Michael Schumacher has brought life and soul back to the AME Allen Chapel with the Little White Church Concert Series.
Recently, Yankton Area Arts Association (YAA) named him Arts Advocate of the Year for 2019.
According to YAA, the Art Advocate distinction is given by its board to honor an individual or group who contributes to the arts, advocates for the arts in their everyday lives and has made a significant contribution to the arts in the community.
“He has been bringing these house concerts to the community for the last couple of years and his consistency and the quality of musicians that he brings is great for our community, but is also great for the arts,” said Julie Amsberry, executive director of YAA.
Schumacher, a musician himself, has been involved in the arts in Yankton for many years. He has worked with Yankton Children’s Theater and Lewis & Clark Theater in several capacities and as a board member of Riverwalk, which places sculptures in the downtown area.
“We just think the work that he’s doing is a standout in the community,” Amsberry said. “Yankton has always been an arts-rich community and this just adds to the richness of the culture.”
The YAA board keeps the selection process under wraps, so the announcement is always a surprise. This year, Amsberry arranged to surprise Schumacher with his certificate during one of the concerts he’d organized at Yankton’s Allen Chapel of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, the venue for the Little White Church Concert Series.
“I had two concerts on Riverboat Days weekend. Julie Amsberry called and said, ‘I’d like to advertise our Tonic Sol-fa concert. I think a lot of your audience would be interested.’ I said, ‘Oh yeah! That’d be great. I’ll introduce you.’”
Schumacher introduced Amsberry, and as he made his way back to his seat heard her say, “Well I lied a little to Mike,” then she named Art Advocate of the Year and presented him with a certificate.
“I really thought there was no better place to recognize him than in front of one of his audiences that goes to the concerts on a regular basis and appreciates so much what he is doing,” Amsberry said.”
Schumacher a native of Crofton, Nebraska, has been living in Yankton since 2011 and works as the church administrator for Yankton’s United Church of Christ (UCC), caretaker of the AME chapel since 2002.
When Schumacher started working for the UCC, he became interested in the AME chapel and its history as a black church in Yankton.
“The United Church of Christ has been maintaining the AME chapel for almost 20 years, but they have their own space,” Schumacher said. “So this was a space that wasn’t really being used.”
Schumacher decided he would find an appropriate way to utilize the chapel, which had been restored. The first event he organized was an art show for his daughter, Leila Schumacher, followed by a Christmas caroling event for Pathways Homeless Shelter.
The quality of sound in the chapel during the Christmas caroling impressed Schumacher.
“What triggered it for me was a White Wall Session in Sioux Falls. They’re mini concerts. That’s when I realized, OK, I can do that here,” Schumacher said. “But I didn’t want to just do music. I wanted to make sure we’re respecting the space. I wanted to do cultural events.”
Cultural events at AME include explorations of the history of African Americans, Native Americans and Dakota Territory, and literature.
Schumacher has been organizing concerts and cultural events at the AME Allen Chapel since 2017, averaging one or two concerts and one cultural event each month, with attendance steadily climbing, he said.
“I have regulars that I can always count on being here and they tell their friends, and that is what is helping us grow: the word of mouth,” Schumacher said. “The artists love coming to a space where people are here just for them and their music.”
Yankton is becoming a music destination, he said.
“We are bringing quality music here,” Schumacher said, referring to all the music locally. “If you look at the artists that have been through Yankton in the last six months, it rivals any town of similar size, and as far as the quality, we are putting on what Sioux Falls put on.”
In fact, some of the acts that made their South Dakota debut in Yankton are now in demand in Sioux Falls and Rapid City, he said.
“It’s fun to be on the front edge of an artist that is beginning to blow up a little,” Schumacher said.
The key to building the arts in Yankton is continuity, he said.
“I think we need to keep our momentum going,” Schumacher said. “We need to make sure we are continuing the quality.”
YAA is hosting a reception honoring Schumacher as Art Advocate of the Year at its First Friday reception on October 4, from 5-7 p.m. The free reception will be held at Yankton’s GAR Hall at 508 Douglas Ave.
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