The Joy in Funding Dreams

By Chad Swan-Badgero

I started my career as a high school Language Arts teacher in a small school in mid-Michigan. The same school, in fact, where I did my student teaching. I was elated! My five-year plan had paid off and I entered the profession as an extremely bright-eyed and naïve new teacher. I say naïve mainly because I had no sense of my place in the larger picture of education. I taught very much in my own school bubble, taking advice from my peers down the hall as well as listening to my individual students’ needs. The idea that I could pull support and advice from other teachers outside of my school or make use of outside funding sources to supplement my lesson plans, never crossed my mind.

I joined the Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs staff as the Arts Education Program Manager in 2013 and became uniquely positioned to advocate for schools to receive state funding for arts related projects. I knew teachers needed the funding because I also knew that many teachers approached funding their big ideas much as I had, solely from their school resources or their own pocket. Applying for a state grant to assist with funding was definitely not a part of the tool kit.

My awareness of the struggle for educators to have the time, energy and tenacity to apply for a MCACA grant drives me every day in this job and makes me so proud and in awe of the teachers and school districts that are awarded grants. I’ve often said that working for the state arts council and managing funding awards to schools makes me feel like Santa Claus. Witnessing the joy that students derive from arts related activities and seeing the lightbulbs go off when students are learning complex topics through an arts lens is everything my educator heart has dreamed of since my first teaching job. And the unique, specific nature of the grants we’ve funded in just the last year (during a global pandemic no less!) is astounding and inspiring. Let me shine a light on just a few.

Escanaba Area Public Schools facilitated a Folk Songwriting residency program which brought veteran folk artists Tom Pease and Kennedy Center teaching artist Stuart Stotts into the schools in the spring of 2021. The folk duo provided songwriting activities for early elementary students in the district. The residency offered students the opportunity to explore their creativity and musical skills in a collaborative process of writing, editing, rehearsing, and performing. With each musical idea and concept presented during the residency, new literacy experiences emerged for the students, including phonemic awareness, vowel and consonant sound recognition, sentence structure, rhyme, word definition and vocabulary building. Through music and song writing with Stotts and Pease, young elementary students gained a new understanding of the English language and developed a platform for telling their own stories. Students left each class saying, “This was the best music class ever.”

Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District (GIRESD) conducted an Arts in Education grant program in all of the district’s special education classrooms, impacting a total of 182 students. Teaching artist and musician Renee Hahn worked with the students on elements of rhythm such as a steady beat, counting meter, manipulating time, playing or singing fast and slow, loud and soft, and creating rhythmic patterns. Cherrie Bornman taught students singing and movement, with a focus on arithmetic and language arts, including counting and sounding out words and phrases. Visual artist Barbara Taylor engaged students in varied mixed-media forms to create original works of art.  She connected the art projects to science and social studies curricula that the students were learning during the time of her residencies. One GIRESD teacher said, “Seeing students who usually need prompts be completely independent and able to create something beautiful on their own was a real aha! moment for me as a teacher.”

In the Kalamazoo Public School District, the professional artist and cooperating educator (PACE) program provided 9,023 students in 33 schools with access to creative movement and creative drama experiences through a combination of new virtual and hybrid options, as well as traditional in-school residencies. One highlight of the project was a new partnership that PACE developed withKalamazoo county’s largest school district, Kalamazoo Public Schools (KPS). Working with KPS specials teachers, all elementary students (5,840) were provided access to pre-recorded creative movement residencies as well as a Rhythm Life Collective drumming performance during the spring semester. That’s a tremendous number of students impacted by one grant!

MCACA has many examples such as these of assisting educators in bringing art to their schools, and in turn, creating life-altering, transformational experiences for students. This is what I get to do at MCACA and I am elated! So, this holiday season, I remain grateful to be playing the role of “MCACA Santa” in gifting students across the state amazing opportunities in arts and culture programming.

To learn more about applying for grant funding, visit our website at or contact me directly at

Chad Swan-Badgero is a MAEIA partner who serves as the Arts Education Program Manager for the Michigan Council for Arts & Cultural Affairs and is a proud Big Brother through the Big Brothers, Big Sisters program in Lansing. Mr. Swan-Badgero is also the Artistic Director for the Peppermint Creek Theatre Company and the Renegade Theatre Festival in Lansing and was awarded the Arts Council of Greater Lansing’s Individual Artist Applause Award in 2016. Chad is most proud of being a daddy to Sawyer.

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