By Douglas J. Guth
Photo by Thomas Skernivitz
Based in Medina, ORMACO was founded in late 2010 by Tom Sigel, who grew up on a farm in Homerville, a rural township in southwest Medina County. While Sigel and his two sisters were involved in daily farm chores, his parents, David and Marilyn, instilled the importance of music, arts, and culture, bringing their children to Cleveland Orchestra concerts and musical programs at Oberlin College. Sigel played piano and trombone at school, growing a passion for music that followed him to adulthood.
“My family always valued the arts,” Sigel says. “I was very lucky.”
In later years Sigel’s work as an economic policy analyst and a global publisher allowed him to sample cultural delights the world over. He came home thinking about starting a nonprofit organization after recognizing the culture chasm within the region.
“Cleveland has a plethora of arts opportunities, but there’s not much when you go out to other areas,” Sigel says. “It’s shocking to see.”
As a school’s arts funding is often the first thing to get slashed during economic downturns, Sigel’s idea was to bring the arts to area students and residents at an affordable price.
ORMACO kicked off by incubating its World Tour of Music concert and outreach series with Main Street Medina. The nonprofit outreach organization soon struck out on its own, and in the intervening years has brought in musicians from Israel, China, Brazil, and elsewhere. Currently, ORMACO is in the middle of a two-year grant program from Minneapolis-based Arts Midwest to bring professional music ensembles to conduct outreach workshops and present concerts for the community. In April ORMACO hosted Le Vent du Nord, an award-winning Quebec-based folk ensemble that presented workshops in schools and libraries in the region, including Black River Local Schools.
Black River is a rural, economically underserved district in Ashland, Lorain, and Medina counties. Ensemble members not only explained the folk music history of Quebec, they also offered musical selections and gave students an instrument tutorial. The reaction from the young audience was more than Sigel could have hoped for.
For the last three years, ORMACO has also been bringing live jazz concerts to Medina, thanks, in part, to summertime underwriters, including The Medina County Community Fund, The Ohio Arts Council, Akron General Hospital, Ritzman Pharmacy, and Medina-based attorney Marie Mirro Edmonds. Jazz Under the Stars begins its fourth season June 7 with a concert by Northeast Ohio vocalist Eileen Burns, continuing with a free concert each month through September in the gazebo on Medina’s historic square.
“these are kids who have never been exposed to live music before. inspiring and exciting students to get involved with music is a big part of our mission.”
Hosting an array of musical talent is just one part of ORMACO’s arts-infused raison d’etre, Sigel says. The group also piles folks into its popular “party bus” for daylong cultural excursions both regional and out-of-state.
The bus is open to all age groups, although the organization’s target audience is seniors no longer comfortable with driving long distances, Sigel says. One of the first bus trips was a tour of Lake Erie Wine Country. Subsequent outings took participants to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh and the Toledo Museum of Art.
A recent whirlwind tour of Chicago took guests to major Windy City attractions, starting the day with breakfast on the bus and finishing up with a dinner of Chicago deep dish pizza. Although the crowd was mostly over age 55, guests ranged from 18 on up, Sigel says.
“It’s great to have an intergenerational mix,” he says. “It adds to the chemistry to have a fun and interesting cross-section of people.”
The bus trips do well to enlighten people about ORMACO’s mission, the organization’s founder adds. While there is a cost to participate, a portion of the fee may pay for the purchase of violins for a string outreach program or a student’s guitar lesson. ORMACO is already planning a fall bus jaunt to Playhouse Square for the award-winning “Motown: The Musical.”
There are few aspects of bridging Northeast Ohio’s culture gap that Sigel enjoys more than seeing the arts’ impact on someone whose life has largely been culture free. He points to one young girl who approached a singer from an Israeli ensemble after a concert. The girl, from a poor family, told the singer how she played clarinet to escape her troubled reality.
“You can see the charge of excitement she got (from the show),” Sigel says. “That makes me happy.”
For more information: ormaco.org