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‘I have to dance!’

Scott Harlan Brownlee to receive UMKC School of Education Alumni Achievement Award

With more than 30 years of experience in the arts as an educator, performing artist and administrator, Scott Harlan Brownlee (M.A. ’04) understands the transformational power the arts have to improve the quality of life for individuals and the community.

“My dance performance career began my freshman year in college when I was cast as a Shark in West Side Story,” Brownlee said. The director of the show had played Riff in the Broadway revival in New York and knew the original choreography. “I was immediately enamored with the power, grace and sheer athletic skill that dance required.”

During semester break his freshman year, Brownlee announced to his family that he was changing his major to dance. His father asked him if he really wanted to do that.

“I said, ‘I have to dance!’” His father’s response was, “Well, who am I to tell you not to follow your dreams?”

“I was so fortunate that he understood what it meant to follow one’s passions and dreams,” he said.

Brownlee followed his passions to a career of leadership in Kansas City’s artistic and education community. He completed a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where he was educated as a dancer and choreographer. In 2004, Brownlee received his master of arts in educational research and psychology from the School of Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

He is now being recognized as the 2016 Alumni Achievement Award winner for the School of Education at UMKC.

Brownlee’s passion for the arts is guided by a disciplined approach to change. He has served as president and CEO of ArtsKC – Regional Arts Council and as executive director for Young Audiences. His performance background includes work for 13 years as one of the artistic co-directors with City in Motion Dance Theater in Kansas City, Mo. Brownlee is on the Kennedy Center’s National touring roster for the Partners in Education program and has conducted master classes, workshops and residencies extensively in the Midwest and throughout the United States.

Today, Brownlee is chief executive officer for the Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey. He helps KCFAA achieve the mission of making dance accessible to all people, teaching young people critical life skills through dance and modeling interaction and multi-cultural community partnerships.

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes 16 alumni and one family with top honors. UMKC will honor Brownlee and other outstanding alumni at the 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon April 21 at Swinney Recreation Center. The luncheon is one of the university’s largest events and proceeds support student scholarships. Last year’s luncheon attracted nearly 600 attendees and garnered more than $141,000 in student scholarships.

“I pursued my M.A. in educational research and psychology because I wanted to demonstrate the power that the arts had to make positive changes in social and academic achievement for young people,” Brownlee said. “If I was going to be successful in establishing a clear case for inclusion and integration of the arts in the day-to-day curriculum of schools, I needed to be able to speak the language of data-driven research that guided the allocation of resources for school programs and instruction.”

Brownlee’s “secret sauce” to creativity and innovation is an environment rich in people, resources and ideas coming together in random and many times unpredictable ways. In his position with the KFAA, he has the opportunity to make dance more accessible, teach young people critical life skills through dance, and model interracial and multi-cultural community partnerships. He considers one of his biggest professional accomplishments to be the creation of the Regional Cultural plan.

“The arts inspire creativity and improve the quality of life for all us regardless of our level of participation in the arts,” Brownlee said. “As our communities become more diverse, I envision the role that the arts, and in particular dance, can play in bringing people together and building a sense of connection and community. The arts create bridges between people of varying race, gender, age and even political differences.”

Click here for tickets or sponsorship information for the April 21, 2016 Alumni Awards Luncheon. Click here for more information on the 2016 Alumni Awards recipients.


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