Curiouser Clay Owner Awarded Grant to be Artist in Residence


From Eli Zemper

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

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

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

In part one, students will read excerpts from Amy Krouse Rosenthal’ Encyclopedia of An Ordinary Life. Students will author a series of creative writings based on their own “ordinary” lives and will learn about creative language elements, 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. By the end of part two, students will have a polished three-to-five-minute storytelling podcast that features a story about their own “ordinary life”. Students will download these MP4s and they will be assigned a QR code that will be used at the end of the project.

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

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

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

Because of this shortened/intensified academic timeline, students are assigned to a small group called BASE (Better Accounting for Student Efforts) which includes a faculty advisor who is responsible for helping students create their Education Development Plan (EDP) and guiding each student through their academic career and transition from high school courses at WTMC to college courses at Washtenaw Community College.

This advisor works closely with students throughout their time at WTMC. BASE is designed to be small, close-knit groupings of students in order to help students attend to their emotional well-being as well as academic achievement and college and career preparation.

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

The Storytelling Through Clay project is intended to strengthen this social-emotional work and provide deeper foundations for authentic peer-to-peer connections. An additional benefit of this multi-disciplinary project is that it also connects to and strengthens curricular work in English and art.

Two of WTMC’s top school improvement goals are fostering positive school culture and supporting student mental health and wellness. It’s no secret that engagement in the arts, particularly making things with others, helps foster community connectedness and mental well-being. According to Americans for the Arts “just 30 minutes of active arts activities daily may lower anxiety and depression and increase life satisfaction.”

Learning about yourself through creative writing and reflection helps deepen your understanding of yourself and your connection to others. Learning about each others’ stories helps to build deeper understanding and tolerance of difference within communities. Working with clay has a relaxing/meditative effect, and planning and completing an idea in clay leads to a sense of accomplishment. Additionally, having a school-wide year-long art inquiry provides a shared experience and an easily accessed touch-point for students to start and continue conversations around and connect with one another.

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

A complete list of grant awards around the state is available by contacting MCACA at (517) 241-4011, or by visiting the MACC website at

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