Kaufman Auditorium going through changes

By CHRISTIE BLECK

Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE — The city of Marquette has many cultural jewels, but none like Kaufman Auditorium.

The facility, built in 1927 and located in the same building as Graveraet Elementary School, is the site of many community events and concerts, although its primary focus is serving Marquette Area Public Schools.

Not all MAPS facilities, though, have ornate art and the ability to seat more than 800 people in one big space, nor have they hosted high-caliber musicians and speakers.

Many people likely want to keep this cultural heritage going.

“There is a genuine effort to try to bring in more events than ever before,” said Lantz Whitfield, Kaufman Auditorium director.

For example, earlier this month, the Hungarian folk group Sondorgo gave a concert at Kaufman as part of the Beaumier Heritage Concert Series.

Many events have and are taking place in the 2018-19 season, although not all of them are musical events and the like.

There are events such as concerts by the Marquette Senior High School and Bothwell Middle School bands, of course, as well as spelling bees.

However, concerts by groups such as the Marquette Symphony Orchestra and Marquette City Band, dance recitals by local studios and events such as the Fresh Coast Film Festival bring in rental income for the Kaufman Capital Improvement Fund.

Whitfield said MAPS funds the auditorium, with rental fees of $100 per hour and rehearsal fees of $50 per hour also bringing in money.

Many notable cultural events also have graced the Kaufman stage over the years.

In the late 1920s, the Kaufman Foundation started an endowment to attract notable people — included the famed aviator Amelia Earhart — from all over the world for the benefit of the schools and the public.

This Lyceum series continued this year with a January program featuring Shawn Cheshire, a blind Paralympic cyclist who has completed a rim-to-rim hike through the Grand Canyon.

As with any building, though, maintenance is a must, and repairs and improvements recently have been made at Kaufman Auditorium.

Those improvements, Whitfield noted, include repairing carpet seams, replacing broken glass in the entryway door, repainting the stage floor, touching up the painting at the front of the stage and covering the brass pipes that lead to the radiators, which were a burn hazard for toddlers.

A large expense, which was taken out of the Capital Improvement Fund, was $13,393 for choral risers.

“Every time we’d have a high school choral concert or middle school choral concert, we had to borrow risers from Northern, and they were so gracious to let us do that all those years,” Whitfield said.

Another undertaking has been the cafeteria switcher box project whose purpose is to broadcast auditorium happenings into the Graveraet cafeteria, which has television sets. The project, he said, calls for removing the inside of the old switcher box and installing a new, smaller unit.

Part of the switcher box project is the new theater camera.

“It can zoom,” Whitfield said. “It can tilt. It can turn.”

Now what’s going on in the auditorium can be broadcast from there to other parts of the school district — a technology that hadn’t existed before, he said.

This can benefit staff such as MAPS Superintendent Bill Saunders.

“That same technology now goes to our inter-school web so that Mr. Saunders, should he want to, can probably tap into the window of that camera and see what’s happening in the auditorium on any given night,” Whitfield said.

Yet another big undertaking is the Kaufman Piano Restoration Project, specifically, the Steinway grand piano.

Legend has it the piano was selected by George Gershwin for the Kaufman family, Whitfield said.

Regardless of its roots, the piano holds a special place in the community, but it also is aging.

“This piano is really in desperate need of renovation,” said Whitfield, who noted a new Steinway grand runs about $140,000.

However, he said a company in New Jersey indicated it could restore the piano for $48,000, with Peter Kaufman of the Kaufman Foundation — the grandson of the auditorium’s namesake, Louis B. Kaufman — contributing $20,000 on a matching basis.

So, a total of $28,000 must be raised by December, Whitfield said. He anticipates $5,000 will come from the Kaufman Events Account, and at least $10,000 from the Kaufman Capital Improvement Fund.

Easier access

To make access to Kaufman Auditorium events easier for handicapped patrons, Whitfield said he purchased tall handicapped parking signs, which will be placed along Front Street.

“Just trying to be more accommodating to our public,” Whitfield said.

To better accommodate the public inside the building, three baby-changing stations — two upstairs and one downstairs — were installed.

“I won’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people change diapers in the auditorium lobby,” he said.

State Rep. Sara Cambensy, D-Marquette, formerly was director of Kaufman Auditorium and adult education for MAPS.

“The Kaufman Auditorium was built to be a gathering place, with both students and community members having enjoyed countless performances and accomplishments within its walls over the years,” Cambensy said in an email. “It remains a crown jewel of the community to this day, and as a middle school alumna, I know this building holds a special place in the hearts of all alumni.

“Due to its history and significance, I’m confident the community and school system will ensure the success of the Kaufman for many more decades to come.”

Whitfield said anyone wanting to keep up with current Kaufman news can visit mapsnet.org under the Building Directory tab, or visit the Kaufman Facebook page.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal .net.

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