Culture Corps: Connecting local nonprofits and U-M students for paid arts & culture internships

Source: Arts Initiative

Photo by Alejandro Ugalde Sandoval

Laura Scales, CEO of  Living Arts Detroit, has hosted five University of Michigan students through a partnership with Culture Corps, a U-M Arts Initiative program that matches undergrads with internships in arts and culture organizations across Michigan.

Scales said the partnership led to the launch of a new internal 9-10 month apprenticeship program at Living Arts. “Working with the Arts Initiative and the Culture Corps program has been easy and seamless. It’s great to fill out a form in February and then have interns in the summer.”

The Culture Corps program goals: to encourage students majoring in arts and humanities to explore careers in their chosen fields; to provide an entry point for students who may not know how to break into arts and culture careers; and to support the region’s vibrant arts ecosystem by sponsoring paid student interns.

Culture Corps prepares interns through an Arts Initiative mini-course before placement at one of the 20 host organizations for the summer. A fair wage and transportation reimbursement aims to make the program inclusive and accessible to all U-M students, and even some regional community college students through the Transfer Bridges program. 

Partners hosting internships include the Detroit Public Theatre, InsideOut Literary Arts, the Arab American National Museum, Detroit Opera, and many more across Metro Detroit, Dearborn, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and Grand Rapids.  

Living Arts Detroit, a nonprofit located in southwest Detroit provides art experiences and arts-integrated education to youth aged 3 months through 18 years. The programming ranges from artist residencies to dance classes to an animation studio and after school activities. 

Scales highlighted the diverse experiences offered at Living Arts, allowing interns to explore various day-to-day aspects of nonprofits from program management to behind the scenes administrative work to budgeting. “All of them have sleeves rolled up, and they’re all in,” she said. “They’re U of M students, so of course they’re all beautifully inquisitive and arrive eager and ready to learn.”

The quality of interns has consistently impressed Scales. “We’ve had five now, and all have been just as incredible as the next,” she said. “They’re really just excited to learn more about the process, and that’s not always the case with every intern we get.”

U-M pre-law student and Living Arts Detroit administrative intern, Ron Burgaj, called the Culture Corps program: “A hidden gem at U of M,” and said he “would love to see more programs like this at U-M that offer students a real learning experience.”

The program was launched after a 2021 research phase supported by the Humanities Collaboratory Equity Initiative, which examined best practices for mutually-beneficial internship models, quality student experiences, and how to build connections with arts institutions working to diversify their staff and teams. The program was then sustained through a generous donation from the Tisch family.

“It’s easy to forget that the arts offer not just entertainment, but professional opportunity for Michigan residents, with an economic impact measured in billions of dollars and more than 100,000 jobs,” said Arts Initiative Executive Director Mark Clague. “The U-M Arts Initiative likewise contributes not only to the cultural enrichment of our campus and community, but to the economic goals of the state and the professional aspirations of our students.”

If you’d like to become a donor or if you are a U-M student interested in becoming an intern next summer, please contact Alison Rivett [[email protected]].

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