Kate Wells

Arts, Culture & Education Reporter/Producer

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering cultural arts, education, and general news for Michigan Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR’s Morning EditionAll Things Considered, and Weekend Edition, as well as on WNYC, Harvest Public Media, KUT (Austin Public Radio) and in the Texas Tribune.

Kate got her start as an intern with New Hampshire Public Radio before heading out to the Midwest, where she covered the presidential caucuses for Iowa Public Radio and won a regional Edward R. Murrow award for investigative journalism. She joined Michigan Radio in 2012. Kate enjoys hiking, the Muppets, and cake in all forms.   

Preschool-age boy practicing writing his name at a table in a Head Start classroom.
Dustin Dwyer / Michigan Radio

Update 2:17 p.m.

“The Superintendent is receiving calls from arts groups all over the state saying, ‘Why are you cutting the arts?’” says district spokesman Bob Kolt. “But it’s just not true…we’re contracting out those services to community artists.”

Kolt says the district will bring in about 10-20 “contractors” to help elementary classroom teachers with art, music and gym instruction.

user Tyrone Warner / Flickr

A new law in Royal Oak protecting gay and lesbian people from discrimination has hit a bump in the road.

You’ve heard that a handful of cities in Michigan have anti-discrimination ordinances that say you can't fire or deny housing to someone just because they're gay.

And Royal Oak was about to join that club when their city commissioners okayed the new law.

But 200 people recently signed a petition to put that law on hold.

Now opponents of the ordinance need some 700 signatures by April to bring it up for a city-wide vote. 

dannybirchall / flickr

Unions are rushing to sign contracts before Michigan's right to work law takes effect this month.

But one county is worried Republicans might retaliate.

In Saginaw County, the biggest public union wants to get a 10-year contract signed ASAP.

If that happens before March 28th, it can still require workers to pay for union dues – which will be illegal under the new law.

But county officials say they’re afraid Republicans will yank state dollars from the county as retribution.

County commissioner Michael Hanley says that’s a risk they just can’t take

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Come gather round ArtPod this week, as we rip off Bob Dylan for a cute headline.

Today, ArtPod is talking about change. All kinds of change: political, cultural, even technological change. 

We’ll talk with a storyteller, actors, students and even the operators of a small town movie theater about how they deal with bad changes (the end of an era for mom-and-pop cinemas), weird change (so you've got an emergency manager! Now what?), and cultural change (the tricky, tricky task of talking about race).  

Their projects are radically different, but they each help us talk about or understand a difficult change – which may be what all art is supposed to do. 

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

Artists are often idealists, but in Flint this weekend, a new theater company is trying something really optimistic.

They’ve written a play about…emergency managers.

Sure, it may not be the sexiest topic, but it’s got people talking.

"There's this overwhelming sense of apathy."

Like us, for example. I sat in with an auditorium full of ninth graders from Beecher High School as they got a sneak peak. 

screen grab from National Geographic / YouTube

When gang violence breaks out in the roughest parts of Detroit, even the police call for help.

The gang squad is a special, paramilitary unit of the Detroit Police Department.

They're either necessarily tough, or notoriously brutal, depending on who you ask.

But if the city’s Mayor and the Police Chief have their way, the squad's days are numbered. 

Big guys with big guns

Think about it: big guys, with big guns, cruising the city’s toughest streets in the name of law and order. You know what we have here? A reality TV hit.

But dang it, a quick Google search shows the National Geographic Channel beat us to the punch.

Their “Inside Detroit Gang Squad” aired a few years ago, with all the dramatic music and drug raids you’d expect.

For art teachers in Michigan, it may be hard to even remember what “good news” feels like.

Between budget cuts, pink slips and declining enrollment, more than 108,000 Michigan kids don’t have any art access in their schools. That’s according to a 2012 statewide survey.

But for some 20,000 students, that’s about to change. They’re getting…a free bus ride.

"The money is just not there."

Mark Gurman / www.markgurman.com

You think your freshman year was crazy? Ha. You never had to balance finals with your part-time job as the “World’s Best Apple Reporter.”

Mark Gurman can't legally buy himself a drink to celebrate his new unofficial title, which BusinessInsider recently bestowed on the 19-year-old University of Michigan freshman.

Actually, Gurman's been painstakingly tracking Apple since high school, when he first picked up an iPod.

taliesin / morguefile.com

Grab your muskets and hitch up your hoop skirts, because this week, ArtPod takes a trip aaaall the way back to the Civil War.

One hundred and fifty years after the war (also called a sesquicentennial, which it turns out is a very tough word to say on the radio), we go inside Michigan State University’s dusty archive of letters between Union soldiers and their Michigan families.

A Detroit police car
Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

Detroit’s gang squad, the special police unit that fights organized street crime, is on the chopping block.

Mayor Dave Bing wants to reassign the 20 or so officers on that squad to regular beat patrol.

He says the only way the city can turn a corner on its crime epidemic is by creating a more visible police presence – and that means some tough calls, given all the recent staff and budget cuts.

Bing is also weighing whether to reassign the officers tasked with protecting city council members.

This story includes historically racist language that some readers may find offensive.

We're in the midst of the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.

So your great uncle, the war re-enactor, is probably having the time of his life.

But for those who have trouble sitting through all nine episodes of the Ken Burns “Civil War” documentary, now there’s something for us, a new online archive is bringing Michigan’s Civil War letters into the Google Age.

eugeneflores/flicker

It’s baaaaaack. After a brief hiatus (we missed you, too!) ArtPod is bigger and better than ever, bringing you all the Michigan artists and thinkers we’re following now.

This week, we’re hashing out the best of the Arab American film festival in Dearborn. Every festival has its inside-baseball politics about which films get in and which don’t. But Sundance just might be a cakewalk compared with trying to tackle the Arab spring and the Syrian conflict in just one week of screenings.

We hear from the guy who’s got that job, and we get the rundown on his favorite picks of the year.  

We’re also heading to a Detroit shelter for LGBT teens. Michigan Radio’s Kyle Norris tells us how these young men (and a handful of women) are making their own kind of families, with a little help from Madonna: it’s called vogue dancing, and for gay youth in Detroit, it’s brave stuff. You’ve gotta hear this story, and then you need to check out this video:

Then, we cut the baby boomers some slack for a change: sure, they’re notoriously self-obsessed and nostalgic for those groovy gone-by years of their youth. But guess what? So are Millenials! (Hint: young adults born after 1981.)

http://www.courts.mi.gov/courts/michigansupremecourt/ / Michigan Courts

You know how they say 40 is the new 30? According to Michigan's Constitution, 70 is the new senile. 

If you're over the age of 70, you can't be elected or appointed to the bench in this state.

That's a rule that dates back to 1906, according to former Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly, when life expectancies were shorter.

For Kelly, a Democrat, the law means she had to step down when her term ended in January. She's 74. Asked how it feels to be too old to do her job, she laughs.

Andrian Clark / Flickr

We're getting a lot of feedback about last week’s series on the fungal meningitis outbreak in Michigan. Some of you loved the series. Some of you, not so much.

But there is one response that we want to share with you. It’s from Dr. Stephen Andriese, whom our reporter Kate Wells interviewed and quoted in the piece.

Dr. Andriese works at Neuromuscular & Rehabilitation Associates of Northern Michigan, which received and administered some of the contaminated drugs that led to this outbreak.

Just call him “Big Dog.”

That’s allegedly how Highland Park police officer Price Montgomery prefers to be addressed, at least when he’s soliciting $10,000 bribes, or trafficking drugs while wearing his firearm and police badge.

At a press conference Friday morning, the FBI broke the news that it’s arrested four Highland Park police officers, including Montgomery.

They’re in custody and being charged with armed drug trafficking and taking bribes. If convicted, they could face up to 55 years in prison.

mconnors / morguefile.com

This is the second in a two-part series. Click here to hear part one.

More than 240 people in Michigan are sick with fungal meningitis after receiving contaminated back pain injections. 

Now, the victims want justice. They’ve spent weeks in the hospital, racking up massive medical bills.

Those are the lucky ones: 15 Michiganders have died so far in this epidemic.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

This is the first in a two-part series. Click here to hear part two.

Fifteen people from Michigan have died from fungal meningitis, more than in any other state.

It’s tough to know for sure why Michigan wound up with a full third of all cases nationwide. Bad luck? A graying population seeking pain relief medication that, in this case, turned out to be contaminated? Or a bustling, privatized network of pain clinics spread across the state?

A DDOT bus in Detroit. People have been talking about the need for a regional transit authority for many years.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Nobody thought fixing Detroit’s debt woes was gonna be easy.

But these days, it might be especially painful for city workers and their families.

Some 2,000 pink slips have already gone out in the last few years. And now, another 500 cuts are scheduled for February.

It’s already worrying union leaders like Leamon Wilson. The president of the AFSCME Local 312 told the Detroit News that more cuts could cripple the city’s bus service. “You can’t deliver the service…It was already functioning at a bare minimum. I don’t see how anything is going to be functioning.”

kfjmiller / Morgue File

Steve Major doesn’t have a lot of time for breakfast these days.

“I actually had two Reese’s Peanut cups and um, a Mountain Dew,” he laughs, a little bashfully. “I had to meet for an interview at 8 o’clock and I’ve pretty much been up and running around since 6:30 this morning.”

A former law enforcement official and firefighter, Major now runs an emergency vehicle company. Lately though, he’s busy organizing a Michigan memorial procession for the victims of the Connecticut school shooting.

www.victorshope.org

Maybe this will finally do something for Congress’ approval ratings. This week, lawmakers passed a rare, “one-man Dream Act” for a Nigerian student living in Michigan.

Victor Chukwueke (say “chew-KWEK-ay”) was born with a severe genetic disorder that causes facial tumors. Doctors in Nigeria told him there was nothing they could do for his life-threatening condition.

Rick Pluta / Michigan Public Radio

These are some wild days in Michigan.

With thousands of protestors at the capitol, Right to Work has become the 1200 lb gorilla in Lansing: it makes the 600 lb gorillas look small.

In other words, with time still left in this lame duck session,  Michiganders could wind up with a whole slew of controversial new laws next year.

Here’s a short list:

photo by Anna Strumillo Phuket - Thailand / www.fotopedia.com

A lot of Michigan seniors are not happy with some of the proposed changes to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.

The legislature is overhauling Blue Cross, changing it from a charity to a state-tax paying business.

But some seniors say it could make their healthcare bills skyrocket, or even take away some of their health insurance plans all together.

Now, if your brain is starting to hurt at this point, don’t worry:  contrary to popular belief, you do not have to be a rocket scientist to understand this healthcare change stuff. Promise.

(courtesy of KQED)

A Southeast Michigan teacher is back at work today  after the school suspended her for showing a pro-gay video in class.

The trouble started when Susan Johnson allowed a student to play the song “Same Love,” by the artist Mackelmore, in her South Lyon middle school class.

The student asked Johnson if he could play it, and Johnson says she inquired if there was any violence or profanity in the song. She gave him the okay when he told her it was clean. The song’s about supporting same-sex marriage, and includes the following lyrics:

presto44 / Morgue File

Michigan adoption agencies would be able to refuse to place kids with families who violate the agency's religious or moral convictions. 

That's under a new bill proposed in the state legislature.

Private agencies can already use faith-based principles when it comes to adoption, like not placing kids with homosexual parents.

But this bill would make it illegal to deny agencies funding or licenses because of their convictions.

medindia.net

The statistics are scary: some 40,000 women are dying from breast cancer each year.

But some breast cancer survivors are getting double mastectomies they don't need, in the wrong belief it helps keep cancer from coming back.

That's according to a new University of Michigan study. For some survivors, the study says, the fear of cancer returning is so strong, they're getting risky surgeries for some false peace of mind.

If you've survived breast cancer, it can make medical sense to get that cancer-ridden breast removed.

University of Michigan Health Systems

You're an 80-year-old famed neurologist at the University of Michigan. You're a giant in your field, with a list of honors and awards as long as your arm. You're such a big name in Alzheimer's research that major drug companies ask you to run their clinical trials.

And then you blow it all by giving secret information to a hedge fund investor in what the FBI and the SEC are calling most lucrative insider trading scheme ever. 

But, why?

The Money

technico / http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/801913

It seems like every time there's a new state-by-state report about poverty, Michigan gets bad marks.

But in a new study about income inequality, the state's doing better than you might expect.

Here's the good news: half of all states have bigger gaps than we do between their richest and their poorest people.

The bad news: that's because in Michigan, the rich aren't getting that much richer. This decade-long recession hitting the state means everybody, across the income scale, has a harder time.

Photo Courtesy of MSU News

East Lansing is your classic college town: a laid-back mix of beer, bongs and bookstores.  

But with the opening of a $45 million modern art museum, suddenly the international world is paying attention to "good 'ol Michigan State."

As Michigan Radio's Kate Wells reports, some locals like the attention more than others. 

For something right across from a Taco Bell, the Broad art museum sure smells like money.

MSU News

Michigan State University opens its $45 million contemporary art museum this weekend.

But even the building's creators say they're not sure whether the community will like it.

Students already have a nickname for the Eli and Edythe Broad Museum: "the spaceship."

“"It looks pretty spacey,” says student Will Peltier, taking out his ear buds to remark on the building. “Kinda like something that NASA would create. It's like, real sharp looking."

Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Cash-strapped school districts, heads up: the state's hoping you'll take a page out of Ypsilanti's and Willow Run's book.

On Tuesday, voters approved what school reps (and even some students) say is a critical, if dramatic, step: consolidating districts.

It means big cuts and layoffs, but administrators desperately hope it'll also hit the reset button for two struggling communities. 

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