Valuing the Performing Arts as an Agent of Change

May 24, 2018 | CEO News

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This year’s final CEO Faculty Forum on Outreach and Engagement showed how the performing arts can be a powerful agent of change. Faculty and students from the School of Music Theater and Dance shared successful school-wide and student-run initiatives at the April 12 event.

John Ellis, associate professor of piano and associate dean for productions, introduced the history of outreach and engagement within the School of Music, Theatre and Dance. He shared how Willis Patterson, who served the School of Music for 31 years as professor of voice and associate dean for academic affairs and faculty appointments, sought to cultivate a diverse environment at the School. Professor Patterson also created the “Our Own Thing” initiative, providing free music lessons to students.

Building upon this legacy of outreach, Leah Claiborne, a doctoral of musical arts student in SMTD, initiated a partnership with Our Own Thing to provide free piano lessons to local children. Michigan Artist Citizen (MAC) initiative is another program engaging local youth. Operated by the SMTD and the School of Social Work, MAC offers music lessons to 5th graders at Mitchell Elementary School in Ann Arbor. Based on the El Sistema approach, the MAC program builds musical skills while also promoting community, creativity, and strong learning habits among youth.

Professor Robin Wilson of the Department of Dance also works with local youth through her partnership with the African-American humanities class at Skyline High School. She uses the power of dance to communicate lessons about history and humanity while also providing a space for self-expression.

The SMTD also has a robust youth and adult community outreach program, led by Sarah Rau and Robin Myrick. Rau and Myrick discussed the various initiatives offered, such as youth and adult music lessons and continuing education opportunities. Although these programs are specifically catered to adults and youth in the community, U-M SMTD students can still be involved with the programs as volunteers. In addition, SMTD students have spearheaded outreach initiatives. Project SOAR is a student outreach initiative for arts recruitment and seeks to promote diversity, equity and accessibility through multidisciplinary recruitment workshops and events.

Seven Mile Music is another student-driven program that brings music, arts and computer programming to Detroit schools. The mission of this program is to increase exposure to the arts in under-resourced communities in Detroit. This is accomplished by providing six free lessons a week during the school year, as well as, a free weeklong arts summer camp. While providing students an opportunity to explore the arts, these outreach programs are also a space to cultivate other important, transferable life skills, such as the importance of hard work, focus, and attention to detail.

CEO is excited about the work at the SMTD to inform, engage, and inspire students and looks forward to building upon this partnership.

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