Northern Michigan Buzz: Gene Jenneman, longtime executive director of the Traverse City Dennos Museum Center at Northwestern Michigan College, is an ardent supporter of experiencing the arts to gain a true appreciation for them. Raised on a Wisconsin dairy farm, Jenneman took exactly one art appreciation course and one music appreciation course in college. “I came to appreciate the arts via experience—admittedly on a more intense level than the average person, but not in a way much different than anyone can have for themselves if they are open to it,” he says. Jenneman, who is looking to retire from his beloved position within the next year or so, reflects on the Traverse City Dennos’ 22-year history and talks about a few memorable events from his tenure.
Any stories about how a Dennos performance shaped your own appreciation for the arts in Northern Michigan?
When the museum opened and Jeff Haas came to me wanting to start a jazz series, I said yes, but personally did not enjoy jazz. But after a few years of the series he started, I was hooked and have become someone who enjoys it very much and have a CD collection to support that. I think this is one of the most important ways the museum can impact people. It provides opportunities for people to see and hear what may not be part of their everyday life. But if you are willing to explore, open your mind to new sights and sounds, and come back again and again, you can broaden your artistic tastes as I did through Jeff’s series. I have always believed in the 40-plus years I have been in the museum world that it is perfectly O.K. to come into a gallery and not like the art you see. But it is not O.K. to not look, and give it and yourself a chance. Only by looking and educating your eye or ear can you broaden your appreciation for various forms of art or music.
You are known as someone who will get up and dance during a performance at the Dennos, yes?
In recent years I have come to enjoy and be able to produce some outstanding world music performers … and I have had the most fun in those concerts dancing with my wife and getting the whole audience up and dancing by the end.
What are some standout Northern Michigan Dennos performances?
The memorable moments in the concert hall are things like having the opera singer Denyce Graves sing there in a collaboration we did years ago with Interlochen. That hall was made for her. Undoubtedly the most important concert that would eventually have a significant impact on my professional life in recent years has to be the Bob James Angels of Shanghai project. That concert began a journey that brought Chinese musicians here and led to my return to China not as a tourist but in a professional engagement role that continues to this day. Bob James had one other profound impact on the Dennos and Milliken besides being a occasional performer with unique programs: he has had on loan to us now for many years his 9-foot Hamburg Steinway that has thrilled visiting pianists from across a wide spectrum who have gotten to perform on it and love that it is Bob’s piano.
Do you have specific plans for the Dennos before you retire?
A great, unfinished business for me is its expansion of gallery space for the growing permanent collection of art. Since the museum opened, our Inuit Art collection—the collection that gives the museum its international reputation—has tripled in size from 500 to 1,500 works. There are now collectors all over the U.S. who have significant collections that will be coming via their trusts and wills in the coming decade or more. Our non-Inuit art collection has also more than doubled to about 1,000 works since we opened in 1991. In both cases our storage rooms are reaching capacity. I believe it must happen eventually for the museum to make better use of its collection for exhibition, [and] more importantly as a component of instructional support at NMC for classes that now use the art collection.
Concert series: The Golden Dragon Acrobats (Oct. 4); Letters Home (Oct. 19) that features letters written by soldiers serving in the Middle East; Rhythmic Circus—Feet Don’t Fail Me Now! (Oct. 26); musician Lee Murdoch (Nov. 1); Alash Ensemble—Tuvan throat singers (Nov. 16); An Irish Christmas (Dec. 4); Matuto (Jan. 24).
Exhibitions: Art of the Sleeping Bear Dunes: Transforming Nature into Art (Oct. 13–Jan. 5) and Shine On: Gregory D. Seman – Photographs of Northwest Michigan (Oct. 13–Jan. 6). Fall concert and performance details at dennosmuseum.org.