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creative:impact - The A2SF is Steve Guttman’s happy place

Steve Guttman (far left) and friends at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival
Steve Guttman
Steve Guttman (far left) and friends at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy. In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.

Deb Polich
David Fair
89.1 WEMU
Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, at the WEMU studio.


Steve Guttman
Steve Guttman
Steve Guttman

Lifetime Ann Arbor resident, Bader/Newport, Forsythe and Huron 1981. Senior Class Vice President of Activities

Ran a family business on State Street 1997-1991 Jason’s Ice Cream. Name was a contraction of “Joan and son’s. I am the youngest of five boys.

Current occupation: Operations Manager/Professional Zamboni Driver at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube. Started there in 1995.

Ann Arbor Summer Festival involvement:

Our family business Jason’s was one of the first private businesses at the festival. I ran the festival booth for many years until the original Top of the Park manager Don Dettling suggested that I take over for him because he was leaving to become a firefighter. Dettling is currently Dexter’s fire inspector.

Back then I did it all with a landline, pay phones and a pager! I have adapted to the growth of the event and have been part of the need for additional staffing to manage so many moving pieces. I hold a lot of institutional knowledge and historical information on the summer festival.

#Story time with Steve. I have worked with many local kids who are now well into their careers as doctors, teachers, and even a few professional athletes: Ian Cole & Brian Greise and of course Tom Brady. My current role allows me to be very social with patrons which I enjoy most of the time. I have raised my family at and with the Summer Festival, summer always starts in July. I am also a middle school field hockey coach for 37 years at Slauson middle school. I get to see so many of my former students now with their families at the festival.


Ann Arbor Summer Festival (A2SF)

Top of the Park

A2SF Volunteer Opportunities


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on 89 one WEMU. Thanks for tuning in to meet creative guests rooted in Washtenaw County and exploring how their creative businesses, product, programs, and services impact and add to our local quality of life and place. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your host for creative:impact. You know, volunteers are the energy behind many nonprofit organizations and arts organizations as well. They give their time and work performing a variety of functions, including serving on boards, providing administrative support, and managing outdoor festival sites. A great volunteer never overstays their welcome. Steve Guttman is a great volunteer. Steve, welcome to creative:impact.

Steve Guttman: Thank you.

Deb Polich: So, you've been with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, and I would say that it's pretty much your happy place. Is that right?

Steve Guttman: I guess. Yes.

Deb Polich: So, the festival started as a town-and-gown nonprofit organization and presented its first full season in 1984. When did you and how did you first become involved with the festival?

Steve Guttman: So, our family had an ice cream parlor on State Street, and, after the first two seasons, we approached in the second year saying, "how can we become a part of it?" And that was in May. And they said, "We're deep into this year, but, next year, we might bring you on board." So, I guess it was 1986 that we came on board serving ice cream and popping popcorn.

Deb Polich: Oh, nice.

Steve Guttman: That's how I started.

Deb Polich: And I'm pretty sure I bought some of that popcorn and ice cream for me over the years. So, when did you move into your volunteer role at Top of the Park as their manager, and why did that happen?

Steve Guttman: So, originally, the food service and everything was done through the U of M Union, and the Union catering person that ran that was a guy named Don Debling. And when he was ready to tap out, he looked and said, "Hey, this guy knows it. He can do it." And I would say that was about ten or 12 years into the run. So, probably, '90 or early nineties.

Deb Polich: Well, that's amazing, because that's a huge job that you have. And how much time do you commit each year before the festival preparing during the festival and after the festival closes?

Steve Guttman: Well, it's kind of morphed. Originally, it was an incredible amount of time because I was responsible for setting up all the infrastructure, as far as portable toilets, Coke deliveries, wine deliveries, beer deliveries, all that. And we were on the old site. And that was very complex. And we also didn't have cell phones. So, it was a challenge. But now, my role is really more just the events manager being there on site every night.

Deb Polich: So, I bet you get asked this a lot. Why do you give so much of your time to the Ann Arbor Summer Festival?

Steve Guttman: Hmm. Good question. Um, I guess it's what I've always done. Um, I was involved with school activities when I was in high school. I feel like this is the town square. We get everybody from town together for three weeks--four weekends--and just hang out, see old friends and faces. So, it's a great sense of community.

Deb Polich: That it is. 89 one WEMU's creative:impact Continues. I'm Deb Polich, and my guest is Steve Guttman, who, as a volunteer, returns year after year in the role of manager for Top of the Park at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. So, you know, most arts and creative organizations and other nonprofits in Washtenaw County and beyond rely on those volunteers. Considering that the IRS values volunteer time this year at an average of $29.95 per hour, replacing those volunteers with paid staff would cripple many organizations. I'd say volunteers are the secret sauce for nonprofits. You're not the only one volunteering at the Summer Festival. Are there others who return year after year?

Steve Guttman: Yes, definitely. And we, I guess, have a whole team of volunteer greeters. It's been great. We've had great community support with businesses like Toyota, Charles Reinhart Group, many other businesses that they volunteer, but then they also host a nice party up there for their staff. So, it's fun.

Deb Polich: And what's that like, like, the first opening night of festival, or as you guys are preparing, you know, the first time you all get back together every year?

Steve Guttman: Well, it's always fun to get the gang back together. And the opening night is like a 17-hour day because we're all building this festival site. And so, that build starts at eight in the morning and goes to about four, 430. And then we're just scrambling to go from our builder mode to our festival mode. And then, we do the run for the night.

Deb Polich: So, it's probably kind of a special day, but also a lot of work. And what about your...over the years, you must have met some great artists and some great people at Top of the Park. Any favorites that you can remember?

Steve Guttman: Of course, everybody knows I'm the biggest Cigar Store Indians fan out there. That was a band that probably played 20 years ago. I listen to it all the time.

Deb Polich: Good, because I don't know who they are. I got to check them out.

Steve Guttman: The song, "Heaven."

Deb Polich: Okay. All right. There we go. We're going to have to look that up. So, as you look to next generations, what would you say to encourage them to give their time and talents to volunteer for non-profits and other needs and services?

Steve Guttman: I think about some of the staff that we have coming back this year, and they're definitely much younger, and it's great to see their commitment to the community. And, you know, you always worry about who's going to come up and replace you. And then, when they come into the team, you realize they're in good hands. So, shout-out to Gavin Hobson, who's been helping out this year and jumping right into that role.

Deb Polich: So, there's a belief that now that---this is a little hard to say--but that you cannot fire a volunteer. Is that true in your opinion?

Steve Guttman: You can just not schedule them.

Deb Polich: Everybody has their strengths and their weaknesses, and, sometimes, people are suited for a position and others not. So, you just don't schedule them. I like that word. I like that idea. Very, very good. So, Steve, you're a really great example for others to follow. And what would you say for yourself the festival has meant to you over these years?

Steve Guttman: I guess it's a sense of community. Um, born and raised in Ann Arbor, went through Ann Arbor Public Schools. And, you know, between raising my family here, having many friends, um, from town, parents that we've come across through or being with our children, it's home. It's straight up what it is.

Deb Polich: And does your family continue to be involved with this as you are?

Steve Guttman: Yes, we have run the Sugar Shack. And, most nights, you'll find my wife up there, along with my son, daughter, or even now, my future daughter-in-law. So, that's great.

Deb Polich: So, all things happen at Summer Festival for you. That's great. And, this year is the first time in a couple that festivals been back at Top of the Park after COVID. How's it been returning?

Steve Guttman: It's been fine. You know, the heat has been a little bit out there, but, you know, the crowds have returned, maybe not 100%, but I'd say they're there between 85 and 95% on any given night.

Deb Polich: And I'm suspecting that you have lots of audience members that have over time become great acquaintances of yours and other festival team members?

Steve Gutyman & Mike Michelon at A2SF.
Steve Guttman
Steve Gutyman & Mike Michelon at A2SF.

Steve Guttman: That's the number one comment I hear from everybody. "Am I going to see Steve there?" So, yes, you'll see Steve.

Deb Polich: So, I mean, that's quite a compliment to you.

Steve Guttman: Yes. I guess they expect to see me when they come to the event. And if I'm not there, they're disappointed.

Deb Polich: Well, we think that the festival does really great things. And I love your comments about community and that you've made this a family affair. You know, I think the example that you set is really important. And thank you so much for sharing a little bit of your experience with us. It's hard to encapsulate 40 years--or almost 40 years--into 10 minutes. But thanks for being here with us.

Steve Guttman: Oh, you're quite welcome. I enjoyed this.

Deb Polich: That's Steve Guttman, who never wears out his welcome as a volunteer at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. Find out more about Steve and the festival that runs through July 3rd at WEMU dot org. You've been listening to creative:impact. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw, and your host. Mat Hopson is our producer. Join us on Tuesdays to meet another creative Washtenaw guest on this, your community NPR Radio Station, 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.

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Polich hosts the weekly segment creative:impact, which features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.
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