Davin Pierson Torre, Director Flint School of Performing Arts

When Davin Pierson Torre began playing viola with the Flint Symphony as a 20-year-old University of Michigan music student years ago, she recognized the potential for the arts in Flint and wanted to do something about it. “Fairly quickly, I abandoned the ambition to be a professional musician,” she recalled.

Now in her 20th year as the director of the Flint School of Performing Arts, she is still excited about the school’s impact on the community – and grateful that her career path led her to direct the largest community arts school in Michigan, serving more than 3,500 people who share her passion for the arts.

“It’s super exciting every day,” Davin said early one frigid Thursday morning in February when My City Magazine caught up with her as she prepared for a typical busy day.

davintorre-28:45am – Davin gets organized in her office with a cup of hot tea close at hand, reading and returning emails, making phone calls and preparing for the day’s staff meetings as well as future appointments and meetings.

10:30am – Her attention turns to a meeting with the public safety and maintenance teams to discuss building issues including improved signage and room scheduling. Ensuring that the school provides a safe and welcoming atmosphere for all who enter its doors is an important piece of her job as director. “The students come first,” Davin said. “It’s a physically safe environment and our maintenance and public safety staff will help set up for rehearsals or unload your car, whatever is needed.”

11:00am – The morning continues with a full staff meeting when she listens to updates from all the staff, including those involved with dance and music instruction, marketing, maintenance and security, and the cleaning crew. Being aware of their needs helps her prioritize items to be addressed as she continually focuses on meeting student needs and making improvements along the way.

Gathering feedback and suggestions from the staff at these meetings helps Davin work to build an atmosphere at the school where students feel secure on emotional and interpersonal levels. “They need to feel safe to open up,” she said. “It’s fine to be a girl and play tuba and it’s fine to be a boy who wants to dance. We want people to feel welcome to pursue whatever goal they have.”

Her daily communication with instructional staff sheds light on their professional needs that arise from the goals of each student musician and dancer. As a member of the executive committee of the board of the National Guild for Community Arts Education, Davin assists instructors with access to best teaching practices and current technology, and she organizes faculty exchanges to enhance instruction and to support the individual goals of each student.

11:30am – Following her full staff meeting, Davin meets with the Flint Institute of Music President, Flint Symphony Orchestra Manager and Flint Youth Theatre Artistic Director to join them in discussing big picture issues, strategic planning, and potential collaborations. Following that, she returns to her office to participate in a scheduled monthly conference call with directors of other community arts schools across the country where they discuss anything from building issues to programming concerns.

“We check in with each other and see how things are going and how they handle concerns,” Davin explained. “We provide support for the logistics of what we do.” Thursday’s conference call highlighted staffing issues, enrollment trends and heartwarming stories about people involved in their community arts programs.

2:00pm – Davin meets with the FIM President and FIM Director of Administration to discuss HR issues, then sashays from business mode to the thing she holds closest to her heart: the music and the ability to guide students to interpret and create it together.

davintorre-44:00pm – Davin holds a brief rehearsal with members of the Flint Youth Symphony Orchestra, enjoying the process of helping students combine their developing skills in music interpretation, theory, and technique to eventually perform beautiful music together in front of an audience. “It’s really important for administrators to keep involved in their art, whether it’s playing, dancing, or conducting,” she explained.

She’s happy to combine the business and logistical aspects of the job with conducting and making music with students. It keeps her passionately focused on the potential that lies within each recital hall and private lesson room of the building. The FSPA has a solid reputation as one of the best community arts schools in the country, right alongside similar arts schools in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. A lot of locals aren’t aware of that, and Davin is constantly reaching out to the community to promote the FSPA’s instructional programs and events – and to let them know that the school is truly a community school for all ages and not just for school-age children as many assume. Outreach and publicity is inherent in her daily schedule.

“It’s really important for administrators to keep involved in their art, whether it’s playing, dancing, or conducting.”
Davin Pierson Torre

davintorre-5“We may have a grandfather who wants his six-month old grandson to experience music,” Davin explained, pointing to their Early Childhood Music Program modeled by the Gordon Music Learning Theory. “We have adults who want to come back to their instrument and senior citizens who want to keep their mind vibrant as well as choir members who just want to improve their range.”

She’s hoping that those who have ever entertained the thought of picking up an instrument or learning a particular style of dance will contact the school and give it a try.

4:30pm – Not one to slow down for long, Davin dismisses her students from their quick rehearsal so she can attend a Master Class with Anthony Elliott, Professor of Cello at the U of M School of Music, who recently performed as a guest artist with the FSO.

davintorre-65:30pm – Next on her Thursday To-Do list is an appointment with a potential donor, touring the school and describing the programs and use of the instructional rooms and building space. Developing partnerships and talking to prospective donors to develop funds is exciting for Davin because she sees the positive impact of these programs on the Flint area. Last year, the school held a total of 218 concerts, recitals, master classes and dance lecture demonstrations, and she said all but eight of them were free to the public. “Being involved in the arts is a key part of the revitalization of this town,” she said.

7:30pm – Davin wraps up her Thursday schedule at dinner with Maestro Enrique Diemecke, FSO Manager Lindsay Pearson, guest artist Anthony Elliott, and FIM Director of Donor Relations Sheila Zorn, discussing the earlier master class and other ways to bring the FSO and FSPA students together.

Evenings at the FSPA are bustling with activity as students young and old attend lessons and rehearsals, so every day is a little different for Davin. What really sparks her passion for the job is seeing students make progress in their creative outlet. “If I can be in a room and see people experience something special that they wouldn’t otherwise, that’s when I’m most excited,” she smiled. ♦

Photography By Mike Naddeo


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