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Home > About > Our Awards > Milestone Recipients > 2017 Milestone bios

2017 Milestone Certificate Awardees

Renee Chatelain, President & CEO, Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge, LA

Renee Chatelain is a native of Baton Rouge, LA and a graduate of Louisiana State University, holding both a B.A. degree in history and a juris doctor. She is a recipient of Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s John W. Barton, Sr. Award for Excellence in Non-profit Management, the Baton Rouge Business Report’s Most Influential Women in Business and was recognized by the Louisiana State Senate for her contribution to African Americans in Louisiana through the Arts. A former professional dancer, attorney, and arts educator, Renee Chatelain has demonstrated commitment to arts education throughout her career. Throughout her career as a professional dancer, Chatelain taught at studios and companies across the globe, including Eglevsky Ballet School in New Hyde Park, NY (1985), Dancer’s Workshop in Baton Rouge, LA (1985-1992), Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, LA (1994), Cornell University in Ithaca, NY (2002), and Iceland Dance Theatre in Reykjavik (2002).

In 1994, she co-founded the Mid City Dance Project, a community-based dance troupe that provides school-based dance instruction to low-income children and stages the annual Inner City Nutcracker. Accessibility for children from all backgrounds and abilities was a cornerstone of MCDP’s mission from its inception. Understanding that many children in the underserved neighborhoods around Mid City lacked access to transportation, Chatelain personally drove through these neighborhoods, going door-to-door to seek out kids to participate in her program.

In 2010, Chatelain shifted her career focus to nonprofit management when Manship Theatre recruited her as Executive Director. There, she is credited with substantially increasing the theater’s programming and attendance, and with expanding the organization’s community engagement with programs like Manship on the Move. Since joining the Arts Council as President and CEO in 2015, Renee Chatelain has continued her personal and professional dedication to arts education, updating the organization’s mission statement to reflect the Arts Council’s commitment to this facet of its programming. In just two years, she has expanded the organization’s existing contract with East Baton Rouge Parish School System, which now includes arts integration residencies at 13 public schools, along with 6 annual professional development sessions for local educators.

Sarah Crowell, Artistic Director, Destiny Arts Center, Oakland, CA


Sarah Crowell has taught dance, theater and violence prevention to youth and teachers for over 25 years. She is currently the artistic director at Destiny Arts Center (www.destinyarts.org) where she has served in different capacities since 1990, including executive director from 2002-2007.  She has been the artistic director of the acclaimed teen dance/theater company, the Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, since 1993. Sarah has authored a curriculum guidebook about her work with teens, and her work with the youth company has been the subject of two documentary films.   Sarah has facilitated arts integration, violence prevention, cultural humility and team building professional development sessions since 2000 both locally and nationally.  She has been part of the teaching team for The World As It Could Be program (www.theworldasitcouldbe.org) since 2005, that gives educators tools to teach youth the history and application of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights through the arts.  She is the recipient of the 2015 Alameda County Arts Leadership award, the 2013 Bay Area Dance Week award, the 2011 KQED Women’s History Local Hero award, the 2007 KPFA Peace award and the 2006 Purple Moon DreamSpeakers award.  She was also a finalist for a Tony Award for Excellence in Theater Education in 2016 and an honorable mention for the same award in 2017.

James Kass, Founder & Executive Director, Youth Speaks, San Francisco, CA

James Kass is an award-winning writer, educator, producer and media maker. He is also the Founder & Executive Director of Youth Speaks, and is widely credited with helping to launch the global youth spoken word movement, working with tens of thousands of young people from across the country - and helping launch close to 100 programs nationwide - to help them find, develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as creators of change.

Creator and Co-Executive Producer of the 7-part HBO series Brave New Voices and the Peabody-nominated HBO’s Brave New Voices 2010, James also created the concept and served as the Artistic Director of the PBS series Poetic License and the independent documentary 2nd Verse, as well as the NPR Series, The Drop In. James created the Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Slam Festival, serves as Executive Editor of First Word Press, and was, among many other things, a founding member of the San Francisco Poet Laureate Selection Committee, and helped launch the National, SF and Oakland Youth Laureate Programs. James has received several awards for his writing, his work in the nonprofit sector, and his work as an educator. Widely published, James curated the poetry for the first ever White House Poetry Jam (Obama, 2009), performing in front of the First Family, and was invited to be one of the first 35 people to meet the Obama administration’s arts action team. In May of 2010, James was the Commencement Speaker at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, from where he graduated, speaking to over 60,000 graduates and friends.

James was named a Future Aesthetic artist by the Ford Foundation in 2001, and Youth Speaks was named by the Ford Foundation to be one of ten organizations in the United States representing “Next Generation Art for the 21st Century.” The Wallace Foundation named Youth Speaks as one of 8 exemplary arts education organizations in the country.

Michele Kotler, Founder and Executive Director of Community-Word Project (CWP), New York, NY

Michele Kotler is a poet and since 1997, the Founder & Executive Director of Community-Word Project. She received her BA from Sarah Lawrence College and her MFA from University of Michigan, where she also taught creative writing. Her work in arts education has spanned over two decades, first as a teaching artist, and now as a leader in the field. She founded CWP 20 years ago this year to not only inspire children in Title 1 schools to think critically, creatively, and become active citizens for positive change in their communities, but to also build up the arts education field by serving the teaching artists who teach these students through rigorous, social justice-based training. She believes that every student has a voice and our mission should be to help them find it, to help them discover what is alive inside of them. Furthermore, she also created a comprehensive training program for teaching artists called Teaching Artist Project (TAP) as well as the Teaching Artist Project Cohort, a network of arts-in-education organizations collaborating on a series of teaching artist professional development seminars and internships, which serves teaching artists by providing social justice-based training, hands-on experience in the classroom, tools to translate the creative process into educational practice, collaborations with partner organizations across the city, and access to jobs across NYC.

In addition to the impact she has made through CWP, Michele continues to sit on boards, work with the Arts in Education Roundtable, go to conferences to enhance her teaching artistry and administration work, attends salons and supports teaching artist endeavors, as well as fosters her own artistic voice through poetry. Her poetry has appeared in the Teachers of WritersCorps in Poetry and Prose, Washington Square Review, and Painted Bride Quarterly. She is proud to be a part of the NYC arts-in-education community and the national Writers in the Schools movement.

Yolande Nicholson Spears, Senior Vice President of Education & Community Initiatives at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Hartford, CT

Yolande Spears is the Senior Vice President of Education & Community Initiatives at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, Connecticut’s premiere performance venue for Broadway theatre, music, dance, children’s theatre, Hartford Symphony Discovery concerts and special events. As SVP of Education, she co-created the Bushnell’s award winning PARTNERS® program which received recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, US Department of Education, the Connecticut Quality Innovative Award, and the Connecticut Department of Education as well as the prestigious Dawson Award.  In her role as SVP of Community Initiatives, Yolande has developed numerous family literacy and enrichment programs. In recognition of this work, The Broadway League selected The Bushnell to be the first venue to roll out their Family First Nights program, a national endeavor designed to make Broadway programming accessible and affordable for underserved families.  In her education role for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, she directed and led the strategic planning efforts to set the new direction for education and community engagement with the Education Task Force of the Board.  She also was instrumental in the redesign of the Discovery concerts and other signature services that engage schools and the broader community.

Along with her administrative leadership, Yolande has been a guest speaker at numerous organizations throughout the United States, South Africa, Canada, and China advocating the importance of arts education. In August 2005, Plays for Living commissioned her to write two short plays for a corporate client. Subsequently, her short story, Buttered Biscuits was published in the bestselling motivational series, Wake Up & Live the Life You Love. Yolande’s other book, The Gift: How Music and Family Saved a Young Girl, was published in the spring of 2012, and won The Purple Dragonfly, National Grand Prize for excellence in children’s literature in June 2013.

Rick Sperling, Founder & Artistic Director, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, Detroit, MI

Rick Sperling has been a dynamic force for youth and arts in Detroit for more than twenty-five years. As founder of the internationally-acclaimed Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit, Sperling was named Michiganian of the Year by the Detroit News for “inspiring self-discipline, a sense of teamwork and high personal standards in thousands of Metro Detroit children.” As a result of his work with Mosaic, Sperling has received the Detroit Free Press Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre and the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan’s Mariam Noland Award for Nonprofit Leadership. Founded by Sperling in 1992, Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit is a creative youth development organization whose mission is to empower young people to maximize their potential through professional performing arts training and the creation of theatrical and musical art which engages, transforms and inspires. Mosaic’s all-teen performances have toured Africa, Asia, Europe and 25 states throughout the U.S., including performances at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, the Public Theater, the White House and the Kennedy Center. Empowering young people to achieve excellence on stage and in life, Mosaic is proud to report that 95% of its Youth Ensemble members graduate from high school and go to college.

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