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Arts Ambassador of the Month - March 2019

Written By Jim T. Gammill
Arts Council Menifee

Colleen Ackerman was born in Karlstad, Minnesota. At the time, the tiny town near the Canadian border had a population of only 750 and offered a pretty unique childhood experience for young Colleen.  Growing up in Karlstad, most activities were focused around church and school. At an early age Colleen found herself singing in the children's choir and taking piano lessons. She joined the adult church choir and the high school chorus when she was a freshman. Colleen was drawn to all types of music, dancing, singing, and playing the drums, but she was especially fond of singing and had many opportunities to perform throughout her time as a student. In addition to participating in regional and state singing competitions, she was a member of several vocal ensembles and was involved in band, drama, and cheer.

“When you go to a school that small, you just end up doing everything,” Ackerman said.

After graduating from high school, Colleen attended the University of Minnesota and focused on science to pursue a career in the medical field.  In an effort to give her a break from her difficult class load, she enrolled in a dance class. Little did she know that just one class would change everything.

“I ended up taking a dance class and I fell in love with it,” Colleen reflects with a smile, “I felt like my spirit came out when I danced and it was dance that led me to my profession.  I knew that whatever I did would have to include movement!"

It was around this time that Ackerman chose to alter her educational path.  Knowing she was not going to be a professional dancer, she decided to combine her love of movement with her interest in science and decided to pursue a graduate degree in exercise physiology; Colleen earned her Master's degree in 1982 from the University of Arizona. Since then she has dedicated her life to trying to bring health and wellness (mind, body, spirit) to others. She began her career with the  YMCA and has taught health, nutrition, and all types of fitness classes as an adjunct professor at MSJC for the last 27 years. Having retired in June of 2018, she is now a substitute instructor, but continues to share her love of fitness and wellness by teaching yoga at Hemet Valley Recovery Center.

“All my life I’ve always tried to devote all that I could to encourage and teach others to do as many things as possible to find passion and joy in their own lives. I believe that if you can recognize and release the spirit of your inner child, you will experience a joy or happiness that will positively affect your life, resulting in a more meaningful existence and an attitude of gratitude that will impact everyone you encounter.  The arts can facilitate that."

​Believing in the value of all visual and performing arts and their ability to bring about this physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, Colleen and her husband, Bill, encouraged their children, to pursue artistic experiences. The Ackermans got their children involved in The Temecula Fine Arts Network at young ages and they spent countless hours supporting their children as stage parents, helping with costumes, publicity, and anything else that was needed. Their children, Savannah, Payden, and Sierra, performed in many productions at Paloma High School under the direction of Greg Newman, who now teaches at Heritage High School.  Both Savannah and Payden went on to pursue degrees in Theater Arts. Everyone in the family sings; Payden is a writer, actor and director and Savannah is a fourth grade teacher in an arts charter school. Bill plays guitar with his friends and Colleen says she dances 'like no one is watching' whenever and wherever she can.

Bill and Colleen are active in the Menifee community and several years ago began an annual  social gathering that came to be known as the ‘Barn Dance’. The intention of the event was to promote and benefit the Menifee Valley Community Cupboard and became increasingly popular and well attended.  "It was a wonderful opportunity to do line, contra and round dancing where the emphasis was on fun, not perfection," said Colleen. They are hoping to do another one next fall.

Colleen has been a trustee for Arts Council Menifee since 2013 and has contributed in countless ways to all aspects of ACM and often plays some role in any of the organization’s major shows and events. She has been active in everything from art show set-ups and tear-downs to ticket sales, and greeting patrons. Past responsibilities have included Vice-President of ACM, coordinating free dance classes, orchestrating the "Crazy Hat" booth at the Independence Day celebration, and  most notably, chairperson of the MGT committee, one of the most exciting local events in Menifee.

Menifee’s Got Talent is in its eighth year and has been growing in both size and production quality since its creation. The competition gives performing artists of different styles and backgrounds an opportunity to audition to be a part of the spectacular production. Those that have attended past MGT shows have been awed by the level of amazing, local talent that graced the stage. What attendees couldn’t see were the countless number of hours that Colleen (and the MGT committee) spent to make sure that everything went according to plan.

Colleen had this to say about MGT,  "MGT has been a most rewarding adventure!  I was apprehensive about taking on the responsibility, but I have gotten so much help from fellow trustees and friends in the community that I don't feel overwhelmed.  Thanks to the wonderful artists that audition, each year we have had an amazing show of local talent. Joseph Olivarez, the band and choral director at Hans Christensen Middle School, will be volunteering his time and expertise once again this year.  He is a brilliant director, stage manager, and sound technician, which makes my job easy!"

ACM trustee, Kathleen Crain had the following to say about Colleen Ackerman:

“Colleen always has a smile and a friendly word for everyone, she does a fantastic job planning Menifee's Got Talent and the Crazy Hat booth at the Menifee 4th of July celebration.  Colleen is willing to lend a hand to help others at all of Arts Council Menifee functions. She is truly fantastic person!”

It is for Colleen Ackerman’s commitment to furthering the arts, her passion to help others, her desire to spread joy and gratitude, and the resulting countless contributions to the community, that Arts Council Menifee is pleased to name her as March’s Arts Ambassador of the Month.

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