Our Team

Deb Polich



Deb Polich champions the arts and creative industries in her professional, volunteer and personal life. She has 30+ years of executive arts management in the fields of theater, performing arts, presenting and producing, visual art and museums, arts & creative education, project management, public art and design, community development, local, state and national arts advocacy, film exhibition, film festivals, tour management, data collection and research plus a handful of other quirky areas.

Since 1993 she has served as the president/CEO of Artrain, Inc., a nonprofit organization that produces and delivers arts and cultural programs while helping to strengthen local arts infrastructure. Under Polich’s leadership, Artrain received the National Medal of Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor given to institutions that make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities and demonstrate extraordinary and innovative approaches to community service.

The Arts Alliance contracted Artrain in 2013 to provide management services and named Polich its president/CEO.

Polich co-hosts creative:impact, a weekly radio show on NPR affiliate WEMU FM. creative:impact focuses on the creative people, jobs, businesses that make the greater Ann Arbor area one of Michigan’s strongest and most vibrant arts and creative industry hubs.

Polich earned a B.S. in arts administration with a business minor from Eastern Michigan University (EMU). She began her career at the historic Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor starting 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 is currently on the board of Michigan Works! Southeast and on three boards at EMU: College of Arts & Science Advancement Board, Masters of Public Administration Advisory Board and the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance Advisory Board. She is a University of Michigan and EMU Arts Management guest lecturer.

Lauren James

Communications Manager
E-newsletter and Social Media Editor


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 LittleRockSoiree.com, 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.

Barb Whitney

Communications Manager
E-newsletter and Social Media Editor


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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