With a family of musicians and exposure to the arts from an early age, Maria Ellis was always going to be an arts patron. One of her earliest childhood memories was attending the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (an Arts and Education Council grantee) on a field trip. As a small child, her seat would fold up on her, but she sat in anticipation of her favorite part — listening to the orchestra warm up.

“I knew magic was getting ready to happen,” Ellis remembered.

As she grew up, Ellis continued to be involved in the arts. Doug Erwin, her eighth grade drama teacher in the Ferguson-Florissant School District, took every opportunity to introduce his students to theater. The class visited The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis (an Arts and Education Council grantee), The Fox, The Muny, The American Theatre and the St. Louis Storytelling Festival.

“He was an amazing teacher. He’s one of the reasons I wanted to be in the arts,” Ellis shared.

Erwin was recognized at the Arts and Education Council’s 2016 St. Louis Arts Awards as Art Educator of the Year. He has also received multiple grants from the Arts and Education Council.

As can be common, Ellis lost touch with Erwin after graduation. She pursued a career in telecommunications, but after 12 years, she noticed something missing.

“I felt there was more I could do to reach my life’s purpose,” she said.

When her church began a children’s choir, she knew she had found her path.

“Wednesday nights became my favorite night of the week.”

She dove in head first at University of Missouri-St. Louis to learn all she could about teaching music.

Ellis said, “I made friends with everyone who was better than me.”

She also reconnected with Erwin at the E. Desmond Lee Fine Arts Collective, where Ellis was an intern. Erwin says he recognized her immediately. They continue to be friends and colleagues today.

Ellis now has what she calls her dream job as community engagement manager at the St. Louis Children’s Choirs  (an Arts and Education Council grantee). She also directs The Sheldon’s City of Music All-Star Chorus, which performed at the 2019 St. Louis Arts Awards, and runs her own company teaching private voice lessons.

“I believe my calling is to bring people together through music,” Ellis said.

Do you know an arts educator like Doug Erwin who makes a significant impact in the lives of students? Nominate them for the 2020 St. Louis Arts Awards.

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