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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 3B

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The Michigan Daily - michigandailycom Thursday, September18, 2014-38

Literacy
missions are
vital

By GRACE PROSNIEWSKI
Daily Literary Columnist
L ast Monday was
significant for quite
a few reasons. For
many of us it marked our first
Monday classes of the semes-
ter. For some of us it may also
have marked the first classes
of the year we attended hun-
gover. No judgment, it was a
rough weekend to be a Wol-
verine.
And for others, includ-
ing myself, we went to check
our Tumblr and learned that
Monday also marked the UN's
annual International Literacy
Day.
The United Nations Edu-
cational, Scientific and
Cultural Organization first
proclaimed Sept. 8 as Inter-
national Literacy Day in 1965.
Since then, UNESCO and
other partners have worked
together to advocate globally
for the importance of literacy
to individuals, communities
and society as a whole. The
critical point of UNESCO's
mission with International
Literacy Day is that literacy is
a human right and a basis of
education.
According to UNESCO,
some 781 million adults are
illiterate. That's nearly 16
percent of the world's popu-
lation. Women make up 64
percent of the adult illiterate
population, and those liv-
ing in conflict-affected areas
face even greater barriers to
education. Poor literacy rates
are'directly connected with
increased levels of severe
poverty, poor health outcomes
and prejudice against women.
Even within the United
States the numbers don't look
good. According to a 2013
study by the U.S. Depart-
ment of Education and the
National Institute of Literacy,
32 million adults in the United
States, or 14 percent of the
population, demonstrate a
"below basic" literacy level.
Internationally and domes-
tically, the benefits of literacy
are vast. For example, literate
individuals are more likely to
participate in the democratic
process, contribute to sustain-
able economies and advocate
for better healthcare and
education opportunities for
themselves and their chil-
dren.
While the numbers paint a
disturbingly clear picture of
just how much is at stake, they
don't quite express the heart
of the issue. To be illiterate
is to be disenfranchised from
one of the most powerful
forms of imaginati6n. It is to

be denied the critical think-
ing and comprehension skills
that enable one to make sense
of the world and one's place
within it. It makes language a
prison when it should in fact
be a site of transformation, of
transcendence.
In "A Dance With Drag-
ons," George R.R. Martin
writes, "A reader lives a thou-
sand lives before he dies. The
man who never reads lives
only one." Books can fill our
lives with so much more:
more time, more color, more
intensity. Think of your favor-
ite book. Think of the places,
the characters and the emo-
tions. Now imagine that you
had never read that book, that
you couldn't read that book.
It's like a piece of you would
be missing.
Who would I be if I never
fought against the Dark Lord
with Harry?
How else could I take a
turn about a regency ballroom
and trade witty barbs with a
handsome gentleman?
How would I know about
the rolling green hill of
Hobbiton, the underground
Dwarven city of Moria, or the
white city of Minas Tirith?
Shakespeare, Dickens, Tol-
stoy... the list goes on and on
with authors and works that
have not only delighted and
entertained me, but chal-
lenged me and profoundly
informed who I am today.
I can't imagine my life
without being able to read a
good book and I don't think
anyone else should have to live
without being able to either.
And I'm not alone. Countless
writers, including Margaret
Atwood, Toni Morrison and
Amy Tan, have all contributed
to UNESCO's literary mission
to promote the importance
of the written word and the
power of a literate society.
International Literacy Day
may have already passed this
year, but there's still plenty
you can do to make a dif-
ference. I encourage you to
donate your time or your
money to literacy outreach
programs, like the Residential
College's partnership with
Telling It, a children's literacy
community service program.
You can be sure that your
efforts will go toward improv-
ing someone's quality of life.
And remember just how lucky
you are the next time you
crack open a book.
Prosniewski is thankful for books.
E-mail gpros@umich.edu and tell
her about your favorite novel.

MICHIGAN
From Page 1B
"(By 1964), people said 'I like
this director, I like this star, I
like this type of movie, I'm going
to go to that movie,'"he said.
Intense competition from
other Ann Arbor theaters,
though - along with a declining
quality in Hollywood films
- meant that by the '70s
the Michigan Theater was
struggling. With the building
itself also needing some serious
repair, and the Power Center
less than10 years old, many were
advocating tearing it down and
replacing it with a food court or
a shopping mall.
"When things get to be 30
years old, they don't tend to be
thought of as historic, they're
just thought of as old." Collins
said.
Despite a downturn in
the economy, a group of Ann
Arborites including Henry
Aldridge, then-mayor Lou
Belcher and key donor Margaret
D. Towsley helped gather
support for the nonprofit
Michigan Theater Foundation.
But while they were able to save
the Theater, they still needed
somebody to run it.
Enter Russ Collins in 1982. At
just 26 years old, the Ann Arbor
native was fresh out of graduate
school at the University with a
Master'sin Theater Management
(a program that no longer exists
at the University). Back in the
baby-boomer decades, there
was a vibrant film culture on
the University's campus, where
student film clubs would host
screenings of a diverse selection
of movies for other students to
enjoy.
"It seemed like you'd go watch
a movie at every building at some
point during the semester," said
ScottBultman, aFilm/Video and
Music composition double major
who attended the University in
the'80s.
The. success of screenwriter
and University graduate
Lawrence Kasdan told students
that Hollywood success was
possible, but at the same time,
a culture of experimental films
also thrived.
"We all had Super 8 cameras
and went out and did a lot of
experimental work and then
come back to wind them up
into the projector and watch
them," Bultman said. "A lot of
people were doing some really
interesting kinds of things,
drawing on film and stop-
motion animation. You were
at a big university and there
were obviously Hollywood
connections, but at the same
time you really felt like you were
doing these really low-level film
projects."
"It was a real postwar passion
of students," Collins said. "It was
before the Internet, and these
foreign films, documentary
films and classic films were
considered alternative media. In
much the way that students are
passionate about the alternative
media they can get over the
Internet, students back in the
'50s, '60s, '70s and into the '80s
were passionate about cinema."

This pre-Internet, intense
film culture was centered on
hard-to-get, non-commercial
movies. Out of 50 people who
applied for the CEO job in 1982,
it was Collins who was hired and
faced the difficult task of piloting
the nonprofit into a new era.
"It was exciting and daunting.
I was 26 years old, so on one level
I knew everything in the world,"
he laughed. "Butin reality Ihad a
lot to learn. So that was scary, but
in a good way."
It's Friday, Aug. 1, 2014.
"Boyhood" is playing at the
Michigan Theater on its opening
night in Ann Arbor. The 7:00
showing is sold out (probably
because it's in the smaller, newer
screening room instead of the
main theater), but there are still
seats available in the regular
theater for the 8:00 show. The
audience is pure Ann Arbor
- a well-dressed collection of
people from all age groups, who
look like they spend their days
listening to NPR and chatting
about literature in coffee shops.
Not only the main floor, but
even the balcony has a fair
share of excited moviegoers.
They listen to a young man on
stage talk about the theater and
thank them for coming, discuss
among themselves which of the

'U' alumn Russ Collins took over as CEO of The Michigan Theater in 1982.

previews seem worth seeing,
and then they sit back in their
chairs as the opening chords of
Coldplay's "Yellow" plays over a
blue-sky backdrop, signaling the
start of the film.
The incredible, nostalgic
movie - potentially one that
will join the ranks of many
now-classic films to have had
their main Ann Arbor runs at
the Michigan - is in part about
noticing the subtle changes
as things get older, but the
Michigan Theater today looks
as pristine as it did in 1930.
Bathed in the golden glow of the
walls and ceiling, everything
from the concession stand to
the drinking fountains seems
to take on a greater historical
importance. Everything from
the towering staircases that
lead up to the balcony to the
ticket booth out front has been
designed to meet pre-remodeling
specifications. According to the
book "The Michigan Theater" by
Henry Aldridge, the much more
modern-lookingScreeningRoom
in the annex was added in 1999.
When production companies like
Miramax became frustrated at
live events'interrupting the runs
of popular independent movies,
generous gifts, grants and a fifty-
cent surcharge on tickets helped
fund the new room.
In addition to first-run art
house movies, the Michigan
Theater is the setting for year-
round live events and special
film series. For the theater's
entire history, even before
the renovations, the place has
attracted top national talent -
particularly the ones with large
followings in college towns. Iggy
Pop, Journey, The Replacements,
Gil Scott-Heron, R.E.M., The
Police and King Sunny Ad6 all
played here, as well as current
indie acts like Death Cab for
Cutie and Bright Eyes, and
experienced, respected legends
like Elvis Costello and David
Byrne.
While the 1,700-seat theater
doesn't have a bar and can't
accommodate standing general
admission like Detroit venues
such as The Fillmore, it's still
an attractive place for artists in
between the club- and arena-
show levels.
"Artists like playing (in Ann
Arbor) because the audiences are
very receptive and smart about
what they see," Collins said.
"They tend to be better informed
than your average audiences and
more appreciative of artists of a
certain caliber. And that can be
old-fashioned classical artists, or
it can be contemporary artists."
Besides the musical acts, the
theater also has run regular
film series, which deal with
a wide variety of topics from
live music accompanying silent
films to Hitchcock to Martin
Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces
of Polish Cinema and the
Science on Screen series. It even
had a Valentine's Day .sing-a-
long presentation of R. Kelly's
"Trapped in the Closet" hip-
hopera.
Events unique to the Ann
Arborscommunity populate
the schedule, as the Michigan
Theater is home to the Ann

Arbor Film Festival, which is the
longest-running experimental
film festival in the country.
Because there's no international
film festival in Detroit, the
theater also worked with the
DIA, the University and other
t partners to pitt on the Cinetopia
festival. This summer, the third

year of the festival, saw a 25th
anniversary screening of "Do
the Right Thing," hosted by
Spike Lee himself. On top of
all of this, the Michigan runs
a national conference for art
houses in association with
the Sundance Institute called
the Art House Convergence,
cementing its reputation as a
top-notch cinema and creating a
nationwide network of cutting-
edge art house theaters that can
exchange ideas.
The next step for the Michigan
Theater actually involves the
theater across the street. Last
summer, the Michigan Theater
Foundation purchased the State
Theatre, which lies just a few
steps away on State Street. The
closing of the Ann Arbor Forum
- previously the top art house
in the city - when its owners
built Quality 16 in 1998 left the
State and the Michigan as the
only two theaters in downtown
Ann Arbor. The main floor
of the State, which has been
around nearly as long as the
Michigan Theater, was turned
into Urban Outfitters by Tom
Borders in 1989, but the former
balcony remains as a two-screen
theater. While the Michigan
has partnered with the State in
selecting and marketing films
since 1999, now there's a chance
to make real improvements
to a theater that isn't even
handicapped-accessible yet. No
immediate improvements will
be made without approval from
the community, but Collins
hopes that the remodeling work
will be done in time to celebrate
the State's 75th anniversary in
March 2017.
Despite media articles that
constantly depict the movie
industry as one on the edge of a
cliff, ready to free fall, Collins is
adamant that the business he's in
is a stable one. Since TV became
ubiquitous in the '60s, movie
attendance has been trending
slightly upwards. There are ups
and downs, and in 1988, when
everybodybought a VCR, Collins
said "business went to hell,"
but in '89 and '90 the receipts
rebounded. Online streaming
doesn't worry himeither, andhe
said that increased accessibility
in the Internet age has actually
made for more informed movie
watchers, and even though
everything is available at home
nowadays, people still enjoy the
experience of going out to the
cinema.
The theater also has
something unique to offer at
many of its evening movies: the
Historic Barton Theatre Pipe
Organ, which has been at the
Michigan since its 1927 and is
today one of the-few of its kind
still in its original location. Still
in excellent condition (though
at the moment undergoing
maintenance), talented
organists entertain Ann Arbor
audiences before films and give
them a rare taste of what going
to the movies was like when the
pictures were still black and
white. Credit the passionate
work of Henry Aldridge and a

group of organ enthusiasts for
repairing the organ and saving
it from destruction in the '70s.
"In 1970, about half of (the
organ) didn't work," said
Aldridge, organ curator and
recently-retired film studies
professor at Eastern Michigan
University. "So we got a bunch

of people together, and we
would meet down there on
Sunday mornings, and we took
everything apart and cleaned
it up and resoldered wires and
put things back together, and
got it going in about a year."
The organ was originally
meant to accompany silent
films, but was played regularly
until 1950. After the restoration
and repair, the organ has been
played regularly before evening
films and lectures, with four
different organists on staff to
playthe demandinginstrument.
The Barton Organ is a
special attraction that always
impresses theatergoers. "The
fact that we have this beautiful
instrument and the fact that
people are playing it regularly
tells patrons that somebody
really cares about the Michigan
Theater," Aldridge said.
The theater also receives
financial help from its donors
- a base of 4,000 members
who (including their families)
Collins said represent around
10,000 people. 40 percent of
its budget, the part that doesn't
come from ticket sales, come
from these dnots. Whfn
fundraising, Collins said,
"you not only have to ask in a
compelling way, but you also
have to prove that what you're
doing is valuable."
Under his tenure, the theater
has striven to showcase its
connection and value to
the community, and Ann
Arborites have responded with
contributions that have led to
impressive tangible results.
When you're confident and
have a good relationship with
the community, "it's really kind
of magical the way people will
support you."
"The Michigan was
not built for today only,"
a booklet available at the
Bentley Historical Library
commemorating the theater's
openingreads, "butconstructed
in the hopes that it might be a
monument for years to come
and a credit to the community
even when the city is many
times its present size."
Back in 1928, it was easy to
read those words as empty
rhetoric, but today, they
seem oddly prescient. While
it has undergone changes
over time, 80 years later the
Michigan Theater still fulfills
its intended purpose, and
then some. The famous pipe
organ remains in its original
location, the movies are still
shown in a gorgeous setting
and the community supports
the programs that the non-
profit coordinates.
Collins attributes the
popularity of the many
programs offered and the
continued resilience of the
Michigan to the tastes of the
town.
"(Ann Arbor) is a town that's
genuinely interested in the
arts,and whether it's cinema or
whether it's music, or theater
or dance, there's a genuine
interest in the population," he

said. "So consequently, you're
always pushed ... the very smart
people that are attracted to this
town, they're alwayspushingyou
to say 'What about this? What
about this? What newinteresting
programs are you going to do
next? I like this one but what are
you going to do next?"'

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OPINIONS?
JOIN THE FILTER,
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ARTS BLOG.
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to request an application.

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