creative:impact - Welcoming The New Year And Catching Up On The Arts Alliance

Jan 7, 2020

Arts Alliance Logo
Credit The Arts Alliance /

Deb and David don’t have New Year’s resolutions themselves, but they can get behind The Arts Alliance’s 2020 project goals.  In addition to ongoing programs and services, Deb gives David the highlights on a few projects for the year, including Creative Washtenaw Counts, an Arts + Creative Advocacy Training program, and a Board Matching initiative on this week’s edition of "creative:impact."

Deb Polich, President and CEO of the Arts Alliance

Creative industries in Washtenaw County add hundreds of millions of dollars to the local economy.  In the weeks and months to come, 89.1 WEMU's David Fair and co-host Deb Polich, the President and CEO of The Arts Alliance, explore the myriad of contributors that make up the creative sector in Washtenaw County.


Arts + Creative Industries = Impact

The Arts Alliance is the arts + creative industry authority in Washtenaw County.  Its mission is to: champion Creative Washtenaw— the creative individuals, organizations, businesses and government agencies who are the arts and creative industries—to ensure that the greater Ann Arbor, Michigan, region remains a great place to create, live, work, learn, play and visit.  

The Arts Alliance serves Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Manchester, Milan, Saline and Ypsilanti plus the 21 townships in the county.

The Arts Alliance is committed to, forever evolving and learning about diversity, equity and inclusion.

Facilitating, advocating, communicating, educating and celebrating

Supported by members, The Arts Alliance is the very definition of a backbone organization: one that establishes and nurtures cross-sector partnerships to reach common goals and outcomes.  Members are creative people and industry experts who lead the creative sector locally, nationally and internationally, have creative practices, own businesses and work for profit, nonprofit and government entities while choosing to live in Washtenaw County.  The Arts Alliance is intent, first and foremost, in listening to its members: we hear how they prosper and what causes their stagnation.

The work of The Arts Alliance is furthered through research, data and the expertise of its members, many who are recognized as thought-leaders and experts in every field and discipline of the national, state and regional arts and creative industries.  The Arts Alliance and its members know that building and sustaining a vibrant arts sector is not accomplished by want or magic.  It takes long-term commitment, improved public policy and the investment of resources supported by collaboration among the arts and every other sector of the community.

It works diligently to demonstrate the interconnectivity of the arts and creative industries with all other sectors and the impact on the local, economy, education, quality of life and place.  It works every day to move the arts + creative industries agenda forward by persuading the community at large, its leaders and decision makers the value of investing in and setting policies to make it possible for artists and creatives to make a decent living, to ensure that creative organizations and businesses are properly resourced and that schools have the budgets to provide students with arts + creative education as a right to a well-rounded education and the leads to a workforce who has a depth of skills desired by 21st century employers.

The Arts Alliance has earned respect among community decision-makers resulting in being asked to and sometimes taking a “seat at the table” on community planning and initiatives.  The Arts Alliance is an essential partner with the business, tourism, philanthropic, government, education and other sectors on numerous programs to integrate art and culture in all aspects of civic life of the county.  Broad-based engagement and the Washtenaw County Cultural Master Plan informs the work of The Arts Alliance as it:

  • Facilitates to explore issues, conduct research, administer MCACA Regranting programs and foster creative initiatives.
  • Advocates to voice the creative industries’ impact and influence policy and encourage investment.
  • Communicates to promote the creative industries’ programs and collaborative initiatives.
  • Educates to encourage investment and participation in life-long creative learning programs.
  • Celebrates to trumpet the triumphs of the creative industries.

Championing the Arts + Creative Industries

The intrinsic value of the arts and creativity are of the highest value and are determining factors of success for these individual practitioners or for profit, nonprofit and government entities.

  • Advertising & promotion
  • Architecture: building, landscape, urban & regional planning, marine & naval, etc.
  • Art schools, art teachers, artists & agents
  • Art therapy, rehabilitation and healing
  • Creative technology: app design, game design, web design, etc.
  • Culture & heritage: preservation, centers, museums 
  • Design: display, exhibition, graphic, industrial, interior, multimedia, packaging, product, visual communication user interface design, etc.
  • Fashion: design, garments, textiles, footwear, lifestyle & accessories
  • Film, audio visual & broadcasting
  • Literary, publishing & print
  • Music & recording
  • Museums: art, cultural, heritage, history & science
  • Research & development: The pursuit of models, methods, formulas and products of unusual value.
  • Science & nature centers
  • Performing arts: dance, music, multidisciplinary, theater, etc.
  • Visual arts: artisan-crafts, painting, sculpting, photography, etc.

The ripple effect

These individuals, for profit and nonprofit businesses represent an industry that employs more than 6,400 people and generates $390 million in wages in Washtenaw County, according to Creative Many Michigan.

The Arts Alliance members and constituents work with common purpose as the champion the arts and creative industries and in turn, serve 365,000 Washtenaw County residents which include 47,000 preK-12 students. Additionally the reach more than 80,000 university students and 4.6 million visitors to the region.

The economic impact of the nonprofit arts and cultural organizations in Washtenaw County is $100 million according to a survey commissioned by the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation and The Arts Alliance conducted. According to the same study, there are 1.76 million admissions to nonprofit arts and cultural events in Washtenaw County equal to filling Michigan Stadium more than 16 times a year.

Projects and programs

  • Responding and Assisting.  Virtually every day, calls, emails and texts come in from members, artists, creatives, cultural specialists, creative organizations and businesses from the Washtenaw County area requesting assistance, guidance, resources, services, relief, connections and more. This is the ongoing forever mission work of a local service organization – work that will not end as long as artists and creatives struggle to make a decent living, schools do not budget for or consider arts + creative education core to the curriculum and arts + creative organizations and businesses remain woefully under-resourced.  The time shared, counsel extended, connections made, encouragement and hope offered, is valued as serving mission rather than “billable hours” by The Arts Alliance.
  • Arts + Creative Education Integration for Student Excellence (ACEISE). A partnership of Washtenaw Intermediate School District and The Arts Alliance, the goal of ACEISE is to ensure that the 47,000 students attending school in Washtenaw County have equitable access to high quality, consistent, sequential and standards-based education through the arts, culture, design and creativity – based in production/performance and integrated education in curricular and co-curricular setting.  This multiyear project is based on and utilizes the tools of the Kennedy Center's "Every Given Child" and Lincoln Center's "Designing a Learning Community" models to engage the community, gather data and input to develop a long-term sustainable plan. The draft plan will be complete in 2019-20. The NEA is supporting ACEISE.
  • Advocacy. The Arts Alliance advocates every day, across sectors, to communicate and persuade community leaders, decision and policy makers to invest in and set policies that benefit the arts and creative industries. We are making progress. Our voice is now heard: elected officials, candidates and community leaders seek our council and opinion. Still, substantive policy and investment changes have not been realized. More work is to be done.
  • Creative Washtenaw Votes 2020.  The Arts Alliance will update its Advocacy Tool Kit, host an advocacy training program during the 2020 election cycle. It will also surveys candidates running for selected offices on the ballot in Washtenaw County about their views on the arts + creative industries, especially in regards to public policy and investment.  All candidate responses are released verbatim for publication before the election to the media and The Arts Alliance’s constituents--Washtenaw County residents passionate about the arts and the creative industries.
  • Region 9 Regranting Administrator.  The Arts Alliance serves as the Region 9 Regranter for MCACA and serves organizations and artists in Hillsdale, Jackson, Lenawee, Livingston, Monroe and Washtenaw counties. The Arts Alliance has developed and continues to refine a full set of training and support materials to assist applicants and reviewers.


  • PowerArt! - PowerArt! Is a public art and design project that exclusively commissions artists with ties to Washtenaw County and is popular with residents, local artists and visitors.  It transforms traffic signal boxes around downtown Ann Arbor from unsightly spaces covered with graffiti or plastered with flyers into canvases displaying local artists work. It is a partnership between the city of Ann Arbor, the Public Art Commission, the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority and The Arts Alliance, who also serves as the project manager.
  • Creative Washtenaw Happy Hour (CWHH) CWHH is an-easy-no-set-agenda monthly meet up for artists and creatives that rotates around the county.  Hang out and have fun with your creative peeps! First Thursday of the month except December and August.
  • Cultural Leaders Forum.  The Arts Alliance hosts this monthly convening of more than 25 leaders of the largest and regionally-representative arts and cultural organizations with the opportunity to collaborate, address sector issues and receive collegial support.
  • Celebrating Creative Distinction.  The Arts Alliance Medal for Arts, Sciences & Humanities honor and celebrate the extraordinary contributions and accomplishments of Washtenaw County artists, creatives, individuals, businesses and organizations at THE pARTy!, The Arts Alliance’s signature fundraising event. Medal recipients set the standard and are celebrated for exemplary achievements in advancing the arts, sciences and humanities and increasing public awareness of the creative sector in the region.
  • Creative Washtenaw Counts.  This is an inventory of Washtenaw County’s nonprofit arts + cultural organizations and creatives working, producing and having businesses in arts + creative industries.  By collecting data on creative sector employment, income, demographics and socioeconomic attributes, this project aims to tell the story of Washtenaw’s creative enterprises; the mix of Washtenaw’s creative workers; how they overlap; how they vary by community/ZIP code; and the role they play in the overall economy, among other information.  The reports will also expand the broader public’s understanding of the arts and creative sector.  Data collection underway includes researching all nonprofits currently active per the IRS and building a database from their most recent 990s. A survey has been built using a gold standard national model and tool designed by New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA) and commissioned by The Arts Alliance.  This model has then been cross-referenced with the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s occupation categories.  The Arts Alliance has collected and indexed the 990s of 220 creative nonprofits in Washtenaw County.  The data are being analyzed and reports are forthcoming.


  • creative:impact on WEMU 89.1 FM.  To date, 100 Washtenaw County-based creative practitioners and business have been featured on this weekly radio show co-hosted by The Arts Alliance’s Deb Polich and Morning Edition’s David Fair.  The co-host and co-producer this weekly radio show featuring the creative people, jobs and businesses who are the driving forces making the Washtenaw County one of Michigan's strongest and most vibrant arts and creative industry hubs.
  • Creative Washtenaw Communication Conversation (Creative Comm Con) - a meet up for arts + creative marketers and promoters in the greater Ann Arbor Area, Creative Comm Con is for anyone responsible for or interested in marketing, promotion and public relations for arts, cultural, and creative businesses or their own practices.  Whether seasoned communications professional or new to the field, they meet to network with others who are navigating the ever-changing marketing and media environment.  Inspired by members of The Arts Alliance, Creative Comm Con agenda is set collectively by those participating.
  • Print, Social & Electronic Media.  The Arts Alliance is adept in using traditional and social marketing strategies to promote the programs and services, both it and its members offer to media, public, cultural institutions, visitor bureaus, chambers of commerce and government agencies. Examples of ongoing promotion include:
  • Arts + Creative eNews.  This biweekly eNewsletter is essential reading distributed to 5,800 subscribers, it features members’ information, current topics about local, state and national arts and creative industries, member events, job postings, calls for art, auditions and more.
  • Arts + Creative Industries Guide.  The Guide features The Arts Alliance’s 350+ creative individual, businesses and ally members and is distributed to New York Times subscribers and on newsstands, hotels and public locations in Washtenaw County throughout the year.
  • Social media links to Facebook (2,038 followers) and Twitter (2,300+ followers).
  • The Arts Alliance’s website ( provides program updates, resources and organizational information.

Board, staff and administration

An actively involved and diverse board of directors, who live, work or go to school in Washtenaw County, guides The Arts Alliance.  Meeting bimonthly, it is comprised of respected artists, creatives and community leaders representing the areas of business, education, government, tourism, NGOs, research and economic development. The Arts Alliance is committed to following and complying with nonprofit best practices.  It regularly updates its policies including bylaws, board responsibilities, employee guidelines, financial procedures, communications and risk management.

The Arts Alliance, a fully independent nonprofit organization contracts managerial services through Artrain, another Ann Arbor, Michigan-based independent nonprofit arts organization that has helped develop and support local arts agencies throughout the state and across the country.  As such, The Arts Alliance’s professional team members are employees of Artrain.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at