TRAVERSE CITY — Karen McCrary isn't exactly its new executive director and digs at the Grand Traverse Circuit building on 14th Street aren't exactly its new offices.
But for many in the community, a Saturday, Nov. 17, open house for Building Bridges With Music will be the first introduction to both.
The nonprofit Bridges is an award-winning program that uses live music and interactive discussion to promote open-mindedness, acceptance and peace and to reduce bullying, prejudice, hatred and violence. Since the program's inception in 1994, it has conducted STOP the Bullying! workshops for nearly 50,000 students in more than 600 schools throughout the region, Michigan and the Midwest, McCrary said.
"I think that the idea of using music as a springboard to talking to people is very effective," said the Traverse City native, who came on board in the spring to help grow the program. "Music is the universal language. It opens up minds and hearts and gets people ready to hear the message and get to the root causes of bullying.
"I've got gazillions of file folders filled with drawings and thank-you letters demonstrating that it works."
Workshops are conducted by program founder and well-known area pianist Jeff Haas and his Michigan-based Jeff Haas Quintet. The multicultural, multi-generational group of professional musicians use Haas' original music — from classical to jazz, R&B and ethnic music — as an analogy for diversity.
Kids in school settings are encouraged to listen to the music — music they may not like or be familiar with — with an open mind.
"The clincher is to use that analogy with people," McCrary said. "If you meet a person, you can either start a conversation or not start a conversation. The world gets bigger the more open-minded you are."
Now McCrary, who relocated to the area after a 20-year career in Chicago in strategic marketing and market research, wants to take the program's message to businesses and corporations, perhaps under the umbrella of diversity training. In turn, she said, those companies could sponsor the program in nearby schools.
Also being considered: using multimedia as a way to get the anti-bullying message out more widely "given there's only one Jeff Haas."
"I have thought since minute one that this message has applications not just to kids but to people of all ages," she said. "It's not uncommon in this day and age to hear of bullying in the workplace. Everybody deserves respect, a safe place where they can work and learn and live."
The Nov. 17 Open House from 3 to 5 p.m. will feature tours of the program's offices in the Grand Traverse Circuit building (the former Creative Arts Healing Center) and its upstairs performance space, which could eventually be used for community workshops, fund raisers and other events.
"It's a really great, sort of wide-open venue," McCrary said, adding that a piano is being donated to the space. "We're excited about it and we're talking about having more regular events in the space."
The program also will unveil its new logo, which features a musical eighth-note with "peace sign" head.
Edibles will be provided by The Cooks' House and entertainment by area high school students. Kidzart will help kids create handmade instruments, while Haas will lead an all-ages "Jam with Jeff" session using provided sound makers and instruments that require no experience.
For more information, call 943-1225.