Living an Artistic Life

By Joni Starr with Nicki Flinn-Culver

Editor’s Note: As arts educators we often wonder about the long term impact of our teaching. When they have left us, do our students grow into or out of their artistry and creativity? MAEIA is pleased to partner and work with individuals who fully embrace their creativity and who actively engage in artistic living. Watch for profiles of these interesting people in our often recurring blog series: Living an Artistic Life.


This profile captures the artistic life of dance educator Nicki Flinn-Culver. Nicki has been a dance professor at Hope College since 2009 where her primary role is dance education and pedagogy. Her research interests include brain-based, kinesthetic learning for academic environments that include the creative process. She is also the director of Hope’s Strike Time Dance Company. This company produces full-length performances with a focus on educational outreach.

How would you define your current artistry?

In my current role as the director of a dance company specializing in performances for youth audiences, my artistry revolves around crafting experiences through movement and storytelling. It’s a dynamic process that combines creative vision and implementation. Serving as both imagineer and creator, my projects bring together experiences that resonate with the curiosity and imagination of young minds. I am passionate about not only showcasing the technical and artistic development of the dancers but also ensuring that each piece contributes to the development of the young audience. It is my hope to provide enriching and accessible arts experiences for families.

What does it mean to you to live an artistic life?

To me, living an artistic life is a continuous journey of self-discovery, problem solving, reflection and collaboration. I love working on creative projects that force me to make connections across disciplines, to work through challenges, and to combine ideas from multiple perspectives.

As a dance educator, my passion lies in cultivating a mindset in my students for the need to create. I also place a high value on a process that encourages exploration and vulnerability.  Creating a space where individuals feel empowered to take risks, make mistakes, and use their bodies as instruments for creative expression is important to me.

Do you feel your artistry reaches out to other people? If so, how?

I sure hope so! In my role as artistic director, I strive to maintain a sense of artistry that is both open and adaptable. My goal is to create a space for multiple voices and various perspectives to engage in a shared experience. I aim to create a space of collective understanding where people make personal connections to the work. In essence, I hope my artistry reaches out to others by fostering a sense of connection and shared expression.

What role did arts education play in your life?

The arts have been transformative in shaping my life. From a young age, dance has been the art form I most resonate with, yet music, visual art and theater play a large role in my creative process and daily practice.  Growing up in the dance studio 15-20 hours a week, it was my home away from home. In the studio, I learned the importance of discipline and perseverance. I loved the energy, challenges and performance “high” I received from the creative environment.

As I grew into my role as educator, I recognized more and more my relationship to creativity and my desire to shift from performer to maker and collaborator in the creative process. I love the practice of making, researching, designing, organizing, re-arranging, collaborating, problem solving and more. These practices nurture my ability to think critically and my willingness to appreciate diverse perspectives. The discipline of dance has instilled in me a lifelong love of learning, of fostering curiosity and of a constant desire to explore new artistic avenues. The collaborative nature of arts education also taught me the value of teamwork and communication.

Will you share a story of an important moment in your artistic life?

I have many defining moments in my artistic journey, but my current role as artistic director with Strike Time Dance Theatre stands out as an on-going creative endeavor for me. I’m responsible for creating two full productions each year. Over the last 5 years, the company has worked in collaboration with the Little Read Lakeshore, a community reading initiative. The company has created a Dancing Through the Pages series which is a multifaceted program aimed to connect dance, literacy, and the community. This model program serves as a springboard for ways to create a shared experience of literacy; to engage in thoughtful discussion and to explore enriched physical expression.

Through these experiences it is my goal to promote social engagement, cultural awareness and positive change in the hopes of impacting young audiences, dancers, and the broader community. This experience pushes me but also provides so much joy to the work and efforts involved. Upon reflection of the work, it affirms that promoting dance for children goes beyond creating skilled performers; it contributes to the holistic development of individuals. This is important to both my teaching philosophy and artist statement.

What is your connection to MAEIA?

I was invited to take part in the early days of MAEIA where I had the privilege of collaborating with fellow educators and experts in the field of dance. At that time I served as team leader, I contributed to the Michigan Blueprint for Quality Arts Education and I developed numerous dance performance assessments. Since then, I have used the performance assessments with pre-service teachers highlighting the value of this resource tool in both teaching and learning.

My involvement with MAEIA has been transformative. Not only have I been able to grow and evolve in my own understanding and knowledge of creating quality arts education, but the network of people I worked with continue to influence and inspire me today. MAEIA remains close to my heart as a testament to the collective dedication of both teachers and learners in arts education.

How do you feel MAEIA is contributing to the artistic growth of students?

In my opinion, through its initiatives, MAEIA serves as a gold standard for arts education. Its comprehensive resources enrich the teaching and learning process for everyone involved. MAEIA is instrumental in creating an environment where students and teachers not only learn about the arts but also experience the arts. Whether you hope to enrich the curriculum, seek professional development opportunities, support community engagement, or advocate for arts education, MAEIA’s commitment to ensuring all students have access to the transformative power of the arts is evident.


Learn more about Nicki and her dance education work at Hope College. Also, check out Strike Time Dance and watch videos of collaborations with Little Read Lakeshore.

Photos courtesy of Hope College and Strike Time Dance.

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