THE THIRD PILLAR: ARTS & CULTURE

The Wege Foundation’s signature gift in the Arts & Culture area of interest is the new Grand Rapids Art Museum. Even before the ribbon was cut in October 2007, GRAM was making national news as the first “green” art museum in the world. The New York Times headlined its article: From Michigan, a Clean-Running Museum. When the Times asked Peter what his future dreams were for this history-making building, the answer was classic Wege. “I hope it inspires other cultural organizations to follow.”

In its September 2007 in-flight magazine, United Airlines published a feature article by Charles Lockwood singling out the green museum in the greenest city in the United States: the new GRAM in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Lockwood wrote that GRAM will be the first art museum to receive a LEED rating (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council. GRAM’s adherence to LEED standards qualified it not for just Certification, but for a GOLD rating, the second highest level the Council can award a building.

Lockwood writes of the 18,000-square-foot GRAM, Green features include glazed skylights that bring natural light into the galleries, tanks that collect rainwater used to flush toilets, and an HVAC system that collects and stores fresh air under the building where the earth cools it.

While this stunning green museum, designed by architect Kulapat Yantrasast, is Peter’s largest gift to GRAM, it’s certainly not his first. For some forty years, The Wege Foundation has supported the Grand Rapids Art Museum. Starting with his first recorded gift of $1,000 in 1969 when GRAM was in a renovated house near downtown, Wege has been the Art Museum’s single most generous patron.

From relatively small donations—like redoing GRAM’s kitchen, to major gifts—like funding the Frank Lloyd Wright exhibit, Wege has made sure the Art Museum gets whatever it needs. From 1969 onward, GRAM’s annual donations under the name “Wege,” both personal and from the Foundation, have a repetitive ring. “Annual fund.” “Endowment.” “Underwriting.” “Capital improvements.”

Yet those are only the non-specific gifts. He also created an internship named for the woman he often called “my sainted mother,” the Sophia Dubridge Scholarship. College students who win the Dubridge Scholarship study in the curatorial and education departments of the Art Museum.

Peter Wege regularly backs art exhibits, especially of local artists like the late Mathias Alten and Jon MacDonald, a distinguished painter. Years before political correctness kicked in, Peter Wege was promoting MacDonald not because he is an African American, but because of his artistic talent.

While the Arts and Environment are the central Pillars of the Foundation’s Mission, this $60 million LEED-Gold art museum in the heart of Grand Rapids incorporates the other three areas of interest for Peter as well. Enhancing the downtown with a magnet like the new GRAM contributes to Human Services as it revitalizes the people of the inner city who live in nearby neighborhoods.

With Peter’s strong faith that the arts as necessary to the health and elevation of the human spirit, the new GRAM fits into his Health Care model of Mind, Body, & Spirit. And with GRAM Director Celeste Adams already scheduling a variety of art classes—plus children’s art camps in the summer of 2008—the new Museum supports the Foundation’s number-one area of interest area: Education

Peter’s quote in the New York Times is right on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if GRAM inspired “other cultural organizations to follow” its example!

Visit the Grand Rapids Art Museum at www.gramonline.org