Yo-Yo Ma and Damian Woetzel visit Spain Elementary-Middle School for an ‘Arts Strike’

The Aspen Institute partners with Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Detroit Public Schools to host Visiting Artists from Around the World and Highlight the Importance of Arts Education 

On Thursday, April 10, legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma and former New York City Ballet Principal Dancer and Director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program Damian Woetzel visited Detroit Public Schools’ Spain Elementary-Middle School to engage in interactive dance, music, and poetry integration exercises with students in language arts and science classrooms.

A school-wide assembly followed the classroom experience, where students demonstrated what they learned from the morning’s activities. Ma and Woetzel were joined by 2014 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence of the Aspen Institute, dancer Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, as well as other artists including Galician bagpipe star and Silk Road Ensemble member Cristina Pato, and Sphinx Organization founder and violinist Aaron Dworkin.

“Arts Strike is a chance to collaborate and share good work being done through the arts, and I am so looking forward to experiencing the vital role the arts are playing in Detroit,” said Woetzel.

“Detroit Public Schools understand the important role that arts and music education play in a student’s education. It is for that reason that we put arts and music back into all of our elementary and middle schools this school year,” said DPS Emergency Manager Jack Martin. “We value and appreciate the partnership of the DSO, the Aspen Institute, and of Detroit’s entire arts community. Our students are truly lucky to have the opportunity to interact with and learn from artists of such acclaim during the Arts Strike at Spain Elementary-Middle School.”

“I am so pleased Yo-Yo, Damian, and The Aspen Institute Arts Program selected Detroit for their next Arts Strike,” said Anne Parsons, DSO President and CEO.  “We are grateful for their leadership and for bringing a crucial national conversation to Detroit.”

The Arts Strike was presented in conjunction with the larger Aspen Arts Strategy Group, convened by the Aspen Institute Arts Program in partnership with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Additional participants in the Arts Strategy Group’s discussion on arts education included Dennis Scholl, Vice President of Arts for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation; Don Graves, U.S. Department of the Treasury; Rip Rapson, President and CEO of the Kresge Foundation; Anne Parsons, DSO President and CEO; Daniel Varner, CEO Excellent Schools Detroit; and DPS leadership, including Superintendent of Academics Karen Ridgeway, and Director of the Office of Fine and Performing Arts Willie McAllister, Jr., among others.

About Arts Strike: “Arts Strike” is a dialogue between artists and communities first piloted in 2010 by Damian Woetzel and Yo-Yo Ma, who recognized a tremendous opportunity and need for artists at the top of their fields to celebrate the essential work done by local artists and arts organizations every day, and to contribute to community-building on a local level.

Ma and Woetzel have defined the Arts Strike as “a targeted event in which celebrated artists engage educators, students, schools, and communities, highlighting and sharing the unique power of the arts to empower, enrich and educate.” Building on the work that generations of artists have instinctively done, these ongoing Arts Strikes create increased opportunities for interactive and mutually beneficial engagement among students and artists, and actively seek out local partners around the country to mobilize communities through the unique power of the arts.

Previous Arts Strikes have occurred in Washington, Los Angeles, and Chicago where Ma and Woetzel’s visits culminated in a roundtable for arts leaders and policymakers hosted by the Aspen Institute. The Chicago convening served as an impetus for the education component of the 2012 Chicago Cultural Plan, which guarantees the arts an important place in the Chicago school curriculum.

Ma and Woetzel approach Arts Strikes as “Citizen Artists,” a growing movement that encourages artists to engage through their work in realms including education, community building, diplomacy and healthcare. The Citizen Artists cause is one they are pursuing both individually and through their work at The Aspen Institute – where Woetzel is Director of the Arts Program, and Ma was the 2013 Artist in Residence – as well as through their work as members of President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which among many other projects oversees the Turnaround Arts Initiative, designed to help narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement through the arts.


The many-faceted career of cellist Yo-Yo Ma is testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, coming together with colleagues for chamber music or exploring cultures and musical forms outside the Western classical tradition, Mr. Ma strives to find connections that stimulate the imagination. As the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Judson & Joyce Green Creative Consultant, he focuses on the transformative power music can have in individuals’ lives, and on increasing the number and variety of opportunities audiences have to experience music in their communities. Mr. Ma is also the artistic director of the Silk Road Project, an organization he founded in 1998 that endeavors to connect the world’s neighborhoods through culture. Mr. Ma is a UN Messenger of Peace and serves on the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. He received the 2012 Polar Music Prize, was recognized as a 2011 Kennedy Center Honoree, and is a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

Damian Woetzel has taken on multiple roles in arts leadership since retiring from a 20-year career as Principal Dancer with New York City Ballet. Since June 2011, Woetzel has been the Director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program, where he creates programs aiming to further the role of the arts in society. Woetzel also currently serves as the Artistic Director of the Vail International Dance Festival and as the Founding Director of the Jerome Robbins New Essential Works Program. Outside these roles, Woetzel is active as a director and producer: his recent projects have included the first performance of the White House Dance Series, lil buck @ (le) poisson rouge, and culminating year-end performances for the Silk Road Connect program, in collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma, with whom he works on education projects nationally. Woetzel holds a Master in Public Administration Degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and has taught as a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School. Woetzel was appointed to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities by President Obama in 2009.

The Aspen Institute Arts Program was established to support and invigorate the arts in America, and to return the arts to the center of the Aspen Institute’s “Great Conversation.” Directed by Damian Woetzel, it brings together artists, advocates, educators, managers, foundations and government officials to exchange ideas and develop policies and programs that strengthen the reciprocal relationship between the arts and society. For more information, visit www.aspeninstitute.org/arts program.

About Detroit Public Schools:

Detroit Public Schools is creating Neighborhood-Centered, Quality Schools at 97 campuses with a mission to provide a comprehensive educational experience that is high-quality, challenging and inspires all students to make a positive contribution to society. DPS offers a wide variety of educational advantages to students and parents including Individualized Learning Maps for all students. New this year, arts/music and sports leagues for boys and girls are being offered at every elementary/middle school. Prekindergarten offerings have been expanded to 70 schools across the district for all qualified 4-year-olds. Twenty-one schools are now open as Community Schools, offering extended hours and services. Students in grades 8-12 enjoy take-home Netbooks and students in grades 6 and up have access to Netbooks in school. An outstanding Fine Arts program with instrumental music, vocal music and dance is also offered. Ongoing advantages include eight parent resource centers, Parent University and additional parenting programs, enhanced safety initiatives, a district-wide Customer Service focus, nine Detroit Rising College Preparatory Schools and DPS-authorized charter schools led by educators with proven track records of raising achievement. In 2013, DPS graduates earned more than $146 million in grants and scholarships. To learn more about Detroit Public Schools, visit www.detroitk12.org or call 313-240-4DPS.


About the Detroit Symphony Orchestra:

The internationally acclaimed Detroit Symphony Orchestra, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in December 2012, is known for trailblazing performances, visionary maestros, collaborations with the world’s foremost musical artists, and an unwavering commitment to Detroit. Esteemed conductor Leonard Slatkin, called “America’s Music Director” by the Los Angeles Times, became the 12th Music Director of the DSO during the 2008-09.  Acclaimed conductor, arranger, and trumpeter Jeff Tyzik serves as Principal Pops Conductor while celebrated trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard holds the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Jazz Creative Director Chair. The DSO’s performance schedule includes Classical, Pops, Jazz, Young People’s, Neighborhood concerts, and collaborations with chart-topping musicians from Smokey Robinson to Kid Rock. A commitment to broadcast innovation began in 1922 when the DSO became the first orchestra in the world to present a radio broadcast and continues today with the free Live from Orchestra Hall webcast series. Making its home at historic Orchestra Hall and the Max M. Fisher Music Center, one of America’s most acoustically perfect concert halls, the DSO actively pursues a mission to impact and serve the community through music. For more information visit dso.org or download the free DSO to Go mobile app.


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