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From the Circus to the Zoo - One Man's Path to the KIA

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Christopher Schram | KzooConnect

When asked about his journey to his new position as Director of Advancement at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA), Christopher Schram begins in the ordinary way, "Well, I was born and raised in the small town of Peru, Indiana.” However, Schram went on to explain that his childhood home is now the site of the International Circus Hall of Fame, and that, "like most kids in the town he spent his summers participating in the world's largest amateur circus." Wait... What?

This was no ordinary story.

His time at the circus was only the beginning of Schram's path, which led to Washington & Lee University in Virginia and then into a corporate position with Coca Cola in Oklahoma City, and later a position with SeaWorld in San Antonio.

Eventually, Schram moved to Miami, Florida. There, he made the jump to the non-profit world, working for YoungARTS, an organization that supports extremely talented young people involved in the arts. Schram says he "rarely goes to a concert or Broadway show, without seeing the name of someone that he knew when they were a teenager."

Schram, later, made another career move and headed to Chicago. There he worked primarily in Executive Leadership and Development for Court Theatre at the University of Chicago and then Victory Gardens Theater in Lincoln Park.

Last fall, while visiting his father, who now lives in St. Joseph, Michigan, Schram and his family decided to "come around the lake and look at some fall color." They visited some friends who had relocated from Chicago to Douglas. Chris describes the trip as, "bucolic". He, then, began to actively pursue a move to West Michigan which led him to his current position at the KIA.

As Director of Advancement, Schram oversees the fundraising, marketing, social media, rentals, and special events for the KIA. He describes himself saying, "I am part of the public face of the organization. I am involved in how we interact with donors and patrons."

Schram explains, "Kalamazoo is a wonderfully philanthropic town. It is quietly philanthropic... people give without needing their name put on buildings or anything like that."

He goes on to outline the best parts of his job. He loves, "developing the relationships with the people who love the KIA, and getting to meet and develop relationships with people who don't know that they are going to love this place yet."

Schram is looking forward to the fact that the KIA's current building will celebrate its 60th birthday in four years, and the institute itself will turn 100 in seven years. He is excited to celebrate these milestones that will provide even more opportunities to reach out to the community.

When asked about what he loves about Kalamazoo, Schram has a long list. "We love the Kalamazoo Promise. We love the cost of living. We love that our dog that can run full out in our backyard. We love that the farmer's market is much bigger than we expected it to be. We were pleasantly surprised by the number of vendors that are there."

He also speaks of Kalamazoo as a welcoming and global community, sighting the influence of Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College, and KVCC. He says, "We love having all of the great cultural opportunities that Kalamazoo has to offer, in a livable city, that offers at least one if not more, type of every restaurant that we could want: Middle Eastern, Indian, Thai..."

Schram also says that on their visits to Kalamazoo, he, "Specifically noticed the number of 'Hate Has No Home Here' signs in yards throughout the community." This provided reassurance to Schram that "a family of our configuration would blend in here." Chris and his husband have two children whom they adopted from Guatemala.

He goes on to say that in his experience, that slogan has certainly proven to be true.
Schram speaks of the civic pride that he sees in Kalamazoo. He says, "Most people like where they live, but people who live in Kalamazoo, love living in Kalamazoo at a level that I have never experienced before and it is infectious." Whatever disease that is, Christopher Schram certainly seems to have caught it, and whatever path it was that brought him to Kalamazoo, we are certainly glad it has ended here.

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