Curiouser Clay Owner Receives Artist-in-Residence Fellowship

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By Eli Zemper

Curiouser Clay owner Eli Zemper and Washtenaw Technical Middle College have received a $13,990 grant from the Michigan State Arts and Culture Council (MACC) to fund an artist-in-residence program at one year called Clay story. The grant was awarded through MACC’s peer review process and was one of 639 applications to compete for MACC funding for fiscal year 2023.

Schools receiving a MACC grant are required to match these funds with their own resources and funding. WTMC has always received strong volunteer support from staff and the community. Kyle Linford is the director of this year-long creative project with administrative assistance from Christine Williams.

Telling stories through clay is a three-part, year-long campus art project at Washtenaw Technical Middle College. Eli Zemper, owner of Curiouser Clay, a Chelsea-based mobile community clay workshop provider, is the artist-in-residence and lead facilitator for this project.

In the first part, students will read excerpts from Amy Krouse Rosenthal’ Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. Students will write a series of creative writings based on their own ‘ordinary’ lives and learn the elements of creative language, storytelling and structures. Students will share their writing through read-alouds and peer-editing exercises.

In part two, students will develop one of their stories into a podcast script. After writing these scripts, students will record their stories and edit them on sound editing software. At the end of Part 2, students will have a polished three to five minute storytelling podcast that features a story about their own “ordinary life.” Students will upload these MP4s and be assigned a QR code which will be used at the end of the project.

In part three, students will create ceramic sculptures that realistically or symbolically depict an aspect of their history. Students will learn to use clay as a medium to visually express content, theme, and emotion. Completed sculptures will be placed around campus.

The highlight of the project will include a campus sculpture walk that will take participants to sculptures around campus. Each sculpture will have a QR code that connects the viewer to the podcast so viewers can enjoy the storytelling podcast while watching the sculpture.

This artist-in-residence program is designed to complement the work of BASE. WTMC’s teaching model is somewhat unique among Michigan schools. During their time at WTMC, students will earn a high school diploma as well as a 2-year technical certificate and/or associate’s degree in a variety of fields.

Due to this shortened/intensified academic schedule, students are assigned to a small group called BASE (Better Accounting for Student Efforts) which includes an Academic Advisor to help students create their Education Development Plan (EDP) ) and guide each student. college career and transition from high school courses at WTMC to college courses at Washtenaw Community College.

This advisor works closely with students throughout their stay at WTMC. BASE is designed to be small, tight-knit groups of students to help students address their emotional well-being as well as academic success and college and career readiness.

Participation in BASE is an important ingredient in the academic and social/emotional growth of students. Because student welfare is a priority at WTMC, BASE has an in-person component once a week on Mondays from 10-11am. During this time, students work through a CORE curriculum that addresses academic concerns such as college readiness and improving/achieving scores on pre-college placement tests in reading and writing , as well as a focus on soft skills of resilience and self-advocacy.

The Telling stories through clay The project aims to strengthen this social-emotional work and provide deeper foundations for authentic peer relationships. An added benefit of this multidisciplinary project is that it also connects and reinforces schoolwork in English and the arts.

Two of WTMC’s primary school improvement goals are to foster a positive school culture and support student mental health and well-being. It’s no secret that engaging in the arts, especially doing things with others, helps foster community bonds and mental well-being. According to Americans for the Arts, “just 30 minutes of active art activity a day can reduce anxiety and depression and increase life satisfaction.”

Learning more about yourself through creative writing and reflection helps deepen your understanding of yourself and your connection to others. Knowing the stories of others helps deepen understanding and tolerance of difference within communities. Working with clay has a relaxing/meditative effect, and planning and carrying out an idea in clay leads to a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, having a school-wide art inquiry throughout the year provides a shared experience and an easily accessible point of contact for students to initiate and pursue conversations and connect with each other.

MACC’s peer review process allows each grant application to be competitively reviewed by a panel of in-state and out-of-state arts and culture professionals. This ensures that taxpayers, who support this project through statutory appropriations, and all other Michigan visitors or residents will have access to the highest quality arts and cultural experiences.

A complete list of in-state scholarships is available by contacting MCACA at (517) 241-4011, or by visiting the MACC website at www.michigan.gov/arts.

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