Memorial For Arts Advocate E. Ray Scott at The Gem Theatre

Memorial For Arts Advocate E. Ray Scott at The Gem Theatre

Saturday, February 27th, 11am

alt textE. Ray Scott

It was Saturday, Feb. 6, when the cheerful, tuxedoed members of Detroit’s Players Club gathered for their monthly show of plays at their historic Playhouse. The mood quickly sobered when they heard that Player E. Ray Scott had died at 86. As Executive Director of the Michigan Council for the Arts from its inception in 1966 to 1985, and as Director of Michigan’s Commission on Art in Public Places until 1991, E. Ray was the solidifying voice and personality of the arts in Michigan.

E. Ray Scott was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1923, and the gentle tones of his Southern childhood never left him. Echoing erudition wherever he went, with a tongue he used as both rapier and unguent, E. Ray earned Bachelors and Masters degrees in Speech and Theatre from the University of Southern California. He then spent six years in the United States Army as the Producer and Director of Army Entertainment for the Armed Forces in Germany.

In pursuit of a Ph. D. in Theatre and Communication Arts, Ray moved to Michigan in 1961. It was as a lobbyist for the State Medical Society and a popular figure in Lansing that Scott became aware of the need for a central figure who could gather the many tributaries of Michigan’s artistic life into one coherent, persuasive and forceful voice. E. Ray had found his life’s work.

As former Governor William Milliken remembers, “I was a State Senator when I first met Ray. He was omnipresent in Lansing and, from then on, Ray gave me advice on when and how far we could go in supporting the arts in the state.” It was when Senator Milliken became Lt. Governor that E. Ray approached his wife, Helen Milliken, with his idea for an art train. Mrs. Milliken describes it as “the genius idea which was soon thereafter copied all across the continental United States.”

As noted by his long-time friend Robert O’Leary III, “Yes, if there was one defining moment in which Ray took the most pride, it was in the establishment of Artrain, Inc.” (the official name of the art train concept). Launched in 1971 Artrain was a rail car equipped as a traveling art gallery. With great support from the railroads, the original mission of bringing art to under-served communities throughout Michigan expanded and eventually traveled over the whole country, Artrain, Inc. continues today and has provided arts and cultural programs for over 3.2 million people in cities, towns and villages across the country. Artrain’s exhibitions have become the catalyst for the development of local community cultural programs and the artists who have been nurtured by these programs.

Close behind the Artrain project, E. Ray was also instrumental in creating the enabling legislation that created the Michigan Council for the Arts – only the second state arts council in the country. Getting the State Legislature to approve a reasonable appropriation for the Council was his greatest task made easier perhaps by his warm and personal relationship with Governor William Milliken, which lasted for the 17 years he was governor of Michigan. In a meeting during his first year in office, Gov. Milliken told E. Ray, “If you can encourage the Appropriations Committee to allocate more than I have designated in my budget, I will not veto it.,” and he never did.

Though Artrain became the flagship program of the Michigan Council for the Arts (MCA) when E. Ray served as the Council’s Executive Director, his tenure, on all levels, was always marked by his passionate, intelligent and persuasive lobbying for state support of artists, all cultural institutions, artists and arts in education programs. On a national level, he established a warm working relationship with Nancy Hanks, Director of the National Endowment Arts, and served on numerous boards and committees of the NEA. E. Ray will always be remembered, however, as the tireless and determined advocate for the arts and artists in Michigan. He oversaw major growth in the arts council, which became one of the leading – and largest supporters—of public arts in the country.

Under Ray’s tenure, the arts council pioneered the concept of mini-grants – smaller grants to initiative local community arts activities. A large network of community arts councils that provided grass roots support to all areas of Michigan was a direct outgrowth of Artrain and Ray’s own commitment to Michigan artists and cultural institutions. The arts council provided significant support to every major arts institution in the state – supporting commissions, artistic seasons, premiers, new work, major museum shows, and a wide array of arts education projects.

Scott used his own resources to work with ArtServe Michigan to establish the Michigan Artist Award, which awarded $3000 prizes to three Michigan artists for two consecutive years. The purpose was to provide them with a level of economic freedom that allowed them to concentrate all of their energies on their art. In 2007, E. Ray received the Arts Advocate of the Year award from ArtServe Michigan.

E. Ray Scott is survived by his sister, Jo Ann Cole, and his daughter Dana (Mrs. Scott Tschirhart), seven grandchildren and one great grandchild. A memorial service will be held for E. Ray at 11 a.m. on Saturday, February 27th, at the GEM Theatre at 333 Madison Avenue in downtown Detroit. The service will be followed with a light lunch. Once more stories and legends about E. Ray will be passed around among as many of his friends and admirers who can be there.

Family requests memorials to support the arts in Michigan and Michigan Artrain. To make a contribution in E. Ray’s honor, please go to