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creative:impact - The New Year looks bright for Sarah Calderini

Sarah Calderini
Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra

Leading the Ann Arbor Symphony is on Sarah Calderini’s 2022 agenda. We meet Sarah, the Symphony’s newly-appointed executive director, and hear what’s on her to-do list, as well as what gives her hope in the New Year when she joins "creative:impact" host Deb Polich of Creative Washtenaw.


Deb Polich
Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw

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.


As a former Director and Board Chair of the University Music Society (UMS) at the University of Michigan, Sarah Calderini builds on a lengthy sales career at Procter & Gamble and a subsequent 16-year private business venture to bring a multifaceted perspective from the corporate, entrepreneurial, and non-profit sectors.

Sarah Calderini
Credit Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra /
Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra executive director Sarah Calderini

She is a graduate of Union College (New York; BA, English), the National Arts Strategies (NAS)/University of Pennsylvania’s Executive Strategy in Arts and Culture program, and the EXCEL program in Arts Leadership & Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance. After many years on the East Coast, this Chicago-native-turned-Ann Arborite brings a leadership inspired by the interplay between strong local arts and the larger regional and national landscapes — how they work together to create moments that enrich and transform lives.


Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra History

Sarah Calderini

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra Conductor Candidates

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra Concerts & Events

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra 2021-22 Season


Deb Polich: Welcome to creative:impact on WEMU, eighty nine point one FM. I'm Deb Polich, president and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your solo host for the show until David Fair returns from his medical leave. Thank you for listening as we welcome guests each week to explore how their creative businesses, products, programs, and services impact and add to Washtenaw County's quality of life, place, and economy. So Happy New Year! This is our first show of 2022. A New Year offers a clean slate and a starting point, if you will, to be begin afresh. Our guest, Sarah Calderini, begins her new year afresh as the newly-appointed executive director of the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. Sarah, congratulations on your new gig, and welcome to creative:impact. 

Sarah Calderini: Thank you so much, Deb. I'm thrilled to be here and Happy New Year to everyone.

Deb Polich: Thank you. You too. Sarah, I'm going to bypass the temptation to introduce you by listing, you know, your notable work experiences. That includes a decade in sales at Procter & Gamble and then starting and owning and running your own business, Dotmine Day Planners, for 17 years or so. Instead, I want to start by asking you to tell us what we should know about you. 

Sarah Calderini: Oh, that's so nice. Well, thanks. I lived in Ann Arbor twenty nine years--I tend to round up and say 30--and raised three wonderful children in the community of Ann Arbor and all Ann Arbor Public School kids, all of whom took advantage of the incredible arts education. And I just couldn't be more delighted with how arts and culture tend to be a part of our water system, and we got it through osmosis. And one of the reasons why I wanted to raise them here--so, of course, it's had an incredible impact on me and my family and certainly led me to sort of make a career change later in life to really, really be able to explore and exploit, maybe, to help bring the transformative qualities that the arts can bring to each and every one of us. And I'm thrilled to be a part of the arts and culture scene here in Washtenaw County. 

Deb Polich: So, tell me a little bit more about that career change. You know, it takes a lot for somebody to jump from, in your case, you know, the business world, if you will, the for-profit enterprising world, to doing something like this. What gave you the courage and inspiration to do that? 

Sarah Calderini: Courage is a great word. Thank you for adding that. There are a couple of things. One is to just really when you have a passion, you know, you got to go for it somehow. I think at a certain time in our lives, we get to the point where we start to think about legacy and what we're leaving for future generations. And I also think, even in my for-profit work, I really prided myself on always trying to bring good people together with things that make their lives better. And, certainly, the arts is exemplar of that. And so, I think when we can help share the good stuff in life together and with each other, that's what sort of makes the magic. And I like to say I haven't been here for a long time in arts and culture, but I got here as soon as I could. 

Deb Polich: Well, you are at an organization with quite a legacy. The Ann Arbor Symphony is 94 years old. It started out as an amateur band managed by volunteers. And then in 1986, it went professional. And you follow women--really two women--Ann Glendon and then Mary Steffek Blaske, who successfully held the executive position for about 35 years between them. 

Sarah Calderini: Yup. 

Deb Polich: Is it coincidental in your mind that this position has long been held by women? Or is there something else that attracts women to this position? 

Sarah Calderini: That's an incredible question, and I haven't really thought about that. But I do have some thoughts about it. And I think that, first of all, how could I ask for better predecessors? 

Deb Polich: Right.

Sarah Calderini: More incredible women than Ann Glendon and Mary Steffek Blaske. Bright and interested and passionate and engaged. And so, it's such a good question. To say, I think, my best answer would be that there is something that--boy, if I can say this--that that really relies on nurturing a community, nurturing the people, whether that be our incredible staff, our world class musicians, and our audiences just helping to bring people together and really kind of keep us together. It's not exclusive to women, but I think maybe the mothers in us get a chance to play that role. 

Deb Polich: I can definitely relate to that.

Sarah Calderini: Well, you've got the grandma thing, too, Deb. 

Deb Polich: Right, right, right. This is creative:impact and WEMU eighty nine point one. Our guest is Sarah Calderini. She's ringing in 2022 as she takes the reins at the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra as the newly-appointed executive director. So, Sarah, we had Mary Steffek Blaske on just before she retired in 2019, and she had told us about the orchestra director/conductor position in that search. And then COVID hit in 2020, when they were intending to do all of that. Can you just give us a quick update on what the status is of finding your new conductor? 

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra
Credit Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra /
Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra performing


Sarah Calderini: I would love to. This season, so far, we've already, you know, we've got the fall part of the season behind us. And so, every single one of our events on the main stage will be--has been or will be--conducted by someone who is a finalist in our music director search. And what remains in the season still are four of the five events that are on the main stage. We'll feature the candidates who are coming from all over the country, quite frankly, and really, really stellar musicians themselves and conductors and trying to figure out what's the best, you know, fit overall for us as a community and what fits into their busy lives and demanding schedules. And we're really looking forward to continuing the excellent legacy and the reputation of excellence that the symphony has, as well as really finding someone who wants to be a part of our special community. 

Deb Polich: Right. 

Sarah Calderini: Yeah, that's a really, really special role for someone to sell. And, of course, our beloved maestro Lipsky, who was with us for so long, you know, left a void, but not one that can't be filled. It's just time for a new chapter. 

Deb Polich: Sure. 

Sarah Calderini: So, I encourage everyone to join us for the remaining parts of the season and to please weigh in and let us know how everyone feels. 

Deb Polich: So, let's talk about the season and the fact that audiences are still reluctant to attend live performances. How is that going for you? And, you know, are the houses full, or are you, like everybody else, suffering a little bit from from that reluctance? 

Sarah Calderini: Are people still reluctant? Yes. We're committed to the safety of our audiences and bringing people together safely. We are still social distancing people. There's still space between all of our audience members, but we are filling the house with capacity. 

Deb Polich: Oh, that's great.

Sarah Calderini: And people are delighted to be back. In November, we had a really special program at Hill Auditorium that featured a lot of Michigan artists. We had Jacob Joyce, who is an Ann Arbor son, conducting as a potential music director and a world premiere of Michael Kropf, who is a Michigan-based composer. And Julie Adams, who's a soprano who's just recently relocated back to Michigan. And I remember just turning around. One of the things I love to do at Hill Auditorium and the Michigan Theater is to turn around at the audiences and look to see how small the seats are and how joyous the faces are and people who are filling the house. 

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra
Credit Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra /
Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra at the Michigan Theater


Deb Polich: It is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a staff member within a performing arts organization. So, Sarah, we just got a minute or so left, but I'd love to ask you. What are you most looking forward to in this year? 

Sarah Calderini: I'm really looking forward to finding that right person for the music director spot. I mean, I think we could all say, let's put COVID behind us finally. 

Deb Polich: Right. 

Sarah Calderini: We've been resilient, and we've been, you know, adaptable and flexible. I think I am looking forward to welcoming that new director in the fall, welcoming our orchestra members back, being able to expand our audiences by, perhaps, maybe not needing to be socially distant and really bringing everybody together again to, you know, come together and and be transformed by the magic that the orchestra is wanting to be a part of. 

Deb Polich: Well, that's an amazing vision, and we do hope it all comes true. We wish you and the Ann Arbor Symphony great success this year, and thanks so much for being our guest. 

Sarah Calderini: Thank you so much, Deb. 

Deb Polich: That's Sarah Calderini. Sarah's ringing in 2022 as she takes the reins at the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra as their newly-appointed executive director. Learn more about Sarah in the Ann Arbor Symphony, including concert and program information, at WEMU dot org. Please join me next week for another conversation with a creative Washtenaw guest. I'm Deb Polich, President and CEO of Creative Washtenaw and your solo host of creative:impact until David returns. This is your community NPR Station, 89 one WEMU and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti. 

Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra
Credit Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra /
Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra performing


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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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