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Tori Pelz


Afterschool Art & Design Classes

710 Chicago Dr.
Ste. 200
Holland, Michigan 49423
CultureWorks Institute for Creative Arts is a Holland-based center with art at its heart and Tori Pelz at its helm. She oversees hundreds of underserved 6th to 12th grade students from the Ottawa and Holland public school districts who come hungry to learn creative arts that they would otherwise not have the chance to experience. 
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
CultureWorks Institute for Creative Arts Executive Director Tori Pelz: It means, again, that I must embrace failures and absolutely know that when I make them, it is not time to give up. I must demonstrate by example to my staff and my students that errors are learning experiences that can lead to celebrations of great success. I try to be as upfront as possible, because being up front about my own weaknesses means a great deal to me as a leader. It goes a long way in helping others adapt to the changing realities and environments that they face.
What is your dream for kids?
I have big hopes and dreams for kids, and any time you have high hopes and expectations, you’re going to run into some disappointments, because you can’t control every outcome. Sometimes a kid stops coming to the class, for one reason or
...when it comes to my staff, I’m very proud of their passion. Each one has a personal stake in the lives of their students. Kids feel that.
another, and I am honest about those disappointments. I have to be able to acknowledge them and pass that acknowledgement on to the kids in our programs.
I want for them finish the program here, and go into the world not just with the skill sets they have learned from us, but also with a healthy dose of wonder and curiosity that will follow them throughout their lives.
After all, we didn’t get to the moon only because someone knew how to build a spaceship. It was the wonder and curiosity about what existed beyond the realm of understanding that led us into space.
What is one concrete thing that you think could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
Coordination of services between nonprofits – and I think this beginning to take shape in this area. We’re lucky to have the support of an organization like Nonprofit Next because they bring people to the table to identify areas of greatest need for collaboration. That’s great for small nonprofits like us; most don’t have that kind of support.
And when I say that, I don’t necessarily mean that duplication of services is a bad thing. I see it as a real benefit when other organizations are trying to help underserved kids, too, as long as there are enough young people who need services. What I’d like to see is a half-dozen small organizations pitch in to hire professionals like web designers and IT technicians to share between us. That kind of collaboration would help small nonprofits without the funds to pay full price still get the kind of support they need.
How do you know you’re making progress?
When I look into classrooms and watch kids generate multiple ideas and work collaboratively, giving feedback to peers and learning to accept criticism while they brainstorm, I see progress. When I see those students reach a point where they are
One thing we struggle with here, and I’m sure it’s not unique, is that sometimes people confuse newness with innovation.
able to share their ideas without fear, and embrace and learn from their mistakes as they arrive together at critical decisions, I see progress. That’s what I see here – progress.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that we have a 90 percent success rate for our 12-week after-school program. I’m proud of my staff of instructors, not just for what they have accomplished on their own outside of our classrooms, but for the reasons why they are here. I’m proud of that drive because it leads kids to interact with others from all different backgrounds. Mostly, when it comes to my staff, I’m very proud of their passion. Each one has a personal stake in the lives of their students. Kids feel that.
What perceptions or misconceptions do you think create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
One thing we struggle with here, and I’m sure it’s not unique, is that sometimes people confuse newness with innovation. We can’t just assume that ‘new’ equates ‘innovative,’ because being innovative is all about reframing a problem and finding a better way of doing something.
With our design class, for example, we change topics every semester, and right now we’re looking into an app design class in the spring. But, first, we have to consider how it will benefit our students.  It’s not about developing a new course to replace design class. It’s about building upon past successes to make design class the best experience it can be.
One of the things that gets me is the heated compartmentalizing of education. Right brain/left difference theory. I don’t believe in that theory – in this case, it pits them against each other –it’s a hierarchy that ends up pigeonholing children.
A painter uses mathematics when creating and mixing colors. Likewise, a scientist must approach an experiment by being open-minded enough to use creativity in experiments. Math and science are important and so are the arts. We should embrace them and coordinate them. 
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