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Edward Downing, longtime arts educator who led Interlochen Center for the Arts, dies

Edward J. Downing, a distinguished arts educator, leader and booster of Michigan arts communities, died Feb. 10. He was 87.

Interlochen Center for the Arts President Emeritus Edward Downing.

Interlochen Center for the Arts President Emeritus Edward Downing.

Downing was president emeritus at Interlochen Center for the Arts and a leader of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra.

He developed a passion for arts and chanted for excellence in his youth, graduating from Wyandotte’s Roosevelt High School as valedictorian in 1953 and earning a full scholarship to the University of Michigan, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the UM School of Music.

He participated in ROTC programming in college and went on to serve eight years in the US Army, retiring as a captain, US Field Artillery.

Known to be a great motivator, Downing spent his 46-year music education career teaching in Flint, Belleville and Ann Arbor public schools, followed by a tenure at the University of Michigan. He served as president of the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association, and bands performed for state, regional and national conventions.

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“Ed was a fervent champion for music and arts education, and he shaped the course of the Interlochen Center for the Arts,” said Trey Devey, president of Interlochen Center for the Arts.

In 1974, Downing was recognized by his peers as Music Teacher of the Year in the state of Michigan.

Downing went to Interlochen the summers of 1974 and 1975, serving as Director of the University of Michigan All-State Program. He and his wife, Joyce, moved to Traverse City permanently in 1978 when he was director of the National Music Camp and conductor of the Interlochen Arts Academy Band.

Later, Downing became vice president for education for the Interlochen Center for the Arts, where he was responsible for all educational programming and was at the helm of the Interlochen Arts Festival.

According to an Interlochen Center for the Arts news release, “At every Camp opening staff meeting, he would say, ‘If you listen, you can hear ’em coming. They’re packing their trunks and getting in their cars, and getting on planes. They’re excited, and they’re nervous, and they’re bringing their hopes and dreams. Are you ready?’ With Downing at the helm, the thundering response was always ‘Yes!’ ”

He was named president of the organization in 1998, leading campuswide renovations and new construction totaling $16.1 million. Under his leadership, Interlochen Public Radio launched a second station featuring an all-news format; the Frohlich Piano and Percussion Building, the Harvey Theater and The Writing House were built.

Downing retired in October 2003, but in 2007, Downing took over leadership of the Traverse Symphony Orchestra for what was meant to be a three-month interim position that lasted five years.

He also was a 40-year member of the Rotary Club of Traverse City as club president and president of Rotary Charities.

Downing was survived by his wife of 67 years, Joyce; daughter Jamie; son David, and seven grandchildren and three great-grandsons. He was preceded in death by his daughter Karen.

A celebration of life honoring Downing is planned for the summer, Interlochen Center for the Arts officials said.

Brendel Hightower is an assistant editor at the Detroit Free Press. Contact her at [email protected].

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ed Downing, arts teacher who led Interlochen Center for the Arts, dies