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Upward ark

By Mary DeYoe

During fall and winter semesters, The Ark at UMMA Student Songwriters Series offers students the opportunity to perform original songs at the Museum and compete for a final prize — the chance to open for a show at The Ark, one of the country’s premier acoustic music venues.

The series, which is open to students from U-M, Eastern Michigan University, Concordia University, and Washtenaw Community College, attracts both experienced songwriters and those who are stepping out for the very first time. Beyond simply offering a stage, the series is an invaluable introduction to the music industry.

In the spring of 2009, The Ark’s Club Manager, Emily Ross, collaborated with UMMA Education staff to develop the series. “We wanted to find a way to connect with another organization that was supporting the arts and where we could connect with students on their turf,” said Ross. “For some students, Main Street seems like miles away.”

This fall, Ross hopes to expand the series to include a workshop that would bring in local agents, recording artists, and venue managers to meet with student songwriters. The workshops would act as an introduction to the lively music community in Ann Arbor and to the many local resources that are available to performers.

Hannah Winkler (U-M, 2011) took the top prize this March. You can look for her performance at The Ark this fall. To follow the series, which will begin again this September, check the UMMA Calendar or

Each semester, the series is divided into three showcases and a finale. Students submit their demos to Ross who then selects four performers for each showcase. All of the performers return to present a brief set at the finale where Ross announces the winner. Haley Goldberg (right) performed last spring at UMMA.

“Submitting a demo is a big step,” said Ross. “It’s about putting your best foot forward, knowing which songs to pick to best represent you, and how to record them.

“The series challenges students to develop their performer identities and to test their stage presence,” Ross added. “They learn about how to keep an audience entertained.” Students also learn how to reach out to fans by developing a web presence on Facebook and other social media sites and how to expand their identities beyond simple recognition as a student.

The impressive talent among student performers has urged Ross on more than one occasion to invite songwriters who did not win the series to fill in for opening acts at The Ark. Her growing roster of local performers is one of the unanticipated and exciting benefits of the series. Exciting as well is that students are reaching out to one another. Performers post on each other’s Facebook pages and collaborate to make new music. The series is acting as an opportunity for students to network with other local musicians.

“It inspires and invigorates me to know that students are excited about the series and about pursuing something that is not a run-of-the-mill course in life,” said Ross.

Mary DeYoe is Education Program Coordinator, Public Programs and Student Engagement at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.