Dancing into the Arts

Have you ever seen a kosher ham? We’ll, I’m it. Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Bob Gralnick and I am the Curriculum and Instruction Specialist at Progressive Arts Alliance, and if given the opportunity to make a proverbial fool out of myself I am going to do so in the best possible way. Participating in dance class with young students in an effort to glean information to ramp up rigor and practices is one of those ways.

As the Curriculum and Instruction Specialist, it is my job to oversee and help build and refine the curriculum development expertise and instructional practices of PAA’s artist-educators. It is my goal, and the goal of PAA, to create rigorous learning opportunities that employ best practices in teaching that utilize an arts integration approach, and there is no better way to become acquainted with our unique program than to participate in it.

During my initial tenure, I have danced with first graders as caterpillars to demonstrate the life cycle of the butterfly. I have performed with the kindergarten pretending to be various shapes to help solidify conceptual knowledge of early geometry. I have participated during printmaking lessons focusing on diversity, biome projects utilizing Scratch coding, stop motion animation projects illustrating cell structure, and the list goes on. Whether it be integration though performing or visual arts, the experiences have provided tremendous amounts of information regarding the amazing things that the PAA brings to students of all ages, as well as providing an avenue to begin to help our artist-educators incorporate practices that will strengthen an already incredible program. Did I mention I had a whole lot of fun, too?

After our last session at a partner school, a first grader, Vicki, said to me, “I’ll miss you.” Filled with the pride and joy educators know from having such positive experiences with children, I said, “When we see caterpillars and butterflies we can think of dancing.” She smiled broadly, and I did, too.

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15 Years of Dreaming and Convening

Me and the cool kids: With the PAA All Stars following the 10th annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp in 2011.

Me and the cool kids: With the PAA All Stars, some of the “Grandmasters,” following the 10th annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp in 2011.

By: Santina Protopapa, PAA Founder 

Since I was six years old, I’ve been finding ways to make my crazy ideas a reality. My parents were the first people to help make things I dreamt up come to life. Later, it was my teachers in school and then it was Bob Santelli, my first boss and mentor who helped launch my career in arts education.

Progressive Arts Alliance is by far the biggest, craziest idea I ever had. PAA has become much more than I ever dreamed. As I bid farewell to my role as PAA’s Executive Director, I can’t help but think that PAA’s growth over the last 15 years has been all about the results of dreaming and convening.

In late 2001, I had the idea that I could harness my passion for designing and implementing unique approaches to teaching in and through the arts by creating a non-profit that would be a platform to realize my ideas. To help make this a reality, I convened a group of artists I had been working with at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, and together we dreamed what we could do with hip-hop and other forms of art, culture, and media to bring learning experiences to Cleveland that had never been done before (and it had to be fresh).

What We Didn’t Imagine
What we didn’t anticipate during our initial convening in November 2001, and perhaps, even, didn’t have the capacity to imagine, was that through perseverance and passion, the impact of PAA would be even bigger than any of our dreams.

One significant dimension of our work that we didn’t imagine when the crew and I developed PAA’s vision was that we could build on one of the most important traditions of hip-hop: mentorship and community. As hip-hop culture emerged, a crucial part of the scene was the mentorship that developed between the pioneers of the culture and the aspiring artists who were eager to contribute to the movement. The pioneers became “Grandmasters” and they helped young innovators find their way to mastery in their art form and the aspiring creators in turn, mentored a new generation of artists.

Back in 2006, unintentionally, we continued this tradition by convening and developing a group of students who were more committed to PAA’s annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp than other participants. We designed special opportunities and sought additional outlets to take their artistry to the next level. It’s been a thrill to witness the development of student-artists who have now become the Grandmasters of PAA. After over 10 years of mentoring, convening, and creating a community, the result is a group of passionate experts who facilitate our programs and in two cases, now work full-time to make PAA’s magic happen on a daily basis. And I’m proud to share that they now have their eye on the next generation of PAA students to develop.

Why PAA Matters
PAA’s work over the past decade and a half grew from dreaming (“wouldn’t it be cool if we..?”) to a sophisticated strategy supported by a group of staff members, Board members, funders, and donors dedicated to transforming the lives of kids in our community through the arts. From a retired teacher who shared that working with PAA was one of the highlights of her career, to students explaining how PAA helped shape their identity as artists, I’m truly humbled by the impact my dreams and the dreams of others has had on our community.

What I’ve come to understand as the founder, dreamer, and convener, is that Cleveland gave us the perfect platform to be nimble and responsive to our changing environment. It gave us the opportunity to translate crazy ideas into academic rigor. It gave us generous donors that made “If we had this .. we could do this” become more than just a dream. And it gave us a lasting legacy of students, teachers, school principals, artists, and colleagues who have been touched by the arts more than I could have ever imagined.

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MOCA Camp Remix: Part III

Each afternoon during PAA’s Community Hip-Hop Camp at MOCA, PAA Artist Development Coach Ainsley Buckner and artist-educator Allison Bogard united to share and explore the featured exhibit with youIMG_5622th. A traveling retrospective that is presently split between MOCA and the Akron Art Museum, Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia highlights work from the founder of proto-punk band DEVO. Mothersbaugh, a northeastern Ohio native, aspired not only to be an artist, but to live a creative life. The exhibit takes viewers through his early sketchbooks, performance art, experimental sound pieces, video, visual art, and more.  Similar to hip-hop artists, Mothersbaugh was and is heavily influenced by current events and the political climate in addition to pop culture. Ainsley and Allison worked with thes students to build connections between hip-hop and Mothersbaugh’s wildly varied artforms. Ainsley and Allison decided to work with printmaking and mixed media to explore these connections. After a group tour then self-guided gallery explorations, students participated in further dialogue with the teaching artists and eventually went to work. Allison demonstrated how to use collage on found postcards and connected that to sampling sounds and beats through hip-hop. Mothersbaugh creates a postcard each day, a practice he has created for himself. Some of his pieces were enlarged and exhibited in the show, signifying how scale impacts the art. Scale is also important in graffiti, thinking about the impact of a small drawing in a notebook versus a large piece on a wall or train car.


A second art project relied on colors and textures to enhance monoprints, which were hand printed onto sticker sheets. Sticker art has been popular with graffiti artists since someone realized that postal service labels are free, readily available, and easy to use. The campers utilized this surface, in addition to pre-cut sticker sheets, and applied their hand-cut stamps, a third art activity influenced by Mothersbaugh’s early work. He owned a rubber stamp and novelty store in Akron as a means of funding his artistic endeavors and was an early innovator in the street art movement, though he seems to have operated outside of any realm of definitive influence.

The campers naturally took to the printmaking process in the Rayburn Workroom and seemed very comfortable making choices about color and texture and employing design decisions that suited their individual creative vision. While thIMG_5711e correlation to hip-hop culture was not entirely linear to all participants, the older students undoubtedly derived meaning from the hands-on activities, whereas some of the young kids simply liked the experience. Gallery dialogue about symbolism, the artist’s response to the 1970 National Guard shootings while he was a student at Kent Sate, and creative expression fueled the teens’ tangible outcomes. Unfortunately the youth participants were all too familiar with campus shootings but it provided a platform for conversation and contextualizing their current experiences alongside historical events. Mothersbaugh’s experiences offered concrete examples of how these struggles are incorporated into not only art, but also into hip-hop music and related disciplines.

To wrap up the second day of camp, Kennedy Blaq presented several campers with scholarship invitations for PAA’s annual RHAPIMG_5654SODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp at PlayhouseSquare. This upcoming camp is an invite-only opportunity. Those campers who demonstrate exemplary vision, drive, motivation, and overall interest are most likely to be selected at each of PAA’s community camps. That’s not to say that there weren’t other excellent participants at the MOCA camp. On the contrary, this group was pleasant, easygoing, kind to one another, and quite creative. All eyes will be on the invitees at this year’s historic 15th annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Art Camp, coming August 1-12 at the Idea Center at PlayhouseSquare.

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Bringing Designs to Life at summer camp at Warrensville Heights Library

This summer, as part of PAA’s partnership with the Cuyahoga County Public Library, we are presenting 2D-3D: Bringing Your Designs to Life camps exploring how to take flat, two-dimensional drawings and ideas and transforming them into three-dimensional sculptural pieces.

On day one of each camp, students engage in a project exploring platonic solids. Named after the philosopher Plato, these shapes are three-dimensional convex polyhedrons (like a sphere or a cube). A pyramid, or tetraDSC09958hedron, is an example of a platonic solid. This shape serves as a primary building block for day one of the camp. I spent the most time at Warrensville Heights Library, observing and interacting with about 30 kids ages 10-14. The campers constructed shapes built from triangles that were prepped using laser cutters at think[box] at Case Western Reserve University. After mastering tetrahedron assembly, some campers created new structures from multiple forms, and others took on the presented challenge: build an icosahedron using only triangles and staples. This is a shape with 20 sides and is more difficult than constructing a five-sided shape.


Next, the group was introduced to an inflated sculpture and tasked with designing and building their own inflatable art. Bounce houses or blow up holiday decorations are easily recognizable examples of mass-produced inflatables. In this setting, inflatables are 3-D art made of thin plastic that is taped or fused together then attached to fans. The air that inflates the plastic gives it form. A successful airplane maquette was more complicated than anticipated when creating the plastic components so the artist worked with a group and was able to contribute in a different way. Another student built a cute paper dog but it was too small. She spent some time considering how to scale it up and how to use multiple colors of plastic, and she produced a quirky puppy that held air nicely. Concluding the session, PAA artist-educator Diana Bowman facilitated a reflection, providing the chance for everyone to contribute to a dialogue in response to the days’ activities.



On Thursday, Tinkercad was introduced. It’s a free app that allows anyone to design objects that can then be produced on a 3-D printer. The kids learned how to navigate the program and design plastic 3-D models that the library staff would print using a MakerBot. During an exploratory activity to teach about the printing process, each camper used pigmented glue sticks with low temperature glue guns. They emulated the printing process and formed mini-sculptures using layers of hot glue atop Plexiglas. See the work in action by clicking here. The artist-educators also gave a demonstration so everyone could see the 3-D printer in action and understand how it works.


On the last day when students finished their rotations through Tinkercad and the hot glue station, PAA artist-educator Frances Lee noticed a group of boys growing restless while others continued to work. She presented a new design challenge: each team received some scrap paper and tape, and they had to engineer a structure. The tallest would win. As more kids finished projects, they formed teams and constructed towers. A group of girls won, measuring in at 38.5”. It was a creative and productive week at Warrensville Heights Library and PAA is looking forward to continuing to explore art and technology with kids from many communities this summer.

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MOCA Camp Remix: Part II

In the first part of our series about PAA’s Community Hip-Hop Camp at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), we learned about how youth participants learned about DJing and writing graffiti. Breaking, MCing, and producing beats were also covered in the two- day intensive workshop.

Christian Howard, also known as “Flow,” broke it down into easy steps for the dance portion of the camp and kids were moving in no time. They learned top rocks and worked on smooth transitions and eventually baby frIMG_5701eezes. Clean footwork was emphasized. When Flow called for a cipher (a circle where one person at a time freestyle dances), there was a sudden epidemic of shyness but that didn’t last long! Clearly the most physical of the elements covered during camp, breaking provided a stimulating outlet for the campers as they learned the corkscrew, floor sweep, and several other steps that their instructor weaved into a sequence. Working with Flow, a former PAA student and current captain of the Kent State University Dance Club, the kids were supported and reassured throughout the classes. The Cleveland Foundation Lobby served as the venue for these sessions and each group had a small audience as Museum patrons passed through and paused to take it all in.

When it was time for MCing (writing rhymes and rapping), Stephen Phillips, known as Kennedy Blaq, started by playing beats for the groups, then each student compiled a list of words or feelings that came to mind while hearing the beat. Based on a share-out of the brainstormed words, each group agreed on a theme. The older teens chose life as a topic to write about, and each of the other groups selected summer and personal interests, respectively.

The instructor then talked through instrumental beat options with each group. For example, he asked if a camper was thinking about a more upbeat feel and if they’d like to include drums or violins, etc. When it was time to compose rhymes to match their beat, the majority of the kids dove right in but for those who struggled to begin, they were encouraged to start with writing relevant words then finding a rhyming word. By the second day, everyone had enough written that they could share their ideas, particularly the oldest group. The teens were writing very quickly and some had a whole page of rhymes! This group participated in a cipher where they were given a topic and each person freestyle-rhymed then passed the mic to the next person.

During beatmaking in the afternoon, each group went upstairs to the Cahoon Lounge IMG_5606where they first visited the Orchestrians in the gallery. Built by Mark Mothersbaugh, these instruments are comprised of found objects and are programmed using Arduinos and run on a loop. The sounds projected by the instrumental sculptures are essentially a series of beats or rhythms.  Campers viewed some Rhythm Roulette clips to understand how beats are made. Sampling pre-existing sounds then integrating rhythms from additional instruments, producers sample disparate sounds that are pieced together in a cohesive and dynamic way, creating beats. You could sense the synapses sparking as the teens watched videos of producers tasked with developing beats from three random records, a laptop, a mixer, and a keyboard. It was televised inspiration. iPads outfitted with Garage Band allowed each participant to experiment with layering sounds and Kennedy Blaq was there to guide each person along as they investigated the medium.

After the music and movement sessions, the kids dedicated the majority of each afternoon to hands-on art. Read about it in our next installment of MOCA Camp Remix.

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Adults Explore the Design Process at CCPL Branches


Participants at the Garfield Hts. Library worked with artist Matt Beckwith.

On Thursday evenings during early spring, PAA artist-educator Matt Beckwith worked with adult students at the Garfield Heights Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library through their Encore Innovators program, part of the library system’s ENCORE Entrepreneurs initiative. This program exists to create educational opportunities for retirees so they can start a second career, or an encore to their first profession. PAA’s Introduction to Design Process & Process Development course exposed a small class of e adults to Adobe Illustrator, 3-D printing, laser cutting, and the basics of industrial design. Matt prefaced the instructional phase by sharing some examples of the design process. This helped the group think about not only the end product, but about how it would be used and what already exists that could be helpful to consider.

The class was presented this design challenge: think of a solution to a problem in your life. Matt suggested the students start with a problem statement and build on that. So, students asked themselves: What is my problem? Who has this problem, and finally, what is the form for this solution? A physical consumer product would solve the problem a user has. Some students were very literal, while others explored their challenge a bit more abstractly. A student named Abraham, who calls himself an amateur inventor, thought about how he would like a way to work with furniture stripping chemicals indoors so he could do it year-round, but the ventilation system he has at home isn’t powerful enough. He pared down to working on a tool to remove the sticky buildup that is a byproduct of the chemicals.

Once the students worked through the design process enough to have created paper maquettes, Matt led a tutorial on using Adobe Illustrator to show the group how to make a template that could be used in tandem with the laser cutter. This portion posed a challenge for those less versed in computer programs, and students quickly began collaborating for peer-to-peer troubleshooting while Matt and an assistant from PAA circulated to assist students one by one.

Like plenty of products on the market, some ideas were improvements on pre-existing ideas. For example, a participant named Jay identified wanting a scraper with sharper blades for removing ice from his windshield. Quick to learn, Jay was able to navigate Illustrator and first produced a paper maquette. For the first couple of weeks, a woman named Sharon also participated in the class. A personal focus for Sharon, hair care, inspired her design, however, the introductory nature of the workshop was a barrier to realizing the full potential of designs for her. A few of the participants envisioned complex products to prototype, but they didn’t yet have the skill set to create scale drawings to then produce a 3-D prototype. Sharon was a prime example of this. She aimed to create something to assist her in relaxing her long hair, but her idea was a bit too ambitious given the time frame and the scope of the materials on-hand in the Maker Space at the Garfield Hts. Library. Matt coached her on practicality, given the library’s laser cutter and 3-D printers’ limitations, and she was tasked with rethinking her design. Jay continued with weekly sessions and successfully prototyped a 3-D model using his original rendering to inform the scale.

Initially, there were nine students in the class- five IMG_5239women and four men. While the Encore Innovators program is marketed at retirees, the participants came from varying backgrounds and some were still involved in the active workforce. One of the students was looking to build on current entrepreneurial goals of creating a custom gift business. Without reinventing the wheel, she wanted to produce toys, ornaments, and picture frames to commemorate milestones, such as weddings. Another participant sought to find a flexible alternative to brittle CD cases. A third participant, Norm, applied a practical need to his design for a platform to hold several model train controllers. Norm was a bit ahead of the curve in class and worked from his own laptop, outfitted with Illustrator. He’d dabbled in the program and enjoyed exploring its possibilities. Ultimately, Norm was pleased that he created a model of his design using the laser cutter. During the final class, he spoke clearly of his plan to build a larger version of the prototype to use with his model train sets.

Since the first iteration of the Intro to Design series, evening classes with PAA have been held at North Royalton Library and the Parma Snow BrIMG_5245anch of Cuyahoga County Public Library. A new session is scheduled for to begin this month at Mayfield Library, and into fall at Fairview Park Branch. PAA will also be leading this program next winter during the afternoon at Orange Library. These classes are presented at no charge to the public. For more information, please contact the Cuyahoga County Public Library branch you’d like to visit.

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MOCA Camp Remix: Part I

At the end of June, a group of eager kids ages 11-17 leapt into Progressive Arts Alliance’s immersive two-day hip-hop camp at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland (MOCA). Centering on the elements of hip-hop, the campers learned the basics of DJing, MCing, breakdancing, and graffiti. They also worked on making beats and learned about and made art in response to the featured exhibit at MOCA, Mark Mothersbaugh: Myopia, located in the museum’s Mueller Family Gallery.

Divided into several groups by age, students participated in three sessions each morning, followed by lunch and three afternoon classes. PAA instructor Connor Musarra, a PAA All-Star who first learned to DJ through hip-hop camp years ago, fostered a natural rapport with the kids and encouraged them to explore several techniques on the turntables as he guided them through progressively more complex sounds including the stab and reverse stab scratch, combining stab scratches to create a “military scratch,” to back spinning, transformer scratching, and more. By allowing the campers to explore and discover sounds, they built confidence and curiosity to investigatethe art form known as turntablism. The teen group responded especially well and answered Connor’s on-the-spot assignments (utilize three techniques, keep it for 16 beats etc.) by supporting each other and rising to the challenge each time. This portion of the workshops took place daily in the Gund Commons on the Museum’s ground floor, an intentionally dark and quiet area perfect for the medium.

IMG_5670 IMG_5665

Educator and graffiti artist Poke took the students through a brief history of writing graffiti through excerpts of the seminal film, Style Wars, made in 1983 (ancient history if you ask the kids). Poke began instruction by drawing his name in several types of letters, emphasizing the importance of scale, style, placement, and color. Then, he showed each group how to draw letters in three-dimensional graffiti style, building to draw their whole name. The older students generally had some experience drawing with this approach, but many of the younger participants were learning completely new information. On the last day, we asked every student to share the most impactful thing they learned, and many of the younger kids noted graffiti as something that will stick with them long after the end of camp. Piquing their interest in not only art but in writing too, graffiti is a powerful tool for education and communication.

Stay tuned for the second installment of the MOCA Camp Remix series.

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Guest Blog Post: How Integrating Art into Math Provided Multiple Connections for Me and My Students


By: Theresa Bender, Middle School Math Educator
Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy
Cleveland Metropolitan School District

Prior to working with Progressive Arts Alliance, teaching for me was driven by state exams, academic rigor, and pacing charts. When I heard my school was adopting an arts-integration strategy, I was skeptical and extremely concerned that I would not be able to integrate art into my math class. I just didn’t know how I would blend the two concepts together and still reach the academic demands that were set by my district.

At the beginning of this school year, my school received a grant that launched our partnership with PAA. Needless to say, I wasn’t too thrilled for the reasons I mentioned earlier.  Yet, I knew I had no choice and needed to see this through. I was paired with Ben Horvat, one of the artist-educators from PAA. We met a few times and decided to create a unit that incorporated the Laws of Levers into a three-dimensional mobile project. Again, I was skeptical because I just didn’t see how this would help me meet my objectives and educate my students in math. I didn’t understand the vision of how all the pieces came together.

As part of the collaborative planning process with Ben, I researched how mobiles were balanced by applying the Law of Levers. Once the PAA program started in my classroom, I  worked alongside Ben and my students on the project. A short time after the project began unfolding, I reached an “ah-ha” moment – I heard my students solve multiple problems using knowledge gained from the arts-integration lesson in other lessons outside of our PAA time. The students were demonstrating to me that they were able to apply the concepts from PAA’s mobile project to other situations and I learned that the students had created connections I hadn’t expected.

In the end, I discovered many things about PAA’s arts-infused lessons I plan to incorporate in my future lesson plans. By collaborating with PAA and Ben, I reached my students in new ways providing them multiple connections to the concept. I also found that my students were engaged at a higher level, and students who normally struggled with math seemed to flourish. Finally, the permanent display of the mobiles in our school’s cafeteria created a visible sense of pride for my students and other students in our school. As a result of these outcomes, I am eager to continue my collaborative work with PAA again this semester.

To learn more about the mobile project at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy, click here to visit PAA’s YouTube channel.

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Learning From Failure: A Conversation

Artist-Educator Ben Horvat working on a circuit with a student at Hannah Gibbons STEM School during a recent residency project.

Artist-Educator Ben Horvat working on a circuit with a student at Hannah Gibbons STEM School during a recent residency project.

At the close of this fall semester, PAA Artist-Educators Ainsley Buckner, Ben Horvat, and Lauren Sammon gathered to discuss how learning from failure plays a part in their work as artist-educators and as practicing artists outside of PAA. They also reflected on how they observed students learning from failure during their work this semester in our partner schools.

One theme the group immediately came to when discussing failure is the idea of adaptability.  “I’ve learned to adjust my instruction to meet students where they are at.  Even if I’m teaching the same lesson, I know each class is going to be different,” explained Sammon. Horvat also agreed, “As an artist-educator, you have to be adaptable.  You can’t show you’re frustrated when students aren’t grasping a concept.” He added that by making lessons modular this semester, he was able to allow students to experience success when everything came together at the end.  Modular lessons (lessons that are contained to one session rather than over several weeks) also helped him manage classes where attendance from week to week was inconsistent. Horvat avoided having students feel like they were behind and failing by having a different lesson or project each session.

The group also agreed that balance in the classroom is an important part of enabling students to learn from failure. Buckner described balancing activities that allow students to experience accomplishment quickly with challenging tasks that might result in failure the first few times.  “There has to be a series of peaks and valleys in the classroom lab,” she explained.  Sammon agreed.  She described her methods of balancing time on design challenges with other activities students are comfortable with.  She also added, “One way I help to create balance in the classroom is empowering students who are succeeding to help others work through their challenges.” Buckner also mentioned that it’s important to understand how students communicate.  “I’ve learned to balance students’ frustration. If someone is acting out, it might be because they are experience difficulties and do not know how to communicate their frustration.”

In reflecting on their work over the course of this semester, each member of the group has learned a lesson that they are going to be taking with them in their personal studio practice as artists. “I’ve learned that there are different approaches to confronting failure.  As an artist, you have to decide, is this something I can fix or do I need to start over,” explained Buckner. Horvat agreed and also added that he plans to explore collaboration in his practice.  “I’ve learned that it’s important to collaborate to help clarify expectations of your work.  I’m looking forward to dividing labor to help projects succeed.  I learned that this semester.”


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Guest Blog Post: Learning from PAA to Build our Capacity

Librarians from the Cuyahoga County Library system worked with PAA to learn how to use tools to fabricate Rube Goldberg machines.

Librarians from the Cuyahoga County Library system worked with PAA to learn how to use tools to fabricate Rube Goldberg machines.

By: Heidi Andres,  Teen Services Librarian
Cuyahoga County Public Library,  Middleburg Heights Branch

As a librarian with over 15 years of experience working with teens in a suburban library setting, I know the types of programs parents want for their children, as well as the kinds of programs teens will most likely be interested in attending. My library system, Cuyahoga County Public Library (CCPL), is fortunate to have Progressive Arts Alliance (PAA) in our community to assist us in providing young library customers with innovative and engaging programs. From Scratch animation and wearable technology workshops to a variety of multi-day camps (music production, stop-motion animation, and kinetic sculpture building, to name just a few), PAA’s artist-educators have helped local youth develop an array of skills and techniques necessary to succeed in an ever-changing academic environment and job market. PAA’s programs are built on the concept of project-based learning (fostering young people’s learning processes through problem-solving and creation) as well as the importance of the arts in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) programming – all concepts which dovetail perfectly with Cuyahoga County Public Library’s youth programming philosophy.

This past September, several Progressive Arts Alliance artist-educators presented two professional workshops for CCPL’s youth services staff. The topic of the first workshop was exploring circuits through creativity. Much like the sessions PAA conducts for youth, the artist-educators asked library staff to share what we already knew about the topic (conductivity), provided us with some circuitry basics, and then gave us a challenge: create a circuit which would illuminate a small LED bulb. With limited assistance from our instructors, library staff worked in pairs to incorporate what we’d learned into (usually) working circuits. Being students, as opposed to our customary roles of program facilitators, allowed library staff to experience first-hand how teens in our programs approach challenges and use problem solving skills and teamwork to create a finished project. Click below to see a video from the workshop that includes the work we completed using Chibitronics circuit stickers:

Building and designing kinetic sculptures (i.e. Rube Goldberg contraptions) was the focus of the second day’s workshop. The artist-educators provided an overview of kinetic sculptures, followed by instruction on safe ways to use tools in programs (should library staff opt to do so). CCPL staff then worked in teams to plan, draft, and build our own miniature kinetic machines – working teeter-totters. Just like the teens in library programs, final results varied, but library staff left with a better understanding of the benefits of and requirements needed to lead such a program.

Although there are more exceptions than not, library staff can sometimes seem hesitant to plan or lead STEAM programs, often due to a perceived lack of confidence in their science, engineering, and/or math abilities – there’s a reason most of us became librarians and not rocket scientists! Throughout the two workshops, PAA’s artist-educators readily shared their best practices on how library staff can conduct hands-on STEAM-related programs which allow teens to develop their presentation skills, critical thinking abilities, and self-confidence. The knowledge and guidance provided by Progressive Arts Alliance’s artist-educators during the two workshops helped library staff become more comfortable with our own abilities to continue providing these vital and necessary programs for the young people we serve.

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