Funding Deadlines & Events

The EXCEL Enterprise Fund is a fund set aside for students to receive micro grants of $1,000. Students must have a well-driven plan for either individual support or team projects that have significant professional development and community impact. In some exceptional cases, funding can be increased to $1,500.

When is the deadline?  The first deadline is tomorrow, October 5! But, never fear! There are three other rounds of applications! (November 16, January 18, March 8).

What are the key requirements? You must be an undergraduate or graduate student in the SMTD at the time of application, but other team members can be from other units of the university. Only one micro grant per year will be awarded to applicants, and the selection committee may elect to have funding pushed to another term if issues are found with the proposed project.

How do I apply? A 500 word document is required, which should address the application questions posted on the Fund’s website.

Click here to get more information on the EXCEL Enterprise Fund!


Some other important events and deadlines:

EXCEL Open Lab: Grant-Opoly. “In this session of Open Lab, Grant-Opoly, we’ll facilitate a game where teams will work within a grant budget, plan an event, and be coached by three of the SMTDAlumni-Award winners. This event will be interactive and fun!” Come by on October 5th, 9:30 am in the EXCEL Lab (1279 Moore).

EXCEL Talk: Jonathan Baruch. “UM Graduate Jonathan Baruch is the founding partner at Rain Management Group / StoryBy, a media company that manages careers of artists and produces/packages content in all areas of entertainment. Under Jonathan’s leadership, the company has begun creating and packaging original content for the digital space, brands, live performances and Broadway.” Come to 2443 Walgreen Drama Center on October 5th at 12:00 pm!

Modern Lab: Dee Tomasetta. “Dee Tomasetta received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance at the University of Michigan. She most recently was seen in the First National Tour of Finding Neverlandplaying the role of Peter Pan and Ensemble. Dee was featured on So You Think You Can Dance as a Top 15 female finalist in Season 10 where she met choreographer Mia Michaels. She has since worked as an assistant choreographer with Ms. Michaels.” Swing by the Betty Pease Studio Theater, Dance Building on October 5th at 12:00 pm!



EXCELcast: Jade Simmons

In this EXCELcast, Jonathan Kuuskoski talks with Jade Simmons—talented pianist, power speaker, and “self”-preneur—about her career as an artist and how other artists can successfully build their own careers. “Today I speak to major companies and corporations about creativity and innovation, and I bring my piano with me!” exclaims Simmons. In the interview, she explains how she uses her artistry to bring creativity and innovation into the workplace, and what that workplace may look like to other aspiring artists.

Simmons also describes what it is like to go from being a full time artist to developing a portfolio career, “I’ve really learned to live in seasons and to be a little bit better with how I plan my time far out. If you’re not careful, you’ll miss the present; you’ll just miss it, because you’re always preparing for something that’s months away,” she explains.

Watch the full EXCELcast here to learn more about balancing artistry with a personal life, the importance of marketing yourself and your abilities, and figuring out what is best for both the audience and for yourself as an artist.

Carolina Heredia: “Khemia”

Carolina H.

Carolina’s exposure to the arts goes far deeper than the experiences she gained at the post-secondary level. “I have always been involved with the arts. My mom, a dancer herself,  sent me to several early education art schools, dance classes (classical and folk) and, finally, the conservatory when I was seven years old,” Carolina described. She started playing in a folk band at 16, for which she started writing arrangements. “We soon ventured into group composing, and I found that I loved imagining music and realizing it.” It was this group and these experiences that solidified her desire to be a composer.

Carolina was given a recommendation to check out the University of Michigan after studying violin and composition at Cordoba State Conservatory and the National University of Villa Maria in Argentina. After applications to here and other institutions, she decided to pursue doctoral work in composition at U-M. “I felt a strong connection with Evan Chamber’s folk influences. I followed his blog and I was fascinated with the compassionate, thoughtful and open person he seemed to be,” she explained. With the influence and encouragement to progress her work in composition outside of the Western Canon, Carolina eventually founded her current group: Khemia.

Khemia began in 2014, and was really meant to be just a one-time project with several other graduate students at the University. “We wanted to collaborate with universities in Latin America with a series of five-day residencies,” Carolina said. “The ensemble gave two concerts, instrumental masterclasses, composition lectures, student composers’ reading sessions, and premieres of local composers’ pieces at the National Universities of Córdoba, Argentina, and Bogotá, Colombia.


With such a grand (and successful) feat, the ensemble was able to raise their own funds of $24,000 to cover many of the necessary expenses such as traveling, lodging, and food. After coming back, they decided to continue with a long-term project, which ignited help from the EXCEL office to plan the business model.

The ensemble was part of the first batch of “EXCELerator” fellows: recipients of a fellowship meant to help early-stage performing arts ventures with funding and mentoring/support. One notable EXCEL member is Jonathan Kuuskoski, who helps lead the mentorship of “EXCELerator” fellows and many other facets of EXCEL. Carolina noted, “I’m in the beginning of my professional career as a composer and academic, and Jonathan has been an incredible mentor for me since the beginning of EXCEL when I was still in school.” EXCEL became a huge source of assistance and groundwork for forming Khemia into the ensemble that it is today.

The “EXCELerator” fellowship funded Khemia for a light installation commission, and an album release tour in the Midwest. Following the “EXCELerator” fellowship, Khemia also received the Enterprise grant, and received travel assistance for their debut performance in New York City at National Sawdust this May.

Carolina H-2

Beyond the extensive assistance, guidance, and funding from EXCEL, Carolina mentions some of the challenges that were faced in executing plans for the ensemble, and how they were overcome. “There were millions of challenges, and once we overcame them, new ones appeared; in many cases, overcoming the challenges pushed us to a better place,” she exclaimed. “Our current challenges are mostly related to distance. For the last two years, as members of Khemia graduated from school, we began full time jobs at different universities spread throughout the States (University of Missouri, University of Tennessee Martin, Penn State University, Lawrence Conservatory of Music) or started a vibrant freelance career in a complete new location. This brought new logistical and funding challenges for every performance, residency, and workshop we needed, but made us completely restructure the way we operated.” Though the group has faced challenges—even to this day—Carolina describes how Khemia is formed by people who are talented beyond just their artistry: they demonstrate a plethora of talent in their constant collaboration and efforts to foster teamwork. “What keeps us together is the deep admiration we feel for one another and how much we enjoy creating and performing together, we are a group of passionate individuals and we drive on each other’s artistry, accomplishments, and energy. In terms of administration, our manager Chelsea Tinsler Jones (also our percussionist) is doing an incredible job at navigating this transitional stage of relocation. We are all excited to continue building our organization,” described Carolina.

As the ensemble required teamwork and collaboration, Carolina encourages all artists to venture into collaboration with either other artists or even into completely different fields. “Collaboration has been one of the most humbling and rewarding projects in my career,” she expressed. “Observing how concepts, words and ideas translate to the different fields is enriching and open-minded.” Collaboration is highly encouraged at the University of Michigan, especially from the EXCEL team. It can help students venture into artistic and academic areas they never thought possible, and it can lead to even broader ideas that form enriching experiences for students, faculty, and the audience. Carolina describes, “My advice would be to always choose collaborators with whom you feel respected and vice versa, so that you are all open to engage in artistic discussions without affecting each other’s egos. It is also essential to feel deeply connected with your art, so that at the end there is almost nothing to discuss… Collaboration is a beautiful, humbling process of communal creation that deals not only with art, but also with human connection.”

Carolina received funding from EXCEL for the development of her dissertation: “Ausencias,” and for a summer internship that she conducted with Third Coast Percussion last summer. She expressed how EXCEL not only helped dissolve challenges arising in Khemia during its development, but how it was available for Khemia or her personal career whenever she needed. As Carolina best puts it, “I think EXCEL made a huge impact in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and I trust it will keep improving and adapting to the needs of the students.”
Please also visit Carolina’s website:, for more information on her projects, on Khemia, and to check out some of her visual and audio media!

Carolina Heredia is a composer who explores the important convergence of music and visuals. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Music Composition at the University of Missouri. Her compositions have been commissioned and performed in the United States and South America by esteemed musicians and ensembles, and her current ensemble “Khemia” was founded at the University of Michigan during her time as a Doctoral Student in the Composition Department. “Khemia,” an ongoing project for Carolina, was greatly supported by the EXCEL team as the ensemble transitioned from a one-time performance into a touring group, seen on stage to this day.

—Timothy Brewer

Pandora Challenge: Music and Social Impact

Pandora Challenge: Music and Social Impact

The Pandora Challenge will kickoff on September 25 at 6:00–9:00 at the Duderstadt Center. The challenge centers around launching a national marketing and playlist campain via Pandora and Bryce Vine to support a local foundation, Barn Sanctuary, in their mission to rescue, rehabilitate, and care for farm animal refugees. At the event, students will have the opportunity to work with top industry mentors to learn how music, marketing, and social impact intersect.

After the event, students will also have the opportunity to work and teams and optimize their campaigns across media and music streaming services!

To RSVP for the event, please visit Real Industry and fill out the form at the bottom of the page. We hope to see you there!

Teagan Faran: Red Shoe Company

13510889_10104179652150415_1051011389647032993_nWhen she was young, Teagan attended her brother’s orchestra concert where they played “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It was at that moment that she claims she knew she had to play the violin. After exploring her interests with the instrument and trying to convince her parents to let her play, she finally enrolled in a Suzuki strings program, and had lessons on theory, jazz, and classical performance. It was in high school that she was able to develop the interdisciplinary aspects of jazz and classical technique, which she enjoys putting to practice today.

One of the most influential experiences yet with playing the violin was in her youth orchestra in high school, when she was asked to be a soloist when the orchestra travelled to Italy. “That experience of standing as a representative of my hometown and my ensemble while performing for—and speaking with—a foreign audience was so much fun that I knew I wanted to be a performer.”

After coming to the University of Michigan, it was clear to Teagan that she did truly want to be a performer. However, this came with a lot of “and”s and “but”s. There was a quick realization after getting to U-M that classical performance was not the only path she wanted to take in her journey to become a performer. “Shortly after arriving, I realized that classical music wasn’t quite enough for me so I took steps to continue my jazz education. I never doubted that I wanted to be a performer but even now I’m not really sure what shape my future will take!” Along with exploring a jazz education, Teagan has also participated in administrative internships with the Buffalo Philharmonic, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. While these experiences solidified that she does not want to be an administrator, it is clear that her work with multiple genres of music and her experience in entrepreneurship have helped shape her successful organization: Red Shoe Company.

“Red Shoe Company” (RSC) is an “all-arts collective,” meaning a “group of people who share the common goal of uniting a community through trans-disciplinary art performances.” The company aims to address many social issues through the art of performance, such as themes of homelessness and environmental sustainability. Even more-so, they are looking to curate events that are safe places for people to come together and celebrate the performing arts. The company was conceived after one of Teagan’s concerts, the “experimental ‘continuous flow’ show”: a 50-minute long non-stop performance. The show received a lot of positive feedback, encouraging her to continue this sort of performance with her group. The now-called “Red Shoe Company” went on to their first performance: a benefit concert for the Coalition on Temporary Shelter in Detroit.


The motto of RSC is “Be What You Love.” Just as she loves red shoes, Teagan decided to name the company after something she really loves. While it thrived on growing dreams and aspirations for so long, it was necessary for the company to seek funding to really get going and continue with more performance opportunities. She reached out to the SMTD’s EXCEL for assistance, and with mentorship and guidance from the EXCEL team, the company was able to receive the help it needed.

“I think EXCEL does a great job of making their resources available. All of the people in the office are open and amiable. They go out of their way to make sure that students can make contact with visiting guests and really shape their events to student needs.” Excel helped to make RSC’s first concert in Detroit a complete success. While they did receive funding, the most helpful thing that EXCEL did for the company was to say “no” multiple times beforehand, and offer positive feedback so Teagan and her company could grow into something much bigger than what was imagined to be possible.

With this company just starting and really hitting the ground running, it is expected that there will be moments of great success, yet also moments of great weakness. “Sometimes it feels like it’s all moments of weakness!” Teagan explains, “You just have to cling to your values and do your best. Once you get into the mindset of everything as a sort of battle, it becomes fun.”


As other students start looking into starting their own company or group, it is always great to have EXCEL to look to for guidance in the process. Trying something new can sometimes seem impossible, but some of the greatest successes start with what feels like the impossible. As Teagan recommends: “Submit, submit, submit! Even if you don’t think you’re ready, turn it in and get feedback!” Whether it’s just another idea that popped into your head as you were singing in the shower or it’s a rough sketch you did one day while bored in class, the smallest ideas really can have the greatest potential.

Outside of running the RSC with her team members. Teagan likes to get outdoors as much as she can. She enjoys running, martial arts, or just taking a nice walk. “Time away from the instrument is important and often where I flesh out a lot of my ideas.” Even though she is a graduating senior, Teagan plans to keep RSC close to her and surround herself with more supportive artists who will help the company grow.

The RSC owes its thanks to a violinist who wanted to explore, experiment, and express new ideas in a creative way to help the community. The University of Michigan’s SMTD has one of the best resources for finding help exploring your own new ideas, and it’s right at your fingertips. Search for “EXCEL” on the SMTD’s website, or find more contact information on the Blog homepage to help spread and edit any blossoming, exciting ideas, or to get help in making them reality.

Teagan Faran graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Violin Performance from SMTD in May 2018. She is highly involved within the Southeastern Michigan musical community, and formed the group “Red Shoe Company” to expand her endeavors to give back to the community and address social issues through art and performance. Red Shoe Company performed recently with the U-M’s Artist-in-Residence, Tanner Porter, at the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA). Red Shoe Company was supported by the SMTD’s Performing Arts EXCELerato in Winter 2018, and Teagan has continued  to grow the ensemble and expand performance opportunities throughout the community. Upon completion of their EXCELerator Fellowship, ensemble members toured Mexico as part of OperaMaya in May 2018. Teagan previously served as one of UMS’ 21st C. Artist Interns (with Jazz at Lincoln Center). She currently serves as an Overture Teaching Assistant at the Sphinx Organization and was recently awarded a Fulbright to research folk music traditions in Argentina (Winter 2019).

—Timothy Brewer

How we EXCEL!

EXCEL is Excellence in Entrepreneurship, Career Empowerment & Leadership. The name says everything; EXCEL helps its students integrate vital aspects of real-world skills—such as marketing, business relations, storytelling, social impact, international collaboration, etc.—into a well-rounded career in the arts.

EXCEL Director: Jonathan Kuuskoski

The EXCEL Lab is also a place where students can get help with business planning, career creating, résumé revision, application advising, and so much more. “The EXCEL Lab is SMTD’s home base for performing arts entrepreneurship, leadership, and career services. We start by meeting students where they are in terms of their professional interests and goals, and then connect them with the resources they need to thrive,” says Jonathan Kuuskoski, the Lab’s Director.

EXCEL Talk with Robert Honstein and Mike Avitabile

Events hosted by EXCEL expand upon the deep professional training inherent in any SMTD degree, often going beyond the classroom. Through advising, workshops, courses, funding, and immersions, student can gain tangible resources alongside access to world-class professional artists and arts managers. Through those programs students are encouraged to expand their network, build their community, and receive (and adopt) feedback. The goal is to translate students’ ideas into action, and to help them connect with the expansive professional development opportunities available through the School of Music, Theatre & Dance; other colleges at the University of Michigan; and with performing arts organizations at the local, regional, national, and international levels.

EXCEL’s NYC Immersion at Carnegie Hall

To learn about how EXCEL helps students succeed, follow this blog. We’ll delve into stories about students who have personalized these opportunities to leverage their skills, training, talent and ambitions.

To find out more about events and resources available through EXCEL, visit our homepage.

If you are interested in learning how you might support our programming, which is funded through the generosity of donors, please visit “Leaders and Best online giving” through the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

EXCEL is excited to share the amazing stories and events with you throughout the coming year! Feel free to subscribe to the blog via e-mail for up-to-date posting information.

—Timothy Brewer




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