Supporting Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Arts

College of Music alumna gift encourages students to create value for communities through music.

MSU alumna Cynthia Kay, a small business owner from Grand Rapids, Mich. supports the College’s Running Start Competition, including workshops about innovation and entrepreneurship in the arts.
College of Music Alumna Cynthia Kay helps students identify opportunities for business in the Lansing area.

When Cynthia Kay graduated from Michigan State University in 1975, she focused on transforming her double major in applied voice and television and radio into a career.

Today, Kay owns a full-service media production company in Grand Rapids, Mich.—one she founded in 1987 after a dozen years of seeking a career that combined her passions. As a small business owner, Kay believes in helping others shape their careers, as evidenced by her support of the MSU College of Music’s Running Start entrepreneurial program.

“I was really excited when I first heard about Running Start,” says Kay. “Back when I was in school, they had wonderful programs to train musicians, but weren’t as focused on how to take those skills and apply them in the world of work.”

In Spring 2016, Kay stepped forward to provide second and third-place prizes for the College’s Running Start Competition. The annual competition, funded through the MSU Federal Credit Union’s Dean’s Choice Award, is designed to help music students bring creative ideas to life and take charge of their careers. In the beginning, a single prize of $2,500 was awarded through the Running Start competition. But recently, the College sought additional private support as an increasing number of competitors came forward with high-quality, innovative ideas.

Kay’s initial gift enabled the College to provide second and third place awards of  $1,500 and $1,000 in 2016. Plans are to extend the funding for the 2017 competition under the auspices of Kay’s business, Cynthia Kay and Company.

“I’m really proud to be an MSU Spartan,” says Kay of her motivation. “The College of Music gave me a great start, and I’m interested in giving back because of what they did for me.”

Kay readily agreed to reconnect with the College to support this initiative, which had special meaning for her.  In the Spring 2015, Kay presented the Running Start workshop “What IS Arts Entrepreneurship?” and returned in Fall 2015 to present a second workshop, “How to Innovate in the Arts.” Kay was so taken by the curiosity of students to learn and apply entrepreneurial skills that she decided to fund the two new competition awards.

“The students were just great,” Kay says. “I was very impressed with the things they were thinking about, and the creativity they applied.”

Director of Career Services and Music Entrepreneurship Christine Beamer says Kay’s generosity has energized more students to explore creative ideas through Running Start. She noted that in the first two years of the competition, a couple ideas moved forward. Between this year and last, applications to the competition more than doubled, with a half dozen entrepreneurial projects coming to life in the community through Running Start funding.

“Cynthia’s gift sends the message that business people are ready to support the arts,” says Beamer. “It also shows that opportunities for funding are available if you are willing to think creatively about how you can create value for communities through music and the arts.”


For more information about making a gift to support entrepreneurial opportunities in the College of Music, please contact Rebecca Surian, senior director of development for the College of Music, at surian@msu.edu or by calling 517-353-9872.

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