DME President Dawn Ellis brings over twenty years of experience working in national and state public policy, education, community development, humanities, arts and culture, human services, and inclusion. She uses research, planning, teaching, creative design and facilitation to guide the development of dynamic, continuously improving service systems.
Connecting research and policy, Dawn Ellis served as the staff researcher for the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) during the late 1990’s with the Clinton Administration. In this role, she served on the lead team with agency heads and thought leaders to develop Creative America: A Report to the President, helping shape national cultural policy and private sector partnerships. PCAH invited Dawn to lead the research for Gaining the Arts Advantage: Lessons from School Districts that Value Arts Education, touted as the first national study on American school districts and arts education. During this joint project with the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the Arts Education Partnership, Dawn facilitated national education, youth, and arts service organizations to collaboratively design an investigation into promising practices to help the field. Still in circulation, the research informed a host of policy and practices initiatives across the county, including national community audit tools developed by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts' Alliance for Arts Education Network, a U.S. parental media campaign by the Americans for the Arts, and district-focused resources by the Arts Education Partnership.
In the early 2000’s, the Ford Foundation invited Dawn to analyze research, study gaps, and facilitate the foundation's development of new funding strategies to bridge their work in education and access with their support of arts, culture, and media. As a result, the foundation invested in over a decade of initiatives supporting urban education reform and arts integration, research on arts learning, and arts education communication, policy, and program development strategies in the U.S. and across the globe. Dawn led the research team and authored a work commissioned by Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Silicon Valley governmental agencies now called Designing a Learning Community: A Handbook for K-12 Professional Development Planners. This book and online resource aid people designing teacher professional development by sharing lessons learned from promising practices across the country. Current work includes bridging research and practice for the Educational Theatre Association, helping this national service organization spearhead and translate research to better serve the field.
Dawn facilitated the Arts Education Leadership Network Initiative for the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA) in the early 2000's. During the last decade, she designed professional development systems and partnership frameworks, facilitated strategic planning, development of a field leadership structure, content benchmarking for self-assessment tools, and provided reflection processes for leaders from the U.S. states and territories. During 2004, Dawn led the team for a statewide needs assessment in Tennessee. The recommendations of the resulting 2005 report, Ready, Set, Grow!, and the professional development from the collaborative research process led the state arts council to craft a top rated U.S. Department of Education grant for the Value Plus Schools education reform initiative. Their resulting 2011 evaluation report finds the high poverty schools involved in this reform effort make significant academic gains in math, science, language, and social studies, closing the achievement gap. Practicing the continuous improvement process, they continue to collect data, monitor progress, survey the field, and have been awarded a second national education grant to continue their innovation.
Dawn's work with Rhode Island began in the late 1990's, with advice to a Governor's Task Force to structure learning around the student. Her suggested framework inspired a change of paradigm that helped a statewide coalition reorient education policy to honor student learning in the home and community as well as school environments. Rhode Island changed accountability and proficiency systems to support student centered, rather than building centered, learning. Similarly, Dawn's 2008 keynote and facilitation in Alabama helped jumpstart a statewide coalition among school leaders, policymakers, and the cultural community to strengthen education and reduce dropout rates.
Whether through planning, professional development, or advice, Dawn has assisted one fifth of the states, from Connecticut to Wyoming. No stranger to policy implementation, she served as Director of Education Programs at the Vermont Arts Council in the late 1990's.
Dawn's service includes numerous state and regional leadership roles. From serving as a regional representative to New England's work on the creative economy in the 1990's, to one of the youngest appointed state arts council members in the 2000's, she most recently served as a Vermont delegate to a national convention in 2012.
Since 2008, Dawn has led research and strategic planning efforts supporting Ford's Theatre Society as it develops its education programs and services. Ford's seeks to use the legacy of Abraham Lincoln and site of his assassination to deepen people's understanding of history and inspire them to use leadership and oratory skills to change their own communities. Ford's collaborations focus in part on students and teachers in urban and rural areas who lack access to such opportunities. In a different milieu, she continues to serve as the critical friend for nationally reaching education programs provided by the international Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont. She currently spearheads efforts to form an intergenerational song share opportunity in the Old North End of Burlington, Vermont, so people from a variety of cultural and economic backgrounds can share and teach music they love to other families.
Her commitment to inclusion spans her career. She served as executive director of the statewide Very Special Arts Vermont (now VSA Vermont) in the early 1990's. By developing innovative ways to address the needs of individuals, families, and communities served by social services, Dawn catalyzed partnerships that thrive today. For instance, Home in the Arts works with homeless and recently immigrated families, while Can Do Arts integrates adults with developmental disabilities into the community. She weaves voices least heard and access sensibilities into DME research and facilitation. In the juvenile justice field, Dawn’s mentoring and research on the Ferris School for Boys, a level five maximum security education and rehabilitation facility, and Delaware Theatre Company partnership informed the creation of integrated creativity and media education within their school and career development programs. Whether addressing geographic, socio-economic, physical, mental, or age barriers, Dawn helps organizations build partnerships to better serve those with the least access.
Early in her career, Dawn taught K-12 music in a rural public school and started an integrated arts music program for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities at the statewide Baird School, part of the Howard Center for Human Services (now HowardCenter). Her work today as President of DME integrates an education sensibility as the firm cultivates sustainability in clients by building capacity and capability.
Dawn supports systems change in schools. Consulting with Vermont's Burlington and Winooski school district stakeholders aided the coalition in thinking boldly and causally while developing a logic model plan to guide its efforts to center learning around each individual student. In 2012, the two district coalition received a Nellie Mae Education Foundation grant of about $3.5 million to support their plan implementation focused on high school transformation over the next three years. In 2011, the first public elementary magnet school focused on sustainability worked with Dawn to develop Learn, Share, Grow, Show, funded by a neighborhood Community Economic Development Office grant. The opportunity, continuing through June 2012, supported the installation of raised garden beds for every class, public and educational outdoor gathering spaces, bike racks, new partnerships, and ongoing experimentation to help build social capital across class, particularly for families in poverty and recently arrived to the country.
As a master education designer and teaching artist, Dawn teaches across the U.S.. Work ranges from professional development in Delaware to facilitating an inaugural leadership track at the Connecticut Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools institute. For instance, in 2010 Dawn taught and coached Wyoming educators in schools, communities, and museums to help them use partnerships to address access challenges. The University of Wyoming's Art Museum won a 2010 regional award for their institute presenting this work. Her experience in access, inclusion of people with disabilities, and continuous improvement led to her working with educators, administrators, school leaders, and teaching artists from around the world in VSA institutes across the U.S..
Dawn holds a Masters degree from Harvard Graduate School of Education in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy, with leadership and economics education at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. Her English Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University focused on theatre and poetry.
As a founding editorial board member of the peer-reviewed The Teaching Artist Journal, Ellis helped design protocols to encourage practicing artists to reflect on their teaching practice. Recent service includes coaching and mentoring arts leaders for Americans for the Arts, reviewing grants for various state and national panels, serving on the board of the Latin Grammy-nominated Delaware Symphony Orchestra, and accompanying a Title One elementary school performance.
Dawn catalyzed new opportunities for the field by advising an Aspen Institute think tank in vision work on a The Center for Music National Service. She also helped select the first national teaching artist awards which continue to be hosted by California's Montalvo Art Center in Silicon Valley.called MusicanCorps now offered by
As a multidisciplinary artist, Dawn performs, writes poetry, and works in clay. As the first artist-researcher in residence at the Vermont Studio Center through 2012, she currently develops works in word, Strappo monoprinting, and clay, as well as other visual and performing arts media. Dawn brings this creative background into DME's work, resulting in innovative, effective solutions and multi-modal learning experiences. As a performance artist, she associates with the New England Performers Artist Retreat in Brattleboro, VT and Amherst, MA. Ensemble stage work includes theatre with Montpelier, VT's Lost Nation Theatre, Ice Fire Productions of Waitsfield, VT, and Green Candle Theatre Company of Burlington, VT. Dance includes performing with Tony award winning Bill T. Jones and the Arnie Zane Company and choreography for Lost Nation Theatre and Garage Theatre, predecessor to Green Candle.
Over the last decade, she has performed large choral works regularly with chamber and full choral ensembles of the Vermont Symphony Orchestra under Robert DeCormier and Kate Tamarkin, the Choral Arts Society and the National Symphony Orchestra in D.C. under Norman Scribner and Leonard Slatkin, and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra with Paul Head and maestro David Amado. Singing a cappella, she toured the U.S. and Asia with various groups, including Whim n’ Rhythm and Out of the Blue of Yale, which she co-founded, serving as its first musical director.
In clay, she studied with Hunt Prothro and has affiliated with various collaboratives such as Vermont Clay Studio, The Clay Studio at Absolam Jones Center in Delaware, and Glen Echo Pottery in Maryland. She currently associates with Burlington City Arts Clay Studio and is an alumna of the S.P.A.C.E. artist collaborative in Vermont.