Kate Wells

Arts, Culture & Education Reporter/Producer

Kate Wells is an award-winning reporter covering 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.   

The Detroit Institute of Arts

Editor's Note: Corrected Abigail Esman's name from "Eisman" to the proper spelling, Esman. The proper pronunciation rhymes with "says man", not "ice man."

Right now, appraisers from New York Auction House Christie’s are sifting through some 3,500 pieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

As part of the city’s bankruptcy case, the Emergency Manager is paying them to put a price on part of the collection.

Of course, that’s fueling even more fast-flying rumors about losing great works to private collectors, or getting massive loans for the city using Monets as collateral.

So here’s a quick field guide to what’s true, and what’s just talk.

Steven Depolo / Creative Commons

Can a Michigan investment fund make big money by investing only in mid-size Michigan companies?

That’s the idea behind the Michigan Prosperity Fund.

It’s the brainchild of Michigan native Martin Stein, founder and CEO of private equity firm Blackford Capital.

Stein previously based Blackford out of LA, but says he started noticing a trend: about 70% of the companies he invested in were in the Midwest and on the East Coast.

“So, on the business side, it made a lot of sense for us to be closer to where we were investing in companies,” says Stein.

Most nights, photographer Bruce Giffin drives a pickup truck around Detroit, his dog Henry riding shotgun.

Giffin doesn't know what he's looking for: a couple kissing on their porch, maybe, or a late-night taco truck.

The results are photographs of Detroit's everyday people and places as many people never see them.

Michigan Radio’s Kate Wells tagged along on one of his night shoots, and brought back this report.

GsGeorge / WIKIMEDIA Commons

"Something’s going to have to give,” says Liz Margolis, spokesperson for the Ann Arbor school district.

This fall, kids in Ann Arbor are coming back to schools with 34 fewer teaching positions, and nine fewer staff positions.

That means fewer reading intervention specialists, administrators, secretaries, facilities workers and lunchroom staff.

Carving out $8 million from this year’s budget was “severe,” says Margolis.

And it’s already having “direct impacts on our classroom."

Avanash Kunnath / Flickr

Because you've got to eventually take a break from watching football, listening to football radio, and reading about football online sometime, right?

A little break? For arts?

Ok, then just for you NPR nerds who conform to stereoptype and aren't that into college ball, this one's for you.  

This episode, ArtPod's got a brand spanking new play, a Michigan murder mystery, and a crazy bit of history you didn't know about Motown.

If it helps, Ohio State's ArtPod will be nowhere near this good. If OSU, you know, had an ArtPod. 

http://www.ewashtenaw.org/government/departments/environmental_health/card / Washtenaw County

As a plume of contaminated ground water keeps expanding in Ann Arbor, the city council wants the state to move faster to protect people from harmful exposure.

To be clear: Ann Arbor drinking water is safe.

But growing swaths of the city’s ground water is no longer a good idea to ingest (and again, the city is NOT getting their water from those areas,) thanks to chemical runoff from years ago.

That chemical compound is 1,4 dioxane and it seeped into ground water between the 1960's and 1980's when a manufacturer stored it in unlined lagoons.

Patricia Drury / Flickr

The judge overseeing Detroit's bankruptcy says he'll decide whether Governor Snyder and other state officials have to testify under oath about their decisions leading up to bankruptcy.

Union attorneys say Governor Snyder may have intended to take the city into bankruptcy all along, even before he hired an emergency manager.

If that's true, they say the city couldn't have negotiated with creditors in good faith.

That's a requirement for bankruptcy. 

But the state's attorneys say deposing Governor Snyder isn't relevant to this case.

AKip Productions / http://akipprod.com/about.html

Nobody expects to get cancer in college.  

Alex Kip was just 23 when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

But the musical theater major at the University of Michigan was about to get even more bad news.

Young adults are the only cancer patients whose survival rates are not improving.

Now cancer-free, Kip is trying to help others, using what he knows best: theater.

User Motown31 / Creative Commons

The clock’s running out for the Detroit Public School district.

School starts Tuesday, and DPS officials went into the summer with the hefty goal of recruiting 5,000 new students.

That's an awful lot of new kids, especially given that demographers predict just the opposite. They think DPS will lose students this year, like they have in the past.

It's an important goal for DPS, because even if they have the same number of students as last year, they’ll have to cut $38 million from the budget. 

farmer64 / Morgue File

This time on ArtPod, we say a sad goodbye to one of Michigan’s best writers, and wistfully wave to a summer packed with adventures, music, and general art goodness.  

In today’s lineup:

Elmore Leonard was the freaking man

Detroit lost one of its greats yesterday. We’ve got an appreciation and a look back at the fabulous, game-changing career of the “Dickens of Detroit.”

After that, we’re going to go binge on Justified on Netflix as tribute.   

Linda Solomon / HarperCollins Publishers

Detroit lost one of its greats yesterday.

Elmore Leonard, 87, will be remembered as the writer who rehabbed the Western, wrote great bad guys, and saw his stories made into movies like "3:10 to Yuma" and "Get Shorty."

So in honor of one of America’s most prolific crime writer, we're going to take a tip from the man himself: show, don’t tell.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

If you’re a local in Northern Michigan, especially in a tourist town, you need a few places that are all your own.

That dive bar visitors don’t know. The private beach that’s hidden away.

For Traverse City residents, one place like that is the InsideOut art gallery.

First thing you do there is get a drink at the cocktail bar.

Then, you head to the patio that has no view of the lake (which, hey, no tourists!)

Prison bars
Ken Mayer / Flickr

A new chapter in a bizarre murder case is playing out in Detroit.

Six years after four people were gunned down in a drug dealer’s home on the city’s east side, one mother maintains her son is innocent and in prison for a professional hit man’s crimes.

The hit man agrees.

Now, after five years in prison, Davontae Sanford may get another shot at justice.

The Michigan Court of Appeals today heard the case of a 14-year-old boy convicted of four murders.

The court is considering evidence that the now 20-year-old man may be innocent.

In 2007, four people were shot in a Detroit neighborhood.

Police picked up Davontae Sanford, a partially blind, developmentally-delayed 14-year-old.

They held him for questioning without a parent or attorney present.

Sanford confessed and was given decades in prison.

Then, a convicted hit man, Vincent Smothers, said he - not Sanford - committed those murders.

Peter Martorano / Flickr

Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr announced today that the city will start figuring out how much its assets are worth.

This comes as the bankrupt city is wrangling with creditors about how much of Detroit’s $11.5 billion unsecured debt will actually be repaid.

Orr also says he’s hiring Christie’s auction house to appraise the city-owned portion of the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection.

It’s tough news to those still holding out hope that the museum will emerge unscathed from the bankruptcy process.

Wayne County / via Wayne County

It's no secret Wayne County is in rough financial shape, with an accumulated deficit nearing $200 million.

County budget officials say a financial review team that could lead to an emergency manager may not be far off.

Yet perhaps all is not lost: those same budget watchers say the county can still get back on the right track.

But their solution is about as politically popular as a property tax increase for Wayne County residents.

Because it IS a proposed property tax increase for Wayne County residents.

dr_relling / Flickr

The first human case of West Nile virus is being reported in Michigan this week.

Last year, the virus killed 17 people in this state.

Here's the good news: There has been lots of rain this year.

It turns out the kind of mosquitos that carry West Nile like dry, hot weather.

The bad news: we're not in the clear yet. August and September are the peak months for mosquitos.

It wasn't until this time last year that Michigan had its first human case in 2012.

"The fact is, we're seeing it in animals, now we're seeing it in humans,” says

Boat on Northport Bay, Lake Michigan
Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

On every great vacation, there’s that moment when you think: hey, we should move here! No really, I’m serious this time!

We’ve all been there.   

Heck, northern Michigan is littered with B&Bs, cafes and art galleries run by vacationers who never left.

New ones open every summer. And every summer, some of them go bust.

So we hunted down some of the folks who are actually courageous (or crazy) enough to make the leap.

user: jodelli / Flickr

In Detroit today, firefighters and police came out to watch the first day of federal bankruptcy hearings.

They know their pensions could be on the line.

Detroit’s pension funds are $3.5 billion short, according to the emergency manager.

So pensions will likely be slashed as the city tries to dig out of debt.

But some Detroit employees are filing to block the bankruptcy.

ArtPod heads up north

Jul 2, 2013
Bug_girl_mi / Flickr

There’s nothing ArtPod hates more than humidity. Don’t even mention the word “frizz” right now.

And since so much of southern Michigan swings between flash flooding to feeling like a sauna, ArtPod is doing what all true Michiganders do: heading up north.

Specifically, Petoskey. And not just for the pretty bay views or the $5 kiddie-size gelato.  

Petoskey has a humming arts community in its own right, one that draws artists and art buyers from across Michigan, even out of state.


Consider this some free advertising.

Right now, Detroit Public Schools is proposing its most optimistic budget in years:

  • No teacher layoffs
  • The return of after-school programming, at least in some schools
  • Minimal increases in class sizes
  • New parenting resources
  • A little more money for instruction: about $2 million in total 

But it’s all riding on whether the district can lure 5,000 students away from competitors.

That’s a big bet to make.

User: ellenm1 / flickr

You’ll have to pay an additional $900 a year to be a Wayne State student next school year.

The university is raising tuition by 8.9%.

That’s especially tough on a student body that’s almost entirely from in-state.

And it’s a dramatic move for the school.

This year, every other public university in Michigan is playing along with a state deal: schools get access to an extra pool of state money, if they cap tuition hikes at 3.75%.

But that incentive isn’t enough to make up for deeper cuts from the state.   

Mike Duggan

Mike Duggan has dropped out of the race for Detroit mayor, a day after the Michigan Court of Appeals removed him from the ballot.

A stocky white guy from Livonia, Duggan moved his family to Detroit last year so he  could run.

But now, he'll likely be remembered as the guy who couldn't wait just two weeks.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

For a lot of uninsured families in Michigan, this is a big week.

Lawmakers in Lansing are sloooowly moving ahead with expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

That would give another 470,000 Michiganders coverage.

So who exactly are we talking about here?

The morning I meet Jen and Todd Nagle, we have no clue the day will end with Todd being rushed to the doctor for chest pains.

Paul Hitzelberger / United Photo Works

It just may be the first honest campaign ad.

A tall, broad-shouldered man in a gray suit speaks directly to camera as he strides through Detroit.

Charlie Brooks is running for mayor.

And he wants to be clear: even with an emergency manager in charge, Brooks still believes the mayor's office plays a crucial role.

“I’ll take long vacations, so I can be well-rested. And each day at 4 p.m., I’ll bring tea to our [emergency manager]. Tea time!”


Ever since Detroit emergency manager Kevyn Orr mentioned maaaaybe putting DIA gems on the table to appease creditors, the you-know-what has hit the fan.

Selling art to pay off debt is a big museum no-no, especially for one as well-regarded as the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Why, museum supporters ask, would any rich donor ever want to give money or art to the DIA again?

What’s to guarantee their gifts won’t just be auctioned off the next time the city needs cash?

And further, if the DIA is blacklisted and other cultural icons sold off, how is a post-bankruptcy Detroit supposed to become a sustainable, cultural, people-drawing city?

 Marquette Park on Mackinac Island
user Notorious4Life / Wikimedia Commons

ArtPod is chock-full of summer awesomeness.

We’re putting our own special ArtPod spin on three big summer crowd-pleasers.

The end-of-school concerts.

The new indie movie with all the buzz.

And your own private guide to craft cocktails in Michigan.

Hey, that counts as art. Right?

Detroit Institute of Arts
Maia C/Flickr

You can almost feel the parental summer panic start to kick in. 

School is almost out.

And there are only so many times you can take the kids to the pool before you all go insane.

Those long, hot days can be especially tough for military families, who may only have one parent at home.

That's why 50 Michigan museums are opening their doors, free of charge, to active military personnel and their families this summer.

Ann Arbor Public Schools

In case you've been living under a rock the last couple of months, many Michigan schools are in financial crisis.

It's not just separate outbreaks. It's an epidemic. Buena Vista had to shut down for two weeks when they ran out of money to pay staff. Albion is closing its high school.

About 50 districts are on the state's financial watch list (as in, watch-out-these-guys-could-go-under).

Now, Ann Arbor, the artsy cosmopolitan Disney Land of public school systems, is feeling woozy.

Yellow Wing Productions

This summer will mark 26 years since Northwest Flight 255 crashed onto the highway outside Detroit Metro Airport.

One hundred fifty-seven people were killed. The wreckage stretched across half a mile.

Only one person survived: a four-year-old girl with brown eyes, a chipped tooth, and purple nail polish.

Her name is Cecelia Cichan, and this week, she’s breaking her long public silence about the crash.