William Davidson Foundation Awards $5M to Detroit Opera House

The William Davidson Foundation in Birmingham has awarded a $5-million grant to support critical infrastructure renovations at the historic Detroit Opera House, as well as support artistic programming over two seasons.
preformers on a stage
The William Davidson Foundation has awarded a $5-million grant to support renovations and artistic programming at the Detroit Opera House. // Courtesy of Michigan Opera Theatre

The William Davidson Foundation in Birmingham has awarded a $5-million grant to support critical infrastructure renovations at the historic Detroit Opera House, as well as support artistic programming over two seasons.

The Michigan Opera Theatre is now in the middle of a $15-million capital campaign to modernize the 2,700-seat Detroit Opera House, which is home to MOT’s main stage productions as well as its educational programs.

Planned renovations to the Detroit Opera House include a new elevator tower, now under construction, that provides direct access to all six levels of the building, an upgraded HVAC system, additional ADA-compliant restroom facilities, and auditorium upgrades that will improve access, wayfinding, and seating.

“The William Davidson Foundation has been backing MOT for many years, supporting their work to develop the next generation of artists and in recognition of the important role MOT plays in Downtown Detroit,” says Ethan Davidson, board chair of MOT and chair of the grants committee at the William Davidson Foundation.

“At this most critical time for our cultural community, my family and I are proud to re-invest in the facility and support the current and next seasons of programming. We appreciate MOT’s commitment to telling stories that resonate with the Detroit community, its embrace of artistic risk, and the strength of its partnerships across the region.”

In addition to funding for Opera House renovations, the new William Davidson Foundation grant includes $2 million to support artistic programming for MOT’s 2021-2022 and 2022-23 seasons.

“It is with deep appreciation that I announce that the partnership between the William Davidson Foundation and Michigan Opera Theatre has resulted in MOT receiving its single largest charitable gift in the organization’s 50-year history,” says Wayne S. Brown, president and CEO of MOT. “The foundation’s $5,000,000 grant is an investment in the next 50 years of MOT, and importantly, an investment in the performing arts sector for the metro Detroit region.”

He added MOT looks forward to in-person programming at the beginning of the calendar year in producing opera and presenting dance performances for our community.

Yuval Sharon, the Gary L. Wasserman Artistic Director at MOT, assumed the artistic helm of the organization in 2020 and together with Brown, is revolutionizing opera in Detroit for audiences and for the opera industry itself.

“I am deeply moved by the generosity of the William Davidson Foundation and the support it shows for MOT’s new artistic direction. This is a transformational moment for the company, and the transformational support from the William Davidson Foundation allows us to move even more boldly towards the future of opera in the metro Detroit area,” Sharon says.

“This grant will help ensure the success of many productions to come such as a milestone new production of Anthony and Thulani Davis’ “X: The Life and Times of Malcom X,” a contemporary masterpiece whose time has come. This major work is poised to make a deep impact in communities across Detroit and throughout the country, as our production will go on to subsequent performances at the Metropolitan Opera, Opera Omaha, and Seattle Opera.”

Michigan Opera Theatre was founded in 1971 by David DiChiera, growing from the work of its precursor the Detroit Grand Opera Association that began opera presentations in 1963. Celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, MOT is an essential component of the cultural landscape of Detroit and beyond.

The historic Detroit Opera House was renovated and reopened by DiChiera, Frank Stella, and many others in 1996 as the home of Michigan Opera Theatre. DiChiera’s vision also included the Opera House serving the entire community as a venue for a range of performing arts productions and events.

The William Davidson Foundation is a private family foundation, established in 2005, that honors its founder and continues his lifelong commitment to philanthropy, advancing for future generations the economic, cultural, and civic vitality of southeast Michigan, the State of Israel, and the Jewish community. More information is available here.