Michael Kolleth & Larry Preston • Merging the Creative Roads of Art & Commerce

Posted In: Culture, Community Profiles,   From Issue 882   By: Robert E Martin

18th July, 2019     0

As physical structures and cultural havens for the visual & performing arts, The Saginaw Art Museum & Temple Theatre are emblematic of both the rich diversity of our region coupled with the legacy of its heritage - harbingers for creativity, incubators for education, and entities that reaffirm both the role and importance of creativity in our future.

Recently  The Temple Theatre Foundation and Saginaw Art Museum Boards of Directors announced two pivotal appointments to navigate and chart a course for both of these treasured entities into the waters of the future, which as is always the case are equally rife with challenge and possibility.

Larry L. Preston is now the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the two organizations; while Michael Kolleth was named Executive Director.  Preston is both co-founder and recently retired CEO of Tri-Star Trust Bank, while Kolleth was formerly senior director of Public Affairs at Dow Chemical, and will replace Stacey Gannon who resigned in March to take a role in the financial services industry after six years in the Executive Director role.  

“Larry brings to our organizations a truly unmatched combination of business acumen, community focus, and service to the arts community,” said Dr. Samuel Shaheen, Temple Theatre Board Member. “He is uniquely qualified to drive our strategic direction, lead our relationship development efforts and play a central role in ensuring the long-term growth and success of these two vital cultural assets for Saginaw and the Great Lakes Bay Region as a whole.”

“Mike brings 30-plus years of leadership as a Dow executive coupled with a passion for and demonstrated commitment to the arts community in the Great Lakes Bay region,” said Saginaw Art Museum Board chairman, Paul Furlo. “He shares the fundamental belief of our boards that the continued success of these two iconic organizations is vital to the economic and cultural development of our community. We are delighted to welcome Mike to the Museum and Temple teams.”

Preston’s contributions to the arts community include Board membership and service on the Executive Committee of the Michigan Humanities Council. He has also served on the Boards of The Midland Center for the Arts and The Great Lakes Bay Alliance, as chair of its Advocacy and Art and Entertainment Committee.  In Saginaw, he has served on the Boards of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra and the Saginaw Art Museum, as well as chairman of the Board of the Saginaw Community Foundation. He also received the Saginaw Arts and Enrichment Commission Great Lakes Bay All-Area Award. Prior to co-founding Tri-Star Trust Bank in 2000, Preston was a partner and member of the Executive Committee at the law firm. Currie, Kendall, Polasky and Meisel PLC. This followed his tenure as managing partner at Polasky, Meisel, Preston and Kolat PLC.

As Executive Director Kolleth is responsible for the leadership and strategic and operational management of the two organizations including programming, exhibitions, fund development and community outreach.   During his tenure at Dow, Kolleth most recently led the development and global integration of Dow’s new brand platform following the Company’s merger with DuPont; one of the largest mergers in corporate history - and he also recently served on the Dow North America Leadership Team and led the company’s digital marketing communication group. Nearly half of his Dow career was been spent in Switzerland and England. In addition to his service on the Saginaw Art Museum Board, and among his many community commitments, Kolleth serves on the Board of operations of the Great Lakes Loons, and recently as vice president of the Friends of Theodore Roethke.

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down with each of them for an in-depth discussion about their significant responsibilities and shared vision for guiding these two important cultural resources forward.  

Review: The Saginaw Art Museum and the Temple Theatre both function as one-of-a-kind physical structures as well as cultural havens reflective of not only the rich diversity of our region, but also the legacy of its heritage.  A good place to begin is with how each of you view the role these entities fulfill and occupy within the region

Larry Preston: One of the things that is absolutely important is having the vision to transform these two organizations into becoming the place that everyone in the community feels they can call home. We want to reach out to all segments that comprise the Great Lakes Bay Region - not just Saginaw - and are building groups to reach out and help fill the Temple with entertainment like they’ve never seen before,  while also creating more opportunities here at the Art Museum. 

As one example, we have Deepak Chopra coming to the Museum in September. The Temple has been around for 16 years now and has only held one event for the Indian/Pakistani community and nothing since. You would not believe the levels of support and excitement the community has for that event, so in a broader sense, our goal is to make both organizations meaningful for all parts of our community. 

Another example is with Gospel music. We have incredible Gospel singers within our community making their presence on national stages, so we want to create some Gospel programs on a regular basis. When all is said and done, we want both the Temple and the S.A.M. to be places that bring people together, because there is so much divisiveness right now. One of the outcomes of being more involved in the community is to bring more people into these wonderful structures who have never been there before.

Kolleth: In addition to the operational duties that each of us is charged with executing there is a philosophical component that dictates where we’re going.  Both entities carry an important role in terms of education. There is a component of the Temple that allows us to offer unique programs for the schools, as well as at the Museum. It is vital that we get people to understand both entities as community assets. When kids are young and you involve them they develop a sense of ownership and concern and care about these places that will carry over for the rest of their lives. With the Museum in particular, by offering in-board and outboard programs and attract our youth at a young age the chances of them coming back later in life are dramatically higher.

Preston: As a sidebar to this discussion, one of our big endowments here at the Museum came from Elizabeth Sargent, who was my client when I practiced law. I designed her trust and at the time I asked  why she was giving virtually her entire estate to the art museum. She replied that when she was a little girl she had a sign job and the owner of the company would take the girls over to the museum several times over the course of a year and that it was the most magical place she had ever seen. 70 years later her endowment is what kept the Art Museum alive during the darkest days.

Review: Several years ago the Saginaw Art Museum moved from a membership driven Executive Board and created a new Board of Directors to lend fiscal stability to the museum, which has turned out very well. Seeing as our first question concerned the physical structures and their roles within the community, how do you each view your new respective roles within the architecture of these organizations?

Kolleth: We each have clearly delineated roles; however we find they meld in some ways and we cover for each other. Larry is the Chairman of the Board for both the Temple Theatre Foundation and the Saginaw Art Museum and is also in charge of broader strategic initiatives of the combined entities and long-term strategic planning; whereas I’m responsible for the day-to-day operations at both of them. We both have our hands full and I think it was a very wise move by the Board to delineate and separate these roles because of the complexity involved with each of them. It’s a tall task indeed for any one individual to engage in fundraising at the level that needs to be done to assure both organizations survive for generations to come while also retaining operational excellence.

Preston: It’s going to take multiple people to takes both entities to the level we want. Where they overlap is with the cultural ties to the vision that I believe is the DNA of caring. We want to care for others and take care of everyone who comes into these organizations. We want to be out there so our community is somewhat better because of everyone’s efforts.  Mike and I make sure the right people are on the bus and occupying the right seats to take things to the next level. We have major fundraising goals and responsibilities and both of us have a lot of contacts in the community and intend to leverage those to get to the financial level we need to be.

Kolleth: We’re a small museum that runs like a big museum and have high standards for the collection, for curation, and for visitor experience in terms of how we operate this museum. It’s a dedication we’ve shared since the renaissance of the museum and the same is true of the Temple.

Preston: Formerly I was on the Board at the Midland Center for the Arts and stepped off that to assume this new role; but when you look at the number of people they have on staff and compare that to the numbers at the Temple, our staff wear a lot of different hats and work difficult hours, so we need to get revenues up the point so we can bring in other people so the hours we can expect of people are more reasonable.

Kolleth: Near the top of our Wish List is for more volunteers to become involved at both the Museum and the Temple because the volunteers are the mortar that keeps all the bricks together.  If people have an interest in The Temple or The Saginaw Art Museum, we’ll find a role that fits their gifts. We need people to work the front desk and also as docents at the museum, in addition to help maintaining the grounds. We have secretarial needs and at The Temple we need ushers and people to just man the phones and free up other peoples’ time.

When you look at The Temple overall, as wonderful as the programming is, there’s no such thing as a program that sells itself. Competition for peoples’ hearts, minds and eyes is pretty strong and the experience needs to be extraordinary, so we need to understand the challenge that represents. One thing we’re doing is that we’ll no longer have a box office but we have a sales office. Instead of waiting for people to come and buy tickets, you’ll see staff reaching out to businesses & individuals to promote shows and sell tickets more actively in the community.  Nothing sells itself anymore, no matter what the program is, so you’ve got to get out there in front of people.”

Review: Shifting back to the Museum, the value of its permanent collection is truly astounding. I believe there’s close to 2000 pieces contained in the permanent collection, with an emphasis on 18th, 19th and 20th Century American & European artwork. What strategies have you developed for utilizing it?  I know since the renovation of the museum you now have 11 galleries to showcase it.

Kolleth: We average 9 exhibitions a year with 3 in the Sargent Wing, 3 in the Graphic Arts, and 3 in the Artisan Wing to showcase local folks. Currently we have 160 items on display from the permanent collection. I was Director of the Collections Committee for 4 years before taking on this new role and we spent $250,000 cleaning and conserving works from the permanent collection.  We developed this ‘Adopt a Work of Art’ program that was hugely successful. When you look at managing a collection like ours, acquisition is always important, but everything needs conservation, so you need to balance the two.

We do have an incredible acquisition coming our way that will change and revolutionize how we’re setting up the Museum. We’re bringing into this museum a major work by E. Irving Couse of Chippewa Indian Chief David Shoppenagon that is monumental and will be the largest American painting we have in our collection.  It will become the centerpiece for our entire House collection and is a monumental piece of our cultural heritage, painted by a world renowned painter from Saginaw of a major Chief from the Chippewa tribe.  We will be bringing it to the museum in association with The Saginaw Club, where it currently resides.

Preston: It’s very exciting about how this acquisition ties in with The Saginaw Club, because they recognize this piece needs conservation and protection from temperature and humidity stresses, so we will purchase it from them and they will take the money and permanently endow it over at the club, so the money generated from the sale will help the club to perpetuate into the future - and we all know what a treasure that building is.  This way we can combine forces to enhance the museum and also make the club a stronger entity. The beauty of this is that if people want to put money into an endowment at The Saginaw Club, they get no tax deduction; but if they put money into the Saginaw Art Museum to help us purchase the painting, they get a tax deduction. This works in ways to make the community stronger from both an artistic and historical perspective.

Kolleth: We intend to make a quality reproduction from the original that can hang back at the Saginaw Club, but we’ll take the original into our collection here and make sure it’s well conserved for generations to come. It’s the largest single acquisition we’ve ever had in our collection.

As for the rest of our collection, we definitely have some valuable works - the Carot painting in the downstairs gallery is phenomenal, as is the Blakelot. For a museum our size we have a compelling collection. During our renaissance period we had a lot of resources that went into construction on the building and conservation of the collection; but as we move into our next phase we’re looking more at acquisitions to round out our collections.

The Temple Theater, founded in 1926 and revitalized by the Shaheen Family in 2002 and the Saginaw Art Museum, are iconic institutions in the Great Lakes Bay Region. They provide cultural and entertainment programming for the region, and contribute to the economic health and development of its communities. Please visit their websites for updates on current programming and follow them on Facebook at  @SaginawArtMuseum1947 and @templesaginawIf you would like to volunteer and offer a few hours of community service at either of these organizations we encourage you to reach out to them.









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