Next weekend, months of hard work by a group of Professional Writing (PW) alumni and students will finally be seen in action. The Middle of the Mitten (MOTM) festival has arrived once again, hosting its fifth annual celebration of local music from January 24th-26th in East Lansing and Lansing.
Created by PW alumnus Joel Heckaman when he was a sophomore, Middle of the Mitten’s first festival took place in January 2009. What was originally a simple rock show to celebrate the first anniversary of The Record Lounge, an East Lansing record shop, has expanded each year, now including three nights at three different venues. The organization is currently working on its 501(c)3 and Registered Student Organization statuses while still hosting a music festival every January, and a Rock for Relief local music marathon in April for charities and disaster relief.
One of the most beautiful things about this organization is its deep roots in the PW program. Both are about creating opportunities to take skills learned in the classroom and apply them to projects that matter. PW and Middle of the Mitten are, at their cores, about creation, passion, and the drive to become engaged with issues that connect with students’ interests.
“The first two festivals, I did almost everything by myself,” Heckaman remembers. “I got a little benefit from my experience with local music, and people in the community helped me get started, but almost all of the success in launching the festival came from what I was learning in PW classes at the time.”
MOTM really began to take off when PW faculty Jon Ritz stepped in during 2010 and offered to help, based on his extensive background in communication, marketing, and writing. Having helped ever since then, he balances between providing academic support and real world expertise. Professor Ritz makes himself available in person, in his office, and through consistent email communication, helping MOTM network and connect with those in the community and throughout Michigan.
Around the same time that Professor Ritz began his work with MOTM, Dan Nufer and Reanna Trombley—PW students at the time—jumped right in as part of an independent study. Trombley was the graphic designer, using the skills she learned in class about document design, web graphics, and creating public identity. Nufer, as Assistant Director of MOTM, used his PW knowledge of public relations, marketing, and writing.
PW alum Mike Kulick and I, a current senior, have served on the Middle of the Mitten board since September 2012 after both joining the organization in 2011. Kulick, a graduate of the Technical Writing track within the major, led a diverse team of current PW students in designing this year’s logo, t-shirts, banners, flyers, and more. They worked hard to create visually-appealing items and applied their knowledge in designing a brand strategy by creating items that represent MOTM’s past and future.
“Promotions, logistics, development of original content and the ability to be agile are just a few of the requirements when working with a local music festival,” commented Kulick. “All of these are skills that were aided by my course work in Professional Writing.”
As a board member of MOTM, and a student in the Editing and Publishing track, I lead a talented team of marketers who, in some cases for the first time, take skills learned in the classroom and apply them to real-world applications. We work together to create and write interviews with musicians, contact print and radio media, promote the festival through social media, manage blogs, and more. Each member, ranging from freshmen to seniors with a variety of experience and previous internships, bring a unique set of skills learned from dedicated faculty and mentors.
“Between Ritz, Nufer, Kulick, Gines, and our other Board member [Kyle Brown, Olivet alum and local musician], we’ve got just about every imaginable skill set necessary for putting together a great festival—and I think we have. It wouldn’t have been possible without the help of all the other students—PW and otherwise—as well, and I think they are going to launch Middle of the Mitten to yet another level in the years to come,” said Heckaman.
This year’s Middle of the Mitten 5 begins with a free kick-off party January 24th at The Record Lounge, followed by an indie-folk night January 25th at Scene Metrospace, and a solid rock-out night January 26th at The Loft. The entire lineup features musicians from the state of Michigan.