by Linda Hass, Published July 24, 2013
YPSILANTI - For most of her life, Deb Ennis has been told that she marches to the beat of a different drum. "I once had an art assignment to make a fish out of clay. I insisted on making a squid and consequently, all the legs broke off," says the Eastern Michigan University art education major, chuckling. "I hadn't yet figured out how to rebel in a productive way."
Today, the 23-year-old senior still thinks out of the box, but she is no longer marching solo. "I enjoy getting to know a wide variety of unique people and showing them what they have in common. I want to be a pull that draws people out of their homes and brings them into the community, interacting with one another face-to-face," says the outgoing Midland native.
Nick Reszetar, an EMU art lecturer, heartily agrees. "One of Deb's strengths is networking. She has a knack for pulling people together and creating a sense of community," Reszetar says, adding that she also has a "tremendous work ethic" as an art student.
One of Ennis' most ambitious networking projects, called First Fridays, reaches beyond campus and into the surrounding community. Since March of 2013, she has encouraged Ypsilanti businesses to host monthly exhibitions of local art and music, bringing people together in a celebration of creativity from 7-9 p.m. the first Friday of every month.
"I work as a server at the Bona Sera Café in downtown Ypsilanti," says Ennis of the Italian fusion restaurant located at 200 W. Michigan Ave. "One day I came in to find the walls empty. Since I know tons of artists from Eastern and the community, I was given the opportunity to fill the walls with their art. My boss, who goes by 'Wonder Woman,' has experienced art walks in larger cities involving multiple art openings at a predictable time. She encouraged me to start one here, so I set to it!"
First Fridays has been so well received, it has expanded to encompass many downtown businesses that display art or offer exclusive promotions. "Businesses benefit when they are exposed to new networks of people; artists and musicians benefit from exposure," Ennis says. "It's a win-win."
Ennis's own art, often focusing on chalk pastel figures and watercolor and ink abstracts, has been displayed at Bona Sera, EMU's annual juried art and honor's exhibitions, and is currently on display at the Corridor Collective Gallery in Detroit's Bankle Building.
The social senior has also been a member of the Intermedia Gallery Group and EMU's student government, she's taken photographs of various events throughout campus, and she's enthusiastically showed freshmen the ropes as a new student orientation adviser.
Ennis, who is on track to graduate with a bachelor's degree in K-12 art education next spring, says she was attracted to EMU because it has a reputation for welcoming diversity in many forms and because of its excellent art education program. "I'm looking forward to the last leg of my academic journey," she says. "I love bringing people together and helping them realize their full potential. I can't wait to teach!"