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Performing Arts EXCELerator

The Performing Arts EXCELerator is an entrepreneurial fellowship program open to all U-M students with early-stage performing arts ventures as individuals or teams. There is no limit on team size, however we recommend 2 to 4 members, and encourage interdisciplinary projects involving two or more U-M departments. Fellows are chosen by application in the Fall term. Those selected receive mentoring and support and will have access to up to $1,000 seed money for their projects during the Winter term. Each team will also have the chance to pitch for up to $4,000 in additional seed money. Additionally, teams will be featured on the SMTD EXCEL website and will be considered for additional external engagements with EXCEL partners.

Our funding guidelines have been impacted by COVID-19, and all school-sponsored engaged learning activities (including any activity funded by EXCEL sources, such as projects, ventures, and/or internships) are subject to both University and state regulations. REVIEW THE NEW GUIDLINES BEFORE APPLYING

At least one member of your team must be a currently enrolled U-M student at the graduate or undergraduate level. We will consider early-stage ventures that have already been formally incorporated, but that is not necessary to participate. Accepted Fellows will be expected to meet regularly with EXCEL staff and attend a series of workshops designed to help them launch and/or grow their venture. Expect the requirements of becoming an EXCELerator Fellow to be the equivalent of an additional 3-credit course or 10 hour/week part-time job over the course of the Winter semester.

A Letter of Intent is due October 1, 2021 (details below under the Application tab). Typically, 5-8 EXCELerator finalists will be selected from this pool by Friday, October 15, 2021.

Finalists must prepare and submit a 6-page application, and also deliver a 5-minute live pitch to the funding committee. (Details to be shared upon selection from the initial pool.) This live pitch occurs on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 between 6:00-9:00PM. The EXCELerator Fellows will be selected by Wednesday, December 1, 2021. The $1,000 seed funding is awarded by the start of Winter 2022.

The EXCELerator fellowship program begins in January 2022 and will include 12-weeks of primarily virtual mentorship with EXCEL staff and a curated list of mentors.

The EXCELerator Fellows deliver their Final Pitches for the additional $4,000 on Tuesday, April 12th between 6:00-9:00PM.

The selection committee is searching for ventures that maximize the following criteria:

  • Artistic excellence (e.g. clarify how the applicants’ core artistic values and pursuits at the highest level underlie and drive the venture, etc.)
  • Clearly articulated value proposition of the venture’s product or service as well as the venture’s target customer profile (e.g. clearly articulate how your artistic activity addresses a specific need and detail whom it will serve, etc.)
  • Innovative approach to creative arts expression (e.g. explain how this venture delivers its value in a novel way and/or clarify how the proposed product or service is different from those already being offered in the target community, etc.)
  • Social impact (e.g. articulate how this venture makes a positive impact on a particular community in a specific way, and/or how it advances positive change around a pressing social challenge, etc.)
  • Relevant skills of applicant or team to successfully launch or grow the venture (e.g. clarify how the team’s collective skills and talents position the proposed venture for success, etc.)
  • Educational contribution of pursuing this venture to participating student(s) (e.g. articulate the educational benefits of pursuing this venture for each team member and tie those to longer-term professional goals, etc.)
  • Potential for sustainability (e.g. articulate your plans to grow the venture beyond the academic year so that it becomes an ongoing component of your artistic career(s), etc.)
  • Feasibility of progress towards stated goals within the academic year (e.g. including a clear timeline with benchmark goals for your venture’s activities is helpful, etc.)
  • Representation within the application pool (e.g. we encourage applications from all areas of SMTD, including those that maximize the collaborative possibilities across departments, etc.)

Send a two-page “Letter of Intent” (roughly 500 words) to apply through the online application portal. Successful letters will address the selection criteria given above, but most specifically focusing on the professional development and social impact implications of this enterprise. Please also include a simple budget summary using the EXCEL Budget Template projecting your usage of the $4,000 (including how you would use the $1,000 seed funding during the incubation), and a one-page faculty letter of support that addresses your venture. You may also include up to one additional supporting document (optional) that demonstrates the potential of this project. All documents should be combined and submitted as ONE PDF File. At the top of your document include the name of your project and all the names, degree programs, and U-M ID numbers of your project’s core team members. Be sure to review all of the required documents before submission.

Faculty Members may submit through our online form if they do not want to submit directly to student applicants.


2020-21 EXCELerator Fellows

The 5PM Series aims to showcase diverse musical programs by connecting artists with audiences through our online venue, sharing performances with socially distanced audiences, and raising funds for relief.

The BlackBox Ensemble is a New York City-based contemporary music ensemble devoted to using new music as a platform to engage critically with the social and cultural issues of our time. We do so by curating thought-provoking programs that reflect this mission. Sometimes, this means producing concerts with works that speak directly to specific social issues; other times, this means curating programs that ask questions about the role of arts in social change.

Fifth Wall Performing Arts is an artist-led experimental performing arts organization. They produce experimental music-theater, commissioning new works and reimagining traditional works.

Flip the Switch 529 is an ongoing project that embarked in response to COVID-19 and the state of our country. They cultivate intergenerational creative spaces, perform, share our stories, and engage traditions known to African, Indigenous and futuristic communities. Participants of these collective healing sessions receive the opportunity to explore various forms of art such as drawing, painting, creating fashion, learning traditional African music and dancing, playing instruments, and performing for GLOBAL community.

2019-20 EXCELerator Fellows

Virago is an ensemble which integrates free improvisation, contemporary repertoire, and interarts collaborations into their artistic practice. Their mission is to introduce new audiences to the compelling art of free improvisation, challenging them to invite creativity and vulnerability into their own lives. Additionally, they work to empower other musicians to find their own voice through our Brave Performance workshops.

WE THE PROUD Polycultural Productions represent minority voices, validate their narratives, normalizes their center presence, and reclaims shared history. WE the PROUD Polycultural Productions serve as a safe space, a brave space, for culturally conscious, community-centered artmaking.

The Third Place Fest is a multi-day festival occurring in venues across Ann Arbor. Focused on contemporary classical music series, they value artistic excellence, community, and inclusivity.

Leading Tones Music is an online publisher of new mixed-level and flexible-instrumentation music for band, orchestra, and chamber ensemble.

2018-19 EXCELerator Fellows

Front Porch is a dynamic and innovative chamber ensemble that strives to present high-quality chamber performances while reshaping the performer/audience rituals that surround the traditional concert experience. 

The Latin American Music Initiative (LAMI) is designed to advocate for the awareness and inclusion of Latin American academic music in, and outside our continent, in order to be programmed, performed and enjoyed by a wide variety of interpreters and audiences. 

Runyonland Productions’ mission is to bring the best live theatrical entertainment to the widest, most diverse audience possible. They aim to both enrich the community through producingBroadway-level artistic experiences and provide educational outlets for young artists and creators at the University of Michigan.

SA’ will be the first tuition free chamber music festival exclusively for string instrumentalist Oaxaca, Mexico founded by the Amatista Quartet. SA´s vision is to provide excellent chamber music opportunities to students in Mexico and increase the study and promotion of Hispanic and Latin American composers

2017-18 EXCELerator Fellows

Back Pocket Duo are a piano and percussion duo committed to connecting with their audiences by delivering engaging, approachable performances in comfortable spaces.

Four Corners Ensemble (FCE) includes 6 top-level musicians from 5 countries who endeavor to both advocate and represent diversity across musical styles, regions, cultures, and racial identities, while promoting common values, inclusiveness, and harmony through its chamber music performances and community engagement work.

Megan Bascom & Dancers‘ latest project is a series of Kinesthetic Empathy workshops that aim to strengthen kinesthetic awareness for medical professionals while fostering empathic responsiveness as it applies to patient relations.

Red Shoe Company is a chamber music collective whose mission is to craft a new concert environment that “de-genrifies” music, speaks to the needs of a modern audience, and encourages new ways of thinking about and acting on socio-cultural issues of our time.

Up/Down: is a percussion quartet dedicated to performing new music at the highest standard in non-traditional venues, using unusual concert formats to engage underserved audiences in Georgia and beyond.

2016-17 EXCELerator Fellows

A’tudes and Brews is a storytelling blog that strives to tell the unique stories of everyday artists’ struggles and triumphs, through one-on-one, in-person interviews over coffee.

Classical Music Network aims to become the ESPN of classical music, providing sports-style commentary and production service to music competitions and events.

Maize Collective is a student-run record label that offers students real-world experience in the music industry and provides vital resources for creative talent on the UM campus.

Meridian Vocal Ensemble is dedicated to enhancing the place of chamber vocal music in contemporary repertoire and expanding the scope of possibilities for vocal chamber groups.

Moving 24fps is a roaming film dance festival that brings professional choreographers and filmmakers together to craft and screen new dance shorts in a single weekend in cities across the U.S.

2015-16 EXCELerator Fellows (selected)

Chamber Unique (ChU) is a network of dynamic young artists who share their love of performance to provide education, inspiration, and to strengthen communities using workshops, presentations, and performances.

Sparks & Wiry Cries, through its online magazine and songSLAM concert events, is a global platform for art song.

Threads All Arts Festival aspires to curate an impactful experience that provides exposure for artists of all mediums. This work involves designing a space for artists and audiences to come together and share the quality and diversity of the southeastern Michigan creative community under one roof.

Khemia Ensemble is a contemporary chamber ensemble focused on championing the works of living composers through vivid, multimedia performances.

Room 1078’s mission is to continually support the 21st-century evolution of classical music, using new repertoire to break barriers between musicians and audience members, and all the while inspiring future generations to engage with their art form through passion, energy, and dedication brought to performance.