Free Fridays Attendance Passes 75,000

Fantastic Free Fridays performance with kids sitting on stage

Last month when Miami University Middletown's Fantastic Free Fridays presented the world music group Lone Raven, the performing arts series marked two important milestones. Lone Raven's concert was the 160th performance of the series, which began in the fall of 2000, and total attendance for the series passed the 75,000 mark.

"There is something special when young people, many for the first time in their lives, have the opportunity to experience live performances," said Susan Joyce, the MUM music faculty member who coordinates the series. "It's especially rewarding when students have the opportunity to interact with performers, and the thank-you notes and drawings the teachers send afterwards are priceless as the students recount their experiences."

Schools from Middletown, Cincinnati, Dayton, Fairfield, Lebanon, and surrounding communities have brought students to the campus' Dave Finkelman Auditorium to experience live performances of music, dance, and theatre. Schoolchildren account for more than 67,000 attendees across the years, joined by over 3,400 from home school programs.

The series began as MUM, recognizing difficulty of bringing a single artist to the community and trying to schedule performances in multiple schools over several days, decided to use the Dave Finkelman Auditorium to serve as a hub to bring students to the artists.

Rod Nimtz, who was coordinating the campus' Artist & Lecture Series when Fantastic Free Fridays began, recalled some of the early challenges. "We had the advantage of the Finkelman stage with the lights and sound system already in place, which made things easier for presenting artists. But we had to learn about bus scheduling, and arranging seating for eight to ten large school groups for each performance."

Several Miami music ensembles, including the Men's Glee Club, Collegiate Chorale, Jazz Ensemble, and even the Miami University Marching Band, have been part of Fantastic Free Fridays. "Middletown Schools kindly let us schedule Barnitz Stadium for the Marching Band performance - but that morning it started raining," Nimtz remembered. "So we quickly relocated everyone to the auditorium, had a standing-room only crowd, and literally filled the stage with the full Miami Marching Band."

Annual grants from the Bever Family Foundation have allowed the series to continue and reach a growing number of people of all ages in the area.

Area agencies such as Butler County Developmental Disabilities and Abilities First account for over 1,600 audience members during those years. In addition more than 1,300 senior citizens from retirement communities in the area have enjoyed the performances as well.

Even when the auditorium was closed for a year for renovations the series went on. "We were able to schedule performances at several locations in the community, including Middletown Middle School, to keep the series going," Joyce remembers.

"Just as enjoyable as watching young people experiencing live performances is having audiences that include all ages, from pre-school through senior citizens," Joyce commented. "For some in the audience the performance brings back memories, and for others the performances are creating memories for a lifetime."