New executive director wants to make the Ramsdell relevant again

Apr 6, 2017

If you lived in Manistee in the early 1900s, The Ramsdell Theatre was the place to be.

Women would put on elegant ballroom gowns, and men would get dressed up in fancy tuxedos for a night of arts and culture.

“That was like every weekend,” says Xavier Verna, the new executive director of the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts. “It was really fun and exciting to have a place that you just always had something to do.”

Now, Xavier Verna is trying to make the Ramsdell the place to be once again, in Manistee.

“Thomas Jefferson Ramsdell, who was the one who erected the building in 1903, did so because of sort of like the same reason why I’m here,” he explains. “Because I want to use this venue as a way to bring arts and culture to the community.”

He’s been on the job for about two months now. This winter, he brought the Grand Rapids Ballet Company to town.

Ballet, opera, theater, visual arts, music…Those are the types of events the 29-year old really wants to focus on.

Especially music. He says he was surrounded by music growing up in Puerto Rico. Eventually he studied percussion at the University of Michigan School of Music Theatre & Dance.

And after that, he worked at the Sphinx Organization— a Detroit-based organization focused on arts education. He believes his experience there will transfer to the Manistee community.

 “There’s similarities in terms of lack of access,” he says. “That’s the same.”

And one of the ways to reach out to that demographic, Xavier says, is to make arts more relatable to the people in the community. Take the local veteran community in Manistee, for example.

“If you were learning about composers like John Cage who was writing music about World War II, I think that might be a way to connect people,” he suggests.

Another way Xavier believes the arts, culture, and music scene can take root in Manistee once again, is to engage the youth. He says the focus should not be on making the students virtuosos— but music appreciators.  

“For them, it’s kind of easy to connect them to the movies or the cartoons that they see, or even the video games they might play,” he says. “All of that, you can root it back to probably Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms. It’s all really connected.”

Next Friday night, April 14, a chamber music quintet made up of Interlochen Arts Academy faculty members will perform at the Ramsdell Theatre.They’ll be performing music from Cohen, Beethoven, and Mozart. For more information, contact the Ramsdell Regional Center for the Arts.