MAEIA Champions and Collaborators

By Barb Whitney

Michigan’s arts education community is filled with champions and collaborators. As we’ve grown since 2012, we’ve supported one another with fierce kindness and grace. We’ve got heart, and we’ve got grit.

In June we celebrated MAEIA’s tenth anniversary with statewide educators and leaders of the highest caliber. This special moment to reignite our passion also featured opportunities for student performances and artwork. We reveled in the successes of our Michigan students and educators, whose talents were made visible by our gathering.

On that day, as MAEIA at 10 attendees began to arrive, our collective energy rose. We grew increasingly eager for the day’s activities. We were ready to celebrate MAEIA’s growth in roles, collaborations, and networks. We recognized our deepened partnerships with inspired statewide leaders. Partners who are consummate professionals, admired colleagues, and champions for arts education: music, visual art, theatre, and dance. Over the past three years, we’ve fostered inclusivity through partners who represent unions, people with varying abilities, and specific communities.

As our circle has grown, our paradigm has shifted. Our collaborative exploration has led to resources and presentations including:

As we anticipated the event, we knew we’d be recognized by national leaders for our tenacious and unusual approach to arts education. Keynote Speaker Dale Schmid shared his admiration for MAEIA’s ever-growing presence and nimble approach to assessment and instruction, particularly during the pandemic. He was particularly inspired by our profound relationships and talented leadership.

Here are a few examples of leadership as MAEIA Partners presented at the event:

  • Clara Martinez from Michigan Dance Council and Everett High School.
  • Chad Williams from Michigan Education Association
  • Nafeesah Symonette from Detroit Education Youth Arts.

In addition to inspiring presentations and conversation, we created pinch pots and tableaux, we shared coffee and champagne, we interacted in person.

Together, we captured special moments and considered future opportunities, scribing directly on our table coverings with colorful markers. Several student-centered themes emerged: formative assessment, culturally responsive teaching, and arts integration. We celebrated nontraditional leadership frameworks, such as flocking: using shared vision and collaborative energy.

Near the end of the event, a very important moment occurred. An attendee asked what they could do to champion the arts as a community member. Immediately, numerous hands raised around the room with recommendations to share stories of student success, to talk with school administrators, to attend events, and more.

The enthusiasm and energy in the room was palpable. Markers were racing. Here are key table note takeaways, which are broadly applicable and profoundly changemaking:

  • Tell student stories in the arts!
  • Engage students, parents, educators, school administrators, and legislators in arts advocacy. Ask them what they need.
  • Acknowledge and support arts-education supporting businesses, groups, corporations.
  • Attend and participate in arts education events.
  • Thank teachers and leaders in your community for their arts education leadership.
  • Raise your voice in saying arts education is an important part of a well-rounded education.
  • Collect and use data to ensure that every student in Michigan has the opportunity to receive a high quality arts education.

For me personally, the most surprising theme of the day was arts education as a life-saving measure. This refrain repeatedly arose in table notes. For example, at one point, a table note stated: Dance Saved My Life!

At the end of the day, we raised our glasses high and looked toward the future. I felt a little misty-eyed reflecting on my great fortune. I am humbled to work with such talented leaders. Arts education has made my life more complete, more whole.

I encourage you to share your story in the arts. You may be surprised at its ripple effect of positive change. Feel free to use any or all of the advocacy techniques above. Know that your story is powerful, and that your voice matters as part of our MAEIA Michigan collective: an arts education community that values the arts, fosters engagement, and collectively celebrates success.

Barb Whitney serves as MAEIA Event Co-developer, Advocacy Consultant, and MAEIA Partner/Advisory Council Liaison. She enjoys bringing together arts education champions to cultivate a shared vision for Michigan. Her extensive professional experiences include serving as an educator, administrator, visual artist, researcher, advocate, and executive leader. 


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