Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in the arts

Posted at 10:19 AM, Jan 04, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-04 10:19:59-05

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 — 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,” Kay said. “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.”

Last spring, 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 Co.

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

Kay’s generosity has energized more students to explore creative ideas through Running Start, said Christine Beamer, director of career services and music entrepreneurship. She said 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,” Beamer said. “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.”