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Melanie Knoll


El Arte: Arts Infused Education

8701 W. Vernor
Suite 202
Detroit, Michigan 48209
Melanie Knoll is co-executive director with Cara Graninger of Living Arts, an arts and community development group serving the southwest Detroit community with arts-infused education and dance programs. She grew up in the neighborhood she now serves and finds it very rewarding to provide opportunities to children just like herself. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Living Arts Detroit Co-Executive Director Melanie Knoll: It’s having a vested interest in the organization and those that we serve as a whole and figuring out what needs to be done and doing it or figuring out who I can collaborate with and get others involved to achieve a specific goal with me. I think also, trying to lead by example of providing quality over quantity
In the school system there have been a lot of cuts to programming of the arts and we believe that sets youth at a disadvantage.
and as a leader providing support, encouragement, motivation and feedback –setting examples and that leaders sometimes fail and sometimes have faults and flaws and admitting that. It’s also the recognition that you work toward the well-being of the whole, and serving as a teacher by sharing learning experiences so everyone can grow and move forward.
What is your dream for kids?
Particularly for the youth we serve, it’s trying to provide a level playing field. In the school system there have been a lot of cuts to programming of the arts and we believe that sets youth at a disadvantage. It’s helping provide that level playing field in this area for the arts and what that can do for a student. He or she doesn’t necessarily have to grow up to be a dancer or a painter. With our programming we help provide life skills that those that are participating take away. There are statistics that students who participate in arts are four times as likely to stay in high school, less likely to engage in criminal behavior and more likely to be elected as a class leader. That’s what I hope to provide when I say ‘level playing field’ for the youth in this community in terms of life skills; they bolster their self-perception, increase academic performance, avoid delinquent behavior, and receive positive acclamation and promote binding with adult role models. They’re also learning how to collaborate and embrace diversity and creativity.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I think that promotion of the opportunities that the social sector can be an integral part of the sustainability of the communities we serve. It would benefit us all if we could explore collaborative efforts to sustain communities and the neighborhoods they are in. Our community is high in poverty and high in economic challenges – we should be recognizing that nonprofits can be a strong part of the development and sustainability of communities like ours and just in general.
How do you know you’re making progress?
I think for us how we know making progress is that our programs and the need for our programs keeps expanding. We have more youth and families benefiting from in-school programs and a large expansion in our early learning focus. We’re also increasing enrollment in our out-of-school Southwest Dance Program. We’re being recognized by more funders and
Our community is high in poverty and high in economic challenges – we should be recognizing that nonprofits can be a strong part of the development and sustainability of communities like ours and just in general.
community parents as experts in the programming we provide the community
What are you most proud of? 
Where we started and how we have grown, and where we are today… and definitely the results with both of our programs, El Arte and Southwest Dance. We assess and evaluate students before they participate and after they participate, and especially with El Arte there is a definite change in terms of the student’s ability to grasp the concepts of what they are learning in the mainstream curriculum, and it’s the same with Southwest Dance – the development and growth of the student, again, as being part of their environment and in their involvement and participation is important. We’re achieving our ultimate goals at the end of year: the importance of team building and values and learning how to work collaboratively with other students. They can take that into the classroom with their scholastics and help to enhance their learning experience. We really do see a change in students as they participate throughout the year.
What creates the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
Sometimes there is just a lack of focus, especially in this area, on diversity and culture, which inhibits people’s perceptions. I think where you are raised and where you come from should not factor in people’s perceptions of what type of success you can have. 
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Program Profile


  • Living Arts
    Living Arts exists to strengthen the urban neighborhoods of Southwest Detroit by cultivating an environment that sparks the imagination and fosters ingenuity through the arts and community development initiatives.


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