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Michigan Theater Foundation Director And Ann Arbor Cultural Leader Receives National Award

Jul 15, 2019

Michigan Theater Foundation Director Russ Collins
Credit Doug Coombe / Secondwave Media

Russ Collins has served as the executive director of the Michigan Theater Foundation since 1982.  In his tenure, he has led capital campaigns that have resulted in the the award winning restoration of the Michigan Theater and the more recent overhaul of the State Theatre.  Over the weekend, he was honored by the League of Historical American Theaters with this year's Award for Outstanding Individual Contribution.  Russ made a special appearance at WEMU to talk about this award.  


Official Press Release: 

National award for historic theater preservation bestowed on Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater Director Russ Collins

(Philadelphia, PA, July 15, 2019) - The Michigan Theater Foundation is pleased to announce that Executive Director Russ Collins has been honored with national recognition by the League of Historic American Theatres (LHAT).  Collins was joined by colleagues, friends, and family last night in Philadelphia as he received the 2019 Award for Outstanding Individual Contribution at the League’s National Conference, the largest gathering of historic theatre professionals in the nation.  The conference was attended by over 330 historic theatre operators and service providers from across North America and the United Kingdom. 

Collins’s award for Outstanding Individual Contribution “recognizes an individual who demonstrates vision, dedication, selflessness and excellence through his or her contribution to historic theatres and their communities…. The recipient of this award will have demonstrated excellence through his or her significant contributions, the impact of his or her services and breadth of populations served, and the length of time and/or intensity of contributions that benefit the field of historic theatres.” 

Stephanie Silverman, LHAT’s Board Chair and Executive Director of the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville said, “Russ’s unparalleled commitment to protecting Ann Arbor’s historic theatres, building them into iconic cultural centers in the heart of one of America’s most vibrant college communities, and using those lessons learned to help strengthen a whole field of art houses makes him one of the best and most valuable theatre operators working today.” 

Since taking the helm in 1982, Collins has grown the Michigan Theater Foundation (MTF) in Ann Arbor into an internationally recognized, community-based, mission-driven arts organization. Operating two restored historic theaters: the Michigan Theater – a 1920s era movie palace; the State Theatre – a 1940s cinema style theater.  They each operate 365-days each year as elegant, non-profit arts facilities.  The MTF is widely recognized as an outstanding independent cinema exhibitor and performing arts venue.  In 2008, in participation with the Sundance Film Festival, Russ founded the Art House Convergence – a dynamic professional society for independent cinema operators.  In 2012, he started the Cinetopia Film Festival, the international film festival for the Detroit metropolitan area. 

"Over 35 years ago, the MTF Board decided to take a chance on a young, relatively recent University of Michigan graduate,” said current Board Chair Jamie Buhr.  “That appointment began a career that can only be accurately described as a "whirlwind" of accomplishments. With charm, strategic vision, the appropriate staff along the way, a "parade" of Community leaders as MTF board members, coupled with years of hard work and, literally, thousands of community volunteers, Russ and his executive team have compiled an outstanding list of achievements, culminating in the preservation and prosperity of the iconic State and Michigan Theaters.” 

“Among all of the candidates who applied for the position of Executive Director, Russ Collins was the only one who had the vision, enthusiasm, and courage to take an old movie theater and make it into a center for fine film and the performing arts,” said Henry Aldridge, Michigan Theater’s head organist and the driving force behind the theater’s renaissance in the early 1980s.  “Over the years, Russ has more than met the trust the Foundation Board placed in him.  Thanks to him, the Michigan Theater serves as a model for how it should be done for other historic theaters across the country.” 

For his part, Collins thanks generations of Board members and the dedicated staff for helping him pursue his professional passions over the last 37 years as the Executive Director of the Michigan Theater Foundation.  He said, “An award like this is the ‘whipped cream and cherry’ on top of the generally delightful opportunity to serve our community, as well as work with wonderful colleagues at Art House cinemas and Historic Theaters across America.” 

LHAT also announced the Auditorium Theatre of Chicago as the 2019 Outstanding Historic Theatre in America.  This award is given each year by LHAT to a historic theatre that has demonstrated excellence in community impact, quality of programs and services, and quality of physical restoration (Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater won this award in 2006). 

About the League of Historic Theatres 

The League's annual conference is the largest annual gathering of historic theatre professionals, community leaders, and service providers and suppliers, attracting participants from across the U.S., as well as Canada and the United Kingdom, for idea sharing and network building.  Professionals, volunteers and devotees join together for four days of networking and peer information exchange, tools & techniques sessions, and tours of local historic theatres, plus events, banquets and receptions.  By defining our field, creating a shared vocabulary and identifying best practices, the educational components of the League's annual conference strengthen efforts to sustain historic theatres of various sizes, operating structures and programming philosophies.  During theatre tours, docents emphasize how each venue has dealt with the specific challenges of sustaining their operations to serve their communities, now and in the future.  The conference takes place in different locations across North America each year.  For additional information, contact Ken Stein, LHAT President and CEO, at kstein@lhat.org.  You can find more information online on the award and LHAT at lhat.org.  Supportive photography available upon request. 

About the Michigan Theater Foundation 

Michigan Theater Foundation, Inc. (the "Foundation") is an award-winning, nationally and internationally recognized Michigan nonprofit organization.  The purpose of the Foundation is to bring together diverse people to build community, enhance understanding, advance public storytelling and the arts and protect our historic buildings.  The Michigan Theater Foundation operates The Michigan Theater, The State Theatre, Art House Convergence and Cinetopia Festival.  It daily presents or hosts a variety of quality cinema and performing arts events for the benefit of our community and the arts. 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu