ArtsCorpsDetroit engages Wayne State University students and community volunteers in neighborhood arts projects to enliven neighborhoods, build relationships, develop skills, and strengthen our community.


Established in 2010, ArtsCorpsDetroit was initiated in the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, Wayne State University, with support from Professor Jerry Herron, Dean of the Irvin D. Reid Honors College and Dr. Irvin D. Reid, Wayne State University President Emeritus and Eugene Applebaum Professor of Community Engagement. Principal individuals involved in the establishment of ArtsCorpsDetroit were Marion "Mame" Jackson, Professor of Art History whose new service-learning course, "Art as a Social Process" served as a stimulus for the idea; Holly Feen-Calligan, Assoc. Professor and Director of Art Therapy, who immediately saw the research potential of service-learning in community-based arts and directed her own and her students' research toward this new field of inquiry; and Elizabeth Barton, who was then director of CommunityEngagement@Wayne.

Inspired by the Peace Corps and established on its 50th anniversary, ArtsCorpsDetroit grew from service-learning courses and the interest among faculty in three Wayne State University colleges (Education; Fine, Performing and Communication Arts; and Honors) to promote arts-based service-learning for students, faculty, and community art programs.

In 2010, Holly Feen-Calligan received a Wayne State University Arts and Humanities Research Enhancement Program Grant for ArtsCorpsDetroit Research. Funds from this award provided the initial support for a five-year research study of student, alumni and agency experiences with service-learning. Art, art history, honors, art education, music education and art therapy students participated in the research, as did directors and constituents from nine Detroit community agencies.

In addition, funding from local foundations, including a generous anchor grant from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation, enabled the volunteer component to grow and community projects to expand. Through arts-based programming and with a dynamic corps of students and volunteers, ArtsCorpsDetroit has contributed to the well-being of Detroit residents and the vitality of Detroit communities and, at the same time, has fostered the academic and personal growth of students and volunteers and the collection of data for research. Appendices A and B list the service-learning and volunteer settings and agency partners.

In 2016, ArtsCorpsDetroit found a temporary home in the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, Wayne State University. There, it was led by Joan Verla, with its research component directed by Holly Feen-Calligan, associate professor and art therapy coordinator in the College of Education and co-founder of ArtsCorpsDetroit. Joan Verla oversaw the community projects described in this report which included working with artists, service-learners and volunteers. Relationships with these organizations are strong and numerous projects are ongoing.


ArtsCorpsDetroit uses the following four strategies to achieve this mission:

Community Arts Projects

ArtsCorpsDetroit offers opportunities for Wayne State University students and other volunteers to assist in art projects organized in collaboration with neighborhood groups and service organizations throughout Detroit.

Service-Learning Opportunities

ArtsCorpsDetroit identifies and promotes Wayne State University "for-credit", service-learning courses that combine classroom experience with community-based learning in the arts. (Note: These courses are open only to enrolled Wayne State University students who meet course pre-requisites.)


ArtsCorpsDetroit supports and disseminates scholarly research addressing the effectiveness of the arts in promoting personal growth and wellbeing and facilitating community-building.

Public Programs

ArtsCorpsDetroit sponsors occasional public programs that focus on community-based arts initiatives in Detroit and elsewhere, creating public forums to examine and discuss the power of the arts to nourish individual and community development.


Congratulations to Joan Verla, volunteer coordinator or ArtsCorpsDetroit, on being named the recipient of the Wayne State University 2018 Spirit of Community staff award! The award recognizes a staff member who demonstrates exceptional commitment to service with a nonprofit agency or to coordinating or sustaining projects that make a positive difference in the community. ArtsCorpsDetroit is a College of Education initiative that engages Wayne State University students and community volunteers in neighborhood arts projects to enliven neighborhoods, build relationships, develop skills and strengthen our community.

Faculty, friends, and partners celebrated with Joan during a reception after the awards ceremony, which was held last Thursday. Pictured from left to right are Dr. Marion Jackson, professor emerita of the Wayne State University College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts; Lisa Rodriguez, ArtsCorpsDetroit partner and Urban Neighborhood Initiatives artist; Holly Feen-Calligan, associate professor and coordinator of the Art Therapy program in the College of Education; Michelle Jackson, ArtsCorpsDetroit partner and president of Smallville Learning Farms; Joan Verla, Spirit of Community Award winner; and and Ryan Heberholtz, ArtsCorpsDetroit lead artist for Jefferson-Chalmers Youth Connection and a Wayne State graduate student in painting.

ArtsCorpsDetroit Review and Outlook 2018

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Wayne State University Partners

Community Partners


2017 Mack Alive - Detroit Design Festival
2017 - Creative Empowerment Opportunities Mural
2017-Lenox Center Mural
2017 Connecting Kids with Nature
2017 Jefferson-Chalmers Youth Connection Community Mural
2017 Vertical Garden Mosaic Passageway with Small Ville Learning Farms
2017 Detroit Community Nature Center Photo Project
2017 Butterfly & Art Garden with Mack Alive
2016 Post-election Healing Board
2016 Aluminum Pour Workshop
2016 Mosaic Blocks for Garden Wall Workshop
2016 Spring Workshops
2016 Jefferson Chalmers Youth Connection Parade Floats
2016 Granite City Growlers for Charity
2010 - 2015: The Early Days