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.   

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.

DPS

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!”

DIA

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.

tvol / www.flickr.com

“Huh.”

That is a completely understandable reaction the first time people see the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s new exhibit. It’s called “Mobile Homestead.”

The "work of art" is a mobile house, a suburban-looking, one-story, white ranch house. It's the kind of house they've seen a million times before.

So why is the modern art world, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal breathlessly declaring this house one of the most significant, world-renowned pieces of 2013?

Jessica Stilger / Berkley High School communications

When older generations die, there’s always the fear that we’ll lose their stories.

But in metro Detroit’s Jewish community, they’re trying to keep history alive…through music.

And they’re doing it thanks to Anne Frank, her chestnut tree, and a stressed-out high school orchestra in metro Detroit.

Specifically, the Berkley High School orchestra.

Monni Must / Monni Must

This week, ArtPod is aaaall about the ladies.

You name ‘em, we’ve got them: Michigan photographers, amateur actresses, adventure authors ... the works.

What unites them? They all seek a change.

First up, two moms who found each other in the neonatal intensive care unit. 

Sara Joy was about to lose her infant son. Monni Must was volunteering her talents as a family photographer, coming in to take a final family portrait for Sara and her son. What they didn’t know is how those photos would help them both heal.

Monni Must / naturallymonni.com

Parents love pictures of their baby. That’s why we don’t complain, at least not to their faces, when they take over Facebook and fill up our email.

But when your baby’s life is cut short, those photographs can take on a whole new significance.

 This is the story of two moms, and how these final family portraits are helping them heal after the loss of a child.

Official Portrait

The president of the University of Michigan is stepping down.

Mary Sue Coleman officially announced her retirement today: 

The University of Michigan deserves the best in a leader, and I want to give the Board ample time to select the next president. I am committed to working with the Board members to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

University of Michign-Flint News Service / http://www.umflint.edu/news/university-news/retired-professors-gift-will-help-launch-um-flints-first-all-student-orchestra/

There's a new orchestra starting up in Flint.

For decades, the University of Michigan-Flint has been trying to get an all-student orchestra together.

It shelved the idea back in the 1990s due to lack of interest.

This year, a new student string ensemble is up and running. And that got the music department thinking, maybe this was their year.

That's when emeritus professor Walker Fesmire showed up. He's giving the music department a $100,000 gift.

So this fall, the school’s first-ever all-student orchestra will perform an original piece in his honor.

Official Congressional Portrait / michigan.gov

Edited to correct the name of Stephen Bassett, executive director of Paradigm Research Group and organizer of the Citizen Hearing on Disclosure.  

There's a new twist in the Greek tragedy that is the Kilpatrick family's money woes.

Former Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, mother of former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, will get $20,000 to conduct a hearing into ... alien conspiracies.

The goal of these hearings is ambitious: get the federal government to admit that aliens exist.

That they've contacted humans.

And that for decades, the government has been covering this up.

Now let's be very clear, this is NOT actually a congressional hearing. It's all being put on by a group of alien conspiracy theorists calling themselves the Citizens Hearing on Disclosure.

They're shelling out $20,000 to each of the five former members of Congress who've agreed to come to Washington, DC for this panel.

via city of Romulus

This is not a great week for Romulus Mayor Alan Lambert.

State police are investigating him for public corruption and raided his home last month.

So far he's refusing to step down, even after the city council asked him to resign last night.

Michigan Radio / Michigan Radio

This week, ArtPod is inspired by the massive chocolate Easter bunnies we’ve been inhaling for days now.

So to welcome Spring (hey, it’s 50 degrees!) we’re doing a bigger edition of ArtPod, squeezing in two very different  Michigan’s artists and culture-makers.

First, we start off with a full-cast radio performance of the play “RUST.”

DPS emergency financial manager Roy Roberts says without Proposal S, the district would be severely crippled.
Sarah Hulett / Michigan Radio

Updated at 4:16 pm:

Roy Roberts has been waiting for this day for months. 

Michigan’s new emergency manager law takes effect today. And that means Roberts just got a lot more powerful.

He's the emergency manager for Detroit's public school system.

But for months, he’s been locked in a power struggle with the elected DPS school board.

That’s because nobody really knew how things were supposed to work, or who was running what, during the tumultuous period between the old EM law getting overturned, and the new EM law taking effect.

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.

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