Professional Team

Our Professional Team


Deb Polich

Deb Polich champions the arts and creative industries in her professional, volunteer and personal life. She has 30+ years of professional arts administration experience, including serving as the president/CEO of Artrain, Inc., and since 2013, holding the same position at The Arts Alliance. Polich earned a B.S. in arts administration with a business minor from Eastern Michigan University. She began her professional arts management career at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor beginning as the box office manager and leaving seven years later as the managing director. She serves/has served on the boards of numerous nonprofit arts and community organizations. She currently serves on the boards of Creative Many Michigan as treasurer, Michigan Works! Southeast and three boards at EMU: the College of Arts & Science Advancement Board, the Advisory Boards for the Masters of Public Administration and the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. She serves on the City of Ann Arbor’s Economic Development Advisory Committee and Destination Ann Arbor’s marketing and community grants committee. She is a University of Michigan and EMU Arts Management guest lecturer. Polich co-hosts creative:impact, a weekly radio show on NPR affiliate WEMU FM 89.1 FM that features creative people, jobs and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor area.

Communications Manager
E-newsletter and Social Media Editor

Lauren James

A native of Fayetteville, Ark., Lauren James received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Arkansas and recently finished her M.A. in journalism from the University of Memphis. She moved to Ann Arbor in 2016 after serving as the communications manager at Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Arkansas’ largest professional regional theatre. Also while in Little Rock, Ark., she was a social media coordinator and associate editor for, a special sections writer at Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and staff writer at The Daily Record. In addition to her work at The Art Alliance, she is a freelance writer and marketing communications specialist at the University of Michigan Medical School Office of Research, where she assists the Grant Services & Analysis, Central Biorepository and Data Office teams with special events, marketing collateral, E-Newsletters and online content.

Arts + Creative Education Specialist

Barb Whitney

Barb Whitney is a champion for access and equity in the arts, engaging stakeholders regarding the arts and arts education locally, statewide, and nationally. She earned a BA in Art and Art History from Kalamazoo College and an MA in Arts Administration from the University of Michigan – Flint.

She is the consultant on the Arts + Creative Education Integration for Student Excellence (ACEISE) project. The goal of ACEISE is to Entitling every student in Washtenaw County to equitable access to high-quality, consistent, sequential, standards-based arts + creative education as part of an integral right to a well-rounded and excellent education.

Whitney’s research is focused on equitable arts education youth in the United States of America from a sociological perspective, outlining the injustice perpetrated by withholding the rights to arts education from particular populations. She argues that arts education is a fundamental right for youth in the United States. Based on proven benefits of arts instruction, she advocates for a paradigm shift recognizing the value of the arts in the development of children’s learning, educational experiences, and future prospects as United States citizens. As a part of this argument, Whitney cites her national arts education Gap Analysis research fellowship with Americans for the Arts performed in 2015-17. This study revealed, in part, a trend of inequitable access to the arts in the United States.

Whitney’s serves as the executive director for Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center she has ushered in leadership diversity, created free educational programming, and made strategic partnerships for greater accessibility such as the inaugural Michigan Collegiate Art Exhibition piloted in 2017-18. In 2017 Whitney joined the faculty with the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities and the Arts and Cultural Management Program at Michigan State University. By training students in both civic engagement and academic learning, Whitney fosters their understanding of the day-to-day operations, which are integral to making a nonprofit mission a reality.

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