Music Hall to host Feb. 12 fundraiser to eliminate debt

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

With a $1.7 million loan due April 30 or else, Detroit’s venerable Music Hall is launching a five-year capital campaign to raise $7 million to erase all debts and provide stability for its future.

A challenge-grant fundraiser is set for Feb. 12, starring Chaka Khan and other yet-to-be-announced artists. If Music Hall succeeds in raising $300,000 by that evening, other donors will chip in an additional $100,000.

Like many Detroit cultural organizations, the 88-year-old Music Hall’s fiscal situation went south right after the 2008 financial collapse. A private equity firm lent the nonprofit performance space the $1.7 million but is now demanding repayment.

“They’d really like us to settle this now,” said Music Hall President Vince Paul. “They’ve seen the financing and capital campaigns undertaken at the other big Detroit cultural institutions and have waited patiently. Now it’s their turn.”

In addition to the $1.7 million due in April, Music Hall carries debt of $2.5 million owed mostly to trustees and vendors. The organization, which has an annual operating budget of about $3.7 million, has run small surpluses the past five years.

But no amount of small surpluses, Paul noted, could ever raise the $7 million the organization needs to flourish and expand its programming and outreach. Those include 300 nights of multicultural performances a year, plus music instruction for 22,000 Detroit Public Schools students.

“If you see a DPS high-school choir,” Paul said, “our guy is probably the choir teacher.”

Music Hall’s problems come after a range of Detroit institutions, including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Institute of Arts, recently cleared their balance sheets, leaving them in better fiscal shape than they’d been in for years.

“It’s not a unique problem,” Paul said of the money crunch. “Since 2008-2009, all the cultural institutions had to clean up (their finances). Our numbers aren’t as dramatic as they were with the DSO or DIA, but they hurt just as much — and are as potentially dangerous.”

While Music Hall is a smaller player on the cultural scene, its closure would be a dreadful omen for Detroit’s resurgence, said CultureSource President and CEO Pamela Iacobelli.

“Losing them would absolutely affect Detroit’s momentum,” Iacobelli said. “It would take away a piece of the rich tapestry we’re trying to weave here in terms of culture.”

Some worried the tremendous sums raised by foundations during Detroit’s bankruptcy — which cushioned cuts to pensioners and saved the DIA — might mean fewer donations for other institutions.

But Shaun Wilson, who’s board secretary at the Music Hall, sees that picture differently.

“The bankruptcy showed we care about our cultural institutions, whether the DIA or the Music Hall,” Wilson said. “It showed there’s passion and enthusiasm for art and performance in the city of Detroit.”

Music Hall Fundraiser with Chaka Khan

8 p.m., Feb. 12

Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts,

350 Madison, Detroit

Tickets: $50-$500

(313) 887-8500