Bridging Cultural Divides Through Art

Tibbits Opera House in Coldwater is the second-oldest theater operating in Michigan. As the only professional arts organization in Branch County, it carries a sizable responsibility to provide a breadth of programs to adequately engage a diverse community base.

Tibbits produces a number of programs for kids, including two popular shows a year that engage the talents of over 50 kids. Service groups, local schools, bipartisan political groups, and many others use Tibbits Opera House for its historical atmosphere and spacious accommodations.

Among Tibbits’ most famous programs is its summer series, with a third of the annual budget allocated to making the presentations a success.

A more recent and remarkable undertaking of the organization is its project to bridge cultural divides in the community, and the creative ways Tibbits has sought to uphold the local Yemeni-American population.  The Tibbits organization and its executive director, Christine Delaney, determined that the best way to learn more about the Arab population in their shared community would be to exchange stories about race and cultural history. They received a $25,000 grant from the Michigan Humanities Council to facilitate this project. With the help of a series of presentations and exhibits, over 5,000 Arab and non-Arab people were able to engage in conversation and reflect on what it means to be a Yemeni-American living in Coldwater.

“Knowledge is power. Knowledge combats fear and ignorance that leads to prejudice. The Yemeni-Americans in our community have escaped a home country that is war-torn and impoverished. They are seeking a better life, the American dream, the same dream many of our ancestors sought. I want more people to meet and understand the Arab community in our midst.”

Delaney, who has led the organization since 2001, shared with me why she believes art education is so important within a diverse community.

“I absolutely believe in the arts as a fundamental, core piece of who we are as human beings and in its power to build cultural bridges. After 9/11, Broadway was instrumental in facilitating healing for the New York theatre community, and a testament to what art can do in the face of trauma.”

On the topic of challenges, Delaney reflects on how she’s grown as a leader in the last 16 years, stating she feels much more solid about both her purpose at Tibbits, and the considerable impact the organization is poised to make in the community.

Upcoming events include an Eagles tribute band in March and the fifth annual comedy fest later in the spring.  The annual fundraiser is in the fall, as are other touring performances from the likes of Jeff Daniels and the Glenn Miller Band.

In a smaller community like Coldwater, which has a population of about 44,000, fundraising can be a perennial challenge. Finding consistent support for art programs, regardless of their impact, can be difficult, and support from area residents is essential. So far, Tibbits Opera House seems to be holding its own!

Tibbits Opera House 14 South Hanchett Street, Coldwater, Michigan 49036 l (517) 278-6029 | Tibbits.org