Cathy Holbrook: Leading West Michigan’s Oldest Performing Arts Organization

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St. Cecilia Music Center's Executive and Artistic Director since 2006, Cathy Holbrook has held a leadership role in non-profit arts organizations around the country for over 30 years. No stranger to the music world, Holbrook was also once personal assistant to world-renowned pianist, composer and conductor André Previn.

Since joining SCMC, Holbrook has facilitated a rebrand of the Center; envisioned and initiated jazz, folk and chamber music series featuring world-renowned and Grammy-nominated musicians; and led various partnerships, some of which have placed SCMC on a national level of exposure through syndicated interviews.

During her time at SCMC, Holbrook—who is in charge of booking all artists on the presenting series—has seen the number of concerts presented in the jazz, folk and chamber series increase seven times over, while SCMC's revenue and ticket sales have greatly increased. From 2015-2016, Holbrook also orchestrated a $5.5 million capital campaign that allowed SCMC to complete a $2.5 million building renovation, while also doubling the size of SCMC's endowment.

As SCMC celebrates 140 years, we caught up with Holbrook to hear the latest.

What does it mean to you to be at the helm of West Michigan's oldest performing arts organization, especially one founded by nine women?
It's a privilege to lead such a venerable organization. I'm honored to have had the opportunity to bring new programs and new genres to SCMC during my tenure. We are celebrating SCMC's 140th anniversary this season and it's extremely inspiring to think that in 1883, nine Grand Rapids women gathered together to conceptualize this organization and 140 years later we're not only still here, but thriving.

SCMC has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, the Spanish flu and of course, most recently, COVID. To be flourishing at this time is something I'm very proud of, but I also know I'm standing on the shoulders of many before me who kept this organization going. I'm grateful and humbled to have great support from the board and staff and to play a part in an institution with such a rich history.

Of all your efforts during your 17 years with SCMC, which are you most proud of?
I'm very proud of the three presenting series I created at SCMC. The partnership with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is a very important accomplishment. The addition of the Jazz Series, and the incredible musicians we present, filled a gap in the music community in Grand Rapids. And, most recently, the addition of the folk series has broadened SCMC's audience tremendously. Expanding and elevating the concerts presented by SCMC is something I'm very proud of.

As we venture into 2024, what can the community expect from SCMC?
More great music! This year, the three series bring incredible musicians with a variety of offerings. And, as part of our School of Music, we've expanded the "In the Classroom" programs so we can bring music education to those who don't typically have access to such activities.

Visit scmcgr.org to learn more.

Edited by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.

This article originally appeared in the Dec '23/Jan '24 issue of West Michigan Woman.

Photo Courtesy of Michael Buck, M-Buck Studio, LLC.


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