Category Archives: PAA News

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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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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Staff Spotlight: Santina Protopapa recognized by CWRU

Progressive Arts Alliance Executive Director Santina Protopapa visits with kindergarteners during a recent workshop at Mound STEM School.

Progressive Arts Alliance Executive Director Santina Protopapa visits with kindergarteners during a recent workshop at Mound STEM School.

We’re pleased to share that our founder and Executive Director Santina Protopapa has been named the 2015 recipient of the Young Alumni Award from the College of Arts and Sciences at Case Western Reserve University. Santina is featured in an article in the recent issue of art/sci, the magazine of the College of Arts and Science.  Click here to read the feature.

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Staff Spotlight: Ainsley Buckner

Ainsley Buckner Zoetrope Project

PAA Artist-Educator and Program Coordinator Ainsley Buckner working with third grade students to assemble a zoetrope at Orchard STEM School.

Ainsley Buckner joined the Progressive Arts Alliance full-time staff in spring 2013. In her role at PAA, she serves as both Program Coordinator and Artist-Educator. She is a visual artist who attend the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) where she majored in general fine arts and participated in MICA’s Community Arts Partnership. Her work at PAA includes overseeing the design and implementation of our programs at our partner schools and library locations as well as experimenting in the PAA lab to help test ideas and discover new methods for students to realize their artistic creations.

During the spring 2015 semester, Ainsley collaborated with two of PAA’s artist-educators to help launch new projects that our organization has not implemented in the past. We had a chance to catch up with Ainsley between running from school location to school location to discuss her recent work.

Editor: We’re excited that you’ve designed and fabricated a hydro-powered zoetrope for a third grade residency with PAA artist-educator Jen Craun at Orchard STEM School. Can you describe your process of designing and testing the zoetrope? (For more information on what a zoetrope is, click here.)

Ainsley: The challenge for my design was to use everyday materials to emphasize repurposing of materials and encourage students to think about how they could make a hydro-powered mechanism on their own. The materials I used were a CD spindle, plastic spoons, a piece of Styrofoam, modeling clay, a threaded rod, PVC pipe, a block of wood, nuts, washers, and a cooler chest. When testing out materials and designs I had to keep in mind that 3rd graders would have to be able to construct it and I needed to consider ways that I could scaffold the instruction for the students to be successful, but still leave room for exploration. The other main challenge in designing the hydro-powered zoetrope was figuring out how to change the direction of motion from vertical to horizontal. I solved this issue by using a bevel gear, which the students constructed out of two wood laser cut circles and fluted dowel pins.

Ainsley's planning sketch for the hydro-powered zoetrope project.

Ainsley’s planning sketch for the hydro-powered zoetrope project.

Editor: As you were guiding students into building the parts of the hydro-power system that you designed, what did you notice as the students engaged in the process?

Ainsley: Once the hydro-power zoetrope was complete, you could see students start to compare their hand-powered zoetrope with the energy from the water. The students developed an understanding on how the two different energies affected the motion of their zoetrope animations and which energy source is the most sustainable.  (See the zoetropes in action at the link below.)

Editor: What did you learn as an artist by going through the design process to design the zoetrope and its hydro-powered system?

Ainsley: Going through the design processes helped re-emphasize the importance of being open to learning through testing and letting my mistakes inform new iterations of the design. While building the hydro-powered mechanism with the students, I realized how important it was for me to share the steps I took and the problems I faced in the design process to deepen their understanding of how everyone can learn from their failures.

Editor: 3-D printing is a one of the current and rising trends in the growing Maker Movement. This semester you’ve worked to implement 3-D printing as part of the process of creating installation art with fourth graders at Michael R. White STEM School, in collaboration with PAA artist-educator Allison Bogard. What are some of the challenges of using 3-D printing in the elementary classroom?

Ainsley: I think one of the biggest challenges in teaching 3-D printing is having students understand how the object they’re creating exists in three planes, since they are used to working traditionally in 2-D or two-dimensional planes.

Editor: What did students learn through the process of creating a three-dimensional object? How did students react to seeing their creation come to life on the 3-D printer?

Ainsley: The students learned how to simplify the complex components of a bird’s figure into simple shapes. After breaking the body into simple shapes they were able to see how each body part of their bird informs the body as a whole. The students were very excited to see their 3-D models come to life. They were amazed by the additive sculpture method that takes place during the 3-D printing process. The printer takes plastic filament, similar to how a hot glue gun works, and heats the filament so it can be extruded as a liquid. The liquid then hardens back into a rigid plastic after seconds.

Editor: What does engaging in the process of designing and creating interactive installation art provide for students?

Ainsley: I think teaching students about interactive installation art shows students how they can not only transform a space through visual art, but also how they can inform and educate people through hands-on engagement of their audience.  (Take a peek at the link below to see the process of creating a 3-D bird.)

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Guest Blog Post: PopMaster Fabel on Creating and Dancing in Scratch

Legendary hip-hop dance pioneer PopMaster Fabel recently joined us for our weekend workshop on President’s Day in which students from our RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp learned how to use MIT’s Scratch programming language to code a dance animation. The workshop was a part of PAA’s partnership with the Scratch Team. Read more about the partnership here. Below are PopMaster Fabel’s reflections on participating in the process and creating his own dance animation.

PAA students with hip-hop dance pioneer Popmaster Fabel during a recent workshop in which students learned how to use Scratch to code dance animations. Photo by Jared Akerstrom.

PAA students with hip-hop dance pioneer PopMaster Fabel during a recent workshop in which students learned how to use Scratch to code dance animations. Photo by Jared Akerstrom.

The first challenge in producing a Scratch project was thinking of a concept that could be effectively executed with the tools and templates provided. After seeing samples of what can be done, the possibilities seemed endless, hence opening the floodgates to creative thinking and processing. I instantly thought of a few concepts that might effectively illustrate the magic and wonder of Scratch. Some were very elaborate while others seemed simple yet effective. I chose to go with one I was already very familiar with, The Puppet. It was a performance piece I created with my first dance partner, Mr. Wiggles, where he was the puppet and I was the puppet master. In this case, I was both characters for the first time ever. This was an exciting thought and possibility!

Here is a clip of me and Mr. Wiggles performing The Puppet:

Storyboard for PopMaster Fabel's dance animation in Scratch.

Storyboard for PopMaster Fabel’s dance animation in Scratch.

Transferring the ideas onto a storyboard was the next challenge. The creative process warranted careful consideration of the series of still images and positions that were to be photographed and sequenced. The interaction between puppet and puppet master consists of a series of movements that needed to be precise in order to pull off the effect. This challenged me to think of the simplest equation that would still be effective and contain the essence, mechanics and functionality of the performance piece. This process challenged my way of conceptualizing movement since dance choreography isn’t usually storyboarded or prearranged with notations. I was forced to get my point across in the simplest terms yet remain creatively entertaining. A true example of how less can be more.

Popmaster Fabel shares his storyboard with students during our recent workshop with the Scratch team.

PopMaster Fabel shares his storyboard with students during our recent Scratch workshop.

The final challenge was learning how to sequence and manipulate the images with the Scratch interface. The use of layers, backgrounds, audio files, sizing, speed, etc opened doors to an infinite amount of possibilities. Although my knowledge of video editing gave me somewhat of an advantage, I still had to get acquainted with a new programming system. For the most part, creating an animation in Scratch was mostly based on experiential learning. We were given the tools, taught how to use them and the rest was based on trial and error. In my opinion, this is one of the best ways to learn how to navigate through any software and/or computer application. Hands on. Big fun!

Fabel and Team

PopMaster Fabel (right) works with PAA artist Jared Akerstrom (left) and Eric Schilling from the MIT Media Lab coding his dance animation in Scratch.

Watching the animation come together was absolutely magical! It was as if we were breathing life into inanimate objects. Every aspect of the process brought about a thrill and sense of achievement, from adding the background and music to sequencing the images and finally bringing it all together. The experience was self-empowering and leveled the playing field on an artistic platform. Just about anyone who follows good direction and enjoys being creative can have a wonderful experience with Scratch.

Click the image to view PopMaster Fabel's animation he created as part of our Scratch workshop experience.

Click the image to view PopMaster Fabel’s animation he created as part of our Scratch workshop.

What excited me about the students’ animations were their brilliant concepts and creative thinking. Their ideas all varied in themes and were extremely unique. See their animations by clicking here. Some of them seemed to transform themselves into cyber super heroes while others created new dimensions and characters in time and space. The students truly enjoyed the experience and their level of achievement was contagious and much appreciated. It made me wonder, what if this system was used to teach subjects in schools? Would the “edutainment” factor in Scratch add motivation and artistic flavor to the presently stale approach to lesson plans and curricula? If you ask me, the answer is YES! The Scratch project can help revolutionize the teaching methods used in schools and learning institutions. Scratch can be the wave of our educational future and I’m honored to have been able to surf that tide!

It’s more fun to compute!
Jorge “PopMaster Fabel” Pabon

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PAA Partners with MIT Media Lab

PAA MIT Scratch

Click the photo to visit the online studio of Scratch dance animations created by students from PAA’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp.


PAA is pleased to share that we have partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab as part of their work on Coding for All: Interest-Driven Trajectories to Computational Fluency, a National Science Foundation funded initiative that is a collaboration led by the Scratch Team at the MIT Media Lab, the DML Research Hub at University of California Irvine, and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

The Scratch Team has engaged PAA to assist as a content expert in using hip-hop in arts education experiences that also support students’ development in computational fluency. The project is exploring how students can develop computational fluency by using Scratch. Scratch is a visual programming language and online community which enables young people to create and share their own interactive media such as animations, games, and stories. PAA’s work with the Scratch Team has included developing plans on how to facilitate the design and coding of hip-hop dance animations in Scratch.

PAA Executive Director Santina Protopapa  helped implement this work with the Scratch Team by co-facilitating a workshop with students at the Junipero Serra Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in December. During President’s Day weekend last month, students from PAA’s annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp also participated in a weekend-long workshop that enabled them to design Scratch animations using their own dance routines.  Students also worked with legendary hip-hop dancer Popmaster Fabel to learn additional dance movements and vocabulary to include in their animations. Students were excited to have Popmaster Fabel code his own dance animation during the weekend’s activities. See the animations the students created by clicking here.

Students from PAA's RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp busy coding their dance animations during President's Day weekend.

Students from PAA’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp busy coding their dance animations during President’s Day weekend.

In June, Protopapa will join members of the Scratch Team and others involved in the project in a presentation at the Digital Media and Learning Conference in Los Angeles, California.  The presentation will share the work of this project and will engage participants in a sample dance and coding activity. The team plans to use the work of the hip-hop and Scratch design experience to generate discussion on ways to develop and support interest-based pathways into computational fluency for youth from groups under-represented in computing.

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News from our Artist-Educators

Why Arts Integration Matters

Progressive Arts Alliance serves over 1,300 students each week with arts-integration programs in Cleveland’s PreK-8 STEM Schools. PAA Artist-Educator Dina Hoeynck discusses how students learn how to embrace the interconnectedness of disparate subjects and more while collaborating. Discover how this work develops students’ 21st century skills by clicking below. Click Here to Read More
Scratching the Surface
PAA is collaborating with the MIT Media Lab

Last year, PAA formed a partnership with the Lifelong Kindergarten Research Group at the MIT Media Lab. Primarily our work has been collaborating in Scratch, a visual programming language for kids. This month our team of artist-educators dug more into Scratch to discover how to use the program in our residencies. Artist-Educator Jen Craun discusses a recent training program and the possibilities of Scratch. Click Here to Read More

Fall Semester Project:
Building a Wetu
Residency Connects with Native American Curriculum
PAA Artist-Educator Marcus Brathwaite discusses his design process for a 1st grade project at Orchard STEM School. He explores how the design process that was implemented failed during the first day of the program and how he iterated the implementation to yield the successful, desired result. Click Here to Read More

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Semester finale at our partner schools

PAA at Gibbons

1st graders from Hannah Gibbons STEM School share the work they completed with PAA during a presentation at the Great Lakes Science Center.

Our residencies in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District’s Pk-8 STEM Schools culminated this week with an exhibition of students’ work at the Great Lakes Science Center. This semester, students used such art forms as sculpture, dance, mixed media, video production, animation, and digital photography to deepen their understanding in a wide variety of STEM content areas. Read more about the arts-integration work of our artist-educators in CMSD’s STEM Schools by visiting their blog here.


Watch the video below to see this semester’s work in action:

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PAA Visits MIT Media Lab


Eric Schilling of the MIT Media Lab, Santina Protopapa, and Connor Musarra celebrating PAA’s work with the Media Lab’s Scratch team.


Connor Musarra and Natalie Rusk of the MIT Media Lab working on a beta test of hip-hop dance in Scratch.


One of the beta test animations created during PAA’s work at MIT.

Last month, PAA Executive Director Santina Protopapa visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab to explore how PAA can help the Scratch Team incorporate hip-hop and hip-hop dance into the Scratch programming language. Scratch is a free programming language and online community that enables kids to create their own interactive stories, games, and animations. Protopapa was joined by PAA artist and former student Connor Musarra. Together with members of the Scratch team, Protopapa and Musarra helped design and program a series of beta tests that resulted in animations of hip-hop dance movements in Scratch.  Stay tuned for more updates on this exciting partnership between PAA and MIT.

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