WSU to receive $7.5M donation to create new jazz center
Detroit — Work apparel heiress and philanthropist Gretchen Carhartt Valade and Wayne State University officials are expected to announce Monday a $7.5 million gift to promote jazz and expand its presence in Midtown.
The announcement is scheduled for 2:45 p.m. at the Hilberry Theatre.
A spokesman for the foundation headed by Valade, 90, said the announcement is a “major gift that will advance jazz performance and education in Detroit for decades to come.”
He also said it will contribute to Wayne State University’s Pivotal Moments fundraising campaign. The campaign began in 2009 and aims to raise $750 million by 2018 to commemorate the sesquicentennial of WSU’s founding. The money will be used to fund student scholarships, endow professorships and spruce up university facilities.
“I don’t know the details,” Detroit International Jazz Festival Foundation spokesman Steve Blow said Sunday. “All I can say is (Valade) is giving the university a gift.”
He said Valade is chairwoman of the nonprofit’s board of directors.
Matt Seeger, dean of WSU’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts, said Sunday,
“We’re absolutely thrilled. It’s a wonderful project for the college. It’s a wonderful addition to our ability to serve the needs of students and the community.”
Seeger said Valade and the university have been working on the proposal for the Gretchen Valade Jazz Center for about a year.
He said the center will enable the college to provide class and performance space and create additional faculty resources for training in jazz. As part of the gift, the college and Detroit Jazz Festival will form a partnership to bring artists into the center to perform, Seeger said.
The center will be part of the university’s Hilberry Gateway Project, a $50 million theater complex that will combine the existing Hilberry Theatre building with two new theaters. The new buildings will house the university’s Hilberry Theatre company and the dance program. The Hilberry Theatre building will be renovated to house the new jazz center.
Seeger also said the gift will be used to provide scholarship support and an endowed chair in jazz studies.
“We still have money to raise, but this is a significant push in that direction,” he said.
Gretchen Carhartt Valade’s grandfather, Hamilton Carhartt, started a company in the 1880s that makes heavy cotton duck overalls for railroad workers. The Dearborn-based, family-owned and family-managed company’s products are sold worldwide. It has about 5,200 employees.
Valade grew up in Grosse Pointe and has been a fan of jazz since she was a girl.
Ten years ago, she saved the Detroit Jazz Festival — North America’s largest free jazz festival — by becoming one of its major sponsors. In 2006, she established the Detroit International Jazz Festival Foundation with $10 million to support the festival’s operations for years to come.
The festival is typically held on Labor Day weekend over several blocks in downtown Detroit. Next year, the festival will be in its 37th year.
Valade has also been a major donor to the United Way for Southeastern Michigan and to St. John Hospital and Medical Center.
Seeger said Valade’s gift seems like a natural fit.
“Detroit has been the home of jazz and Wayne State has been part of that forever,” he said. “We’re delighted this legacy, this history is being reflected now in this new jazz center. It’s exciting we can participate in this way and great cultural institutions like Wayne State and the Detroit festival can come together to nurture this incredible American art form that’s so essential to the culture of Detroit.”