Category Archives: Hip-Hop

Reflections: 14 years of Hip-Hop Camp

A student-designed "F" in graffiti style that was rendered in 3D and printed using a 3D printer at this year's RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp.

A student-designed “F” in graffiti style that was rendered in 3D and printed using a 3D printer at this year’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp.

By: Santina Protopapa, PAA Founder and Executive Director

This month, after completing the 14th annual installment of our annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp, I’ve been reflecting on our experience over the last 14 years using hip-hop to teach in and through the arts.  As the founder of the program (and PAA), I’m humbled by the growth trajectory the camp has undergone.

As I’ve been reflecting on what has made the camp a success over the years, I’ve realized that three key themes continue to resonate from year to year. These themes include:

Since the first day of camp in August 2002, our commitment to innovation has been a key driver in our work. We have always been insistent on using the turntable as a modern electronic percussion instrument. We have accomplished this by teaching the skills that DJs and turntablists have been innovating since DJ Kool Herc first introduced the world to what would be known as hip-hop in the Bronx in 1973. This year, in addition to continuing our focus on DJing innovation, we also added additional technology innovation tools to our camp curriculum. During our graffiti classes, students learned how to render their graffiti designs into three-dimensional digital files that were then fabricated on a 3D printer. Students also learned how to render their designs and fabricate their work using as laser cuter. Integrating these rapid prototyping tools into our camp gave students an additional glimpse into how the skills they learn at hip-hop camp can be applied in other contexts.

I still vividly remember so many amazing instances when perseverance paid off for our campers.  I’ll never forget when Robert finally got his head slide he had been working on in 2005.  Or in 2013 when Emanuwel described how a new dance move was “really, really hard” and then told me and the rest of the campers, “I can’t wait to keep trying it again tomorrow until I finally learn it.” And there are also countless stories of practicing at home (outside of camp time) so that no momentum was lost in the pursuit of mastery. As an arts educator, perseverance is one of the key skills I hope our students take from their arts education experience. Hip-Hop camp has been the perfect outlet for dozens of students to understand the value of perseverance.

Understanding the context of hip-hop’s beginnings and the development of its artistic art forms has been an important part of the camp since day one. My work in curating the camp’s artistic and educational objectives has always included making sure students understand the key innovators in each of hip-hop’s art forms (DJing, MCing, dance, and graffiti) and whenever possible, giving students the opportunity to meet one of the innovators. We’ve been so fortunate over the last few years to have DJ Rob Swift, one of the key innovators in the art of turntablism, join us as a resident instructor. This year, we spent time allowing students to develop an understanding of the mechanics of the craft and processes that each of our instructors have developed as professional artists. These sessions featured our instructors in a live interview format sharing work samples and discussing their work and artistic philosophy. Following these interview sessions, students shared amazing feedback. Students noted how much they enjoyed learning how our MC instructor AtLas’ uses personal stories from her life in her songs and how our graffiti instructor Keny Medina translates his graffiti skills into his college studies in architecture. Understanding context gave our students a glimpse into the life of artists both young (like them) and old. I loved hearing one student explain, “I was so surprised to learn the history of DJing. I had no idea all that went into it.”

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Guest Blog Post: PAA’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp Empowered Our Daughter to Dream Big

Guest Bloggers Ken Espenschied and Regina Jolly Espenschied of Olmsted Township with their daughter Liz following last year’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp concert performance.

By Regina Jolly Espenschied and Ken Espenschied

Like most parents, we try to find fun and intellectually stimulating summer activities for our kids. Over the years our daughter Liz has attended a variety of camps including: chess camp, science camp, string camp, and skating camp.

PAA’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp stands out among the rest. The combination of technology, visual art, music, and dance results in an exciting multi-faceted camp that encourages students to challenge themselves as individuals, helps them step out of their comfort zones, and keeps them focused as a team to create a performance experience to share with the Greater Cleveland community, all while having fun.

The camp faculty are incredible teachers who are world-class artists. They have the passion, energy, and expertise to teach young adults in a technical, yet entertaining and engaging way. The faculty consistently encourage the students to keep a strong work ethic, maintain a growth mind-set, and make a difference in the world.

We often have to pry information from our daughter about her camp activities. Hip-Hop Camp was different. Each day Liz came home excited and shared with us her activities: a visit to MOCA or think[box], new dance moves she tried to perfect, or even Skype sessions with Darryl McDaniels from Run-D.M.C. and break dancer Storm (all the way from Germany).

Attending Hip-Hop Camp was a unique and meaningful experience for our daughter. The welcoming environment, honest feedback, and ability to work in small groups with seasoned professionals empowered her to dream big and feel that she can achieve any goal that she sets.

Get the latest news about this year’s RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp by signing up for our mailing list here.


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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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Celebrating 13 years of Hip-Hop Camp

This year marked the 13th year of our annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp.  The video above shares insights into the camp experience from this year’s instructors: DJ Rob Swift, MC Atlas’, B-Boy Tony Fresh, and Gloe.

Special thanks to the Community Engagement and Education department at PlayhouseSquare for continuing to partner with us and providing space at the Idea Center to host the camp.

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Looking Back: 10 Years, 4 Memories

PAA’s Founder and Executive Director Reminisces

Memory 4: The Professional
Above: PAA Executive Director Santina Protopapa (left) with Stephen Phillips as he accepts his Outstanding Camper of the Year award at Hip-Hop Camp 2008.

By Santina Protopapa

I like to take the stance in regards to my students  that my mom takes to her children, “I don’t pick favorites.  I love them all equally.”  With that in mind as I reflect on the past 10 years of hip-hop camp, I can’t help but think about a few students that I might love a little more “equally.” I’m going to take the next few blog entries to share stories about our camp’s counselors, also members of the PAA All-Stars, who are former hip-hop campers and might be a little more “equal” in my eyes.

We first met Stephen Phillips while he was a student at our intergenerational summer camp at Judson.  During lunch one day at Judson, Stephen and a couple of other students were break dancing and doing “the worm.”  After seeing Stephen dance, I said, “Maybe you should come to our other camp too.”

Stephen has been dancing and a whole lot more with PAA since 2005.  His work ethic and enthusiasm each year at Hip-Hop Camp catapulted him to becoming one of the members of our premier group of student performers, the PAA All-Stars.  In 2007, when the camp instructors and I were discussing who should be awarded Outstanding Camper of the Year, Stephen and his colleague Connor Musarra came up in discussion.  Our guest artist Popmaster Fabel immediately said, “Those guys are professional.”  Later at the final performance, my mom got a chance to check out the students’ show and during the show she leaned over to me while Stephen was singing and MCing and said, “Wow, he sounds like a professional.” The following year, it was easy to award Stephen the Outstanding Camper of the Year award — his enthusiasm for being professional was (and continues to be) easy to recognize.

It was no coincidence this year at camp while we were discussing with the students what they needed to look like during the rehearsal and the show, and the students couldn’t guess what word I was looking for, Stephen turned around and said without thinking, “Professional.”

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Stephen all summer this year as one of our interns.  His calm, professional demeanor helped keep our programs running smoothly with our hectic programming schedule this summer.We’re looking forward to seeing all of his other professional endeavors in the future. Be sure to check out Stephen’s new recordings as Kennedy Blaq.

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Looking Back: 10 Years, 4 Memories

PAA’s Founder and Executive Director Reminisces

Memory 3: Our ‘MacGyver’
Above: DeeJay Doc (right) watches student Aaron perform at Hip-Hop Camp 2004.
By Santina Protopapa

In 2004, we were in need of a new DJ instructor for camp.  Some dancers I had worked with in the past recommended that I contact Doc Harrill, aka DeeJay Doc.  Doc immediately brought a different perspective to teaching turntablism and DJing to camp.  His first order of business: make sure students know how to properly handle the gear at all times or what he calls “DJ etiquette.”  During the first student performance under Doc’s guidance, PAA artist-educator Dave McCullough looked at me and said, “Wow.  There’s such a difference when you watch students Doc has worked with on the turntables.  The way they pick up the needle.  They way they approach the turntables.”

Since joining the PAA team in 2004, Doc has continually brought new ideas and approaches to everything he does for our organization.  He’s also quite inventive and innovative in helping us solve problems with our gear and other hurdles we face.  His innovation has led me to call him the “MacGyver” of PAA.  From helping us better store and transport laptops to finding the best ways for us to “rig” our sound, I’m always amazed (and quite grateful) for everything Doc brings to our programs and especially to our students.  His strategies to help make things run more smoothly have always helped improve the quality of our programs.

Speaking of innovation, it’s been such a pleasure working with Doc over the years and watching him grow as a teaching artist. His thirst for knowledge and his enthusiasm for curriculum design has deepened the level of engagement our students have been able to experience.  I’m looking forward to seeing what Doc will bring to the camp as our students’ “scratch buddy” in the future.

Thanks Doc for all you do!

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Summertime at PAA!

Ten Years of Progressive Arts Alliance

Summertime at PAA!

Here at Progressive Arts Alliance, we’ve not only been enjoying
Cleveland’s hot summer weather, but we’ve also been enjoying
all of the dynamic arts learning experiences we’ve been able to
provide throughout Northeast Ohio.
Since June, we’ve been giving students of all ages the opportunity
to learn in and through the arts with programs ranging from
video production to printmaking to hip-hop.
Read below for a recap of all the exciting things that have been
going on this summer and be sure to click the links to some of our
students’ work samples!
This month we’re kicking off our 10th anniversary celebration with
our 10th Annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp.
We hope you’ll join us over the coming year as we celebrate
10 years of service to our community.
Santina Protopapa
Executive Director

RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp
PAA Allstars

We’re pleased to be presenting the 10th Annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop
Summer Arts Camp this year at the Idea Center at PlayhouseSquare.
Click here to see the camp’s recent feature on WKYC TV Channel 3 with
Robin Swoboda. We hope you’ll
join us for our students’ exciting
show this Friday, August 12 at 3 pm at the Idea Center
that will showcase the music, dance, and visual art they’ve been working
on over the past two weeks.

Media Arts Camps

PAA was pleased to continue our work in partnership with the
Cuyahoga County Public Library system. We presented our
Media Arts Camps to students at the BrookPark, Olmsted Falls,
Parma Hts., Garfield Hts., and Strongsville library branches.
During our Media Arts Camps led by PAA
Artist-Educators Lauren Sammon and Josh Reith,
students learned how to make their own stop motion
animation videos, designed their own web sites, and created
soundtracks for their videos and web sites.
We enjoyed seeing all of the imagination and innovation
our students brought to each of these programs.
Click on the below thumbnails to visit students’ websites
view their animations:

Blob Boy AnimationTornado AnimationFlower AnimationPurple Cow Animation










Printmaking and Mural Design Camp at Judson 

Slideshow of Mural Design and Printmaking at Judson




Progressive Arts Alliance presented an intergenerational printmaking
and mural design program which gave older adults from Judson at
University Circle the dynamic opportunity to learn about printmaking
and the processes of designing a mural over the course of one week
while working with middle school students from Open Doors Academy.
Printmaking activities were led by PAA Artist-Educator Jen Craun and
mural-making activities were led by Meri Ruble.Participants in the
program each produced an edition of prints and as a collaborative team
completed an exciting mural about our community.

Video Production Camps
Video Production Camp








In addition to our Media Arts Camps at Cuyahoga County Public Library
branches, PAA also presented Video Production Camps at the Fairview
Park, Brooklyn, and Brecksville branches. Led by PAA Artist-Educators
Lisa Manzari and Carla Carter, students at our Video Production Camps
learned all phases of the production process and applied what they
learned by producing different types of persuasive videos.
The videos the students produced were informative and creative,
humorous and well edited!

Musical Soundscapes
Audio Recording Workshops
Musical Soundscapes






Our Musical Soundscapes Audio Recording Workshops visited all 28 branches
of the Cuyahoga County Public Library and were led by
PAA Artist-Educatorand professional audio engineer Doc Harrill with
help from our summer intern Stephen Phillips. Each session allowed
students to have the special opportunity to explore musical styles
from throughout the world through engaging in the process of
“sampling” audio clips. Students then produced
their own original audio recordings using recording and sampling
software on PAA’s Apple laptops. Click the graphic above to hear
some of the recordings produced during our Soundscapes workshops.

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Looking Back: 10 Years, 4 Memories

PAA’s Founder and Executive Director Reminisces

Memory 2: Magic Happens in the Jams

undefinedAbove: PAA Artist-Educator Rep Life (Daniel Gray-Kontar) doing a chair freeze at this year’s Hip-Hop Camp jam.


By Santina Protopapa

It’s the end of the first week of our 10th annual camp and we just ended the last day’s activities the way we have been ending the first week of camp since 2004’s camp: with an open jam.  We decided to have a jam at 2004’s camp to give students the experience of how hip-hop emerged as well the environment that encapsulates the essence of hip-hop culture.

In a hip-hop jam, the DJ sets the tone for the party and artists from all of the other elements are punctuating and enhancing that energy with their dynamic contributions.  In our jams at hip-hop camp, we make sure to give students open time and freedom to express themselves and showcase their creativity and imagination.

There are so many exciting memories to share from our jams over the years.  There have been moments at each jam that allowed a student to shine who completely surprised me, our instructors, and other students.  I can’t help but think of Robert’s head slide while dancing and battling at our first jam.  Or the infamous MC battle that pushed everyone so hard that one young student ripped his shirt out of frustration to find his next rhyme! That MC battle sticks out in my mind because it also revealed one of our best freestylers: William.  I’ll also never forget Rolanda seamlessly looping records at one jam – representing the original skills of DJs who started hip-hop culture.  And I also can’t forget Anthony rhyming at our jam last year and telling everyone he’s “signing this beat like an autograph.”

Today’s jam also had some magical moments just like every year.  We saw Emanuwel dance with energy and intent in a way we never have seen before.  We also enjoyed sharing our students’ art work with projections of live creations.  And perhaps one of my favorite moments from today’s jam: seeing our instructors joining our students in being creative.  The ultimate surprise for me in today’s jam was seeing our MC instructor Rep Life jump out on the dance floor and really break and finish it off with a chair freeze.  I’ve known him for nearly 12 years and I had no idea he could hang with the b-boys.  It was a magical moment.  Especially after a few minutes before hand, he was so moved by the energy of our students that he whispered to me, “Watching these students is making me have a moment.”  Thanks Rep for reminding me what hip-hop is all about!

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Looking Back: 10 Years, 4 Memories

PAA’s Founder and Executive Director Reminisces

Memory 1: The Power of Partnerships


Above: Executive Director Santina Protopapa at Hip-Hop Camp, 2010 (Photo by Chris Ramsay)

By Santina Protopapa

It’s Monday, August 1 and the first day of the 10th Annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp just ended and I can’t help but be nostalgic and look back at how the camp has grown since we launched the program in 2002.

One of the most successful aspects of the RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp over the years has been the power of the collaborative partnerships we have enjoyed to present the program.  The camp launched thanks to a partnership we created with Janus Small, then director of the Center for Arts and Culture at Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C).  Janus was excited to understand how hip-hop could be used in arts education and in theater settings.  I was thrilled when I casually mentioned to her that our new organization, Progressive Arts Alliance, was interested in presenting a summer camp for students that would enable them to learn more about the history and artistic expressions of hip-hop culture and she said “Absolutely.  Let’s do it here at Tri-C.  And by the way, I’m sending my son to camp too.”  Janus’ support allowed us to form the core curriculum that we have been honing over the years.  I’m so grateful for Janus’ vision to support an upstart organization and offer so much guidance in helping us to launch the camp.

After the camp’s first two years at Tri-C, Janus left the college to launch her own company and since Tri-C would no longer be able to host the camp without Janus at the helm, she referred us to Hathaway Brown School as a potential host.  While I was nervous about approaching an exclusive private school about hosting our young camp, I was extremely excited by the enthusiasm for hip-hop expressed by Hathaway Brown’s Marlene Leber, chair of the dance department.  Marlene helped PAA make a home for the camp at Hathaway Brown for three years.  Our partnership with Hathaway Brown enabled us to reach more students by providing better access to the camp for students who lived in the immediate neighborhoods and cities near the school.  This partnership helped professionalize our operations and also led us to meet students who would eventually become the PAA All-Stars (more on this in a later entry).

While at Hathaway Brown, we formed a partnership that has become the most enduring alliance in which our organization has engaged. Colleen Porter, Director of Playhouse Square’s Community Engagement and Education Department, generously offered the then newly opened Arts Education Spaces at the Idea Center at Playhouse Square for our camp’s culminating performance. The opportunity to perform in the professional facilities at the Idea Center was exciting for our students. Following the camp, when we were looking for a new venue for the program, Colleen suggested that we partner with Playhouse Square to continue to offer the camp at the Idea Center.  The camp has had its home at the Idea Center since 2007 and our partnership with Playhouse Square has given the camp additional infrastructure and has enabled our staff to present our best work in the best facilities possible.  We are so grateful for Playhouse Square’s commitment to supporting the local arts community and we are especially grateful for Colleen’s vision and commitment to “bring in as many students as possible to take advantage of the space we can offer.”

As we are launching our 10th Anniversary Celebration Year of Progressive Arts Alliance with this year’s camp, I am also grateful for our new funding partners who have signed on to support our RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp and the other outreach programs we provide throughout the school year.  These new national supporters include The Hot Topic Foundation and The National Endowment for the Arts.

 I hope you will join us as we begin our celebration of 10 years of engaging students in the special process of learning in and through the arts!

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Summer 2010 in Review: 9th Annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp

Summer Camp Like No Other

Above: Hip-Hop Camp Final Performance. Photo by Chris Ramsay.

By Laura Einsel

“Who are we? Who are we? Hip-Hop!” sang students at the final performance of Progressive Arts Alliance’s (PAA) 9th Annual RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp.  In this two-week camp, a diverse group of 40 students from throughout the greater Cleveland area came together at PlayhouseSquare’s Idea Center to learn the four founding elements of hip-hop: MCing, DJing, breaking, and graffiti art.Students were lead by a talented team of top hip-hop artists and educators, to master their skills in all four art forms.  Campers also received mentoring from the camp’s counselors, high school and college students who had attended the camp in previous years.

Connor Musarra, who has been attending camp since the age of 12, said he chose to become a counselor because, “I wanted the chance to change these kids’ lives just like it [Hip-Hop Camp] did for me.” In addition to learning new skills, students also learned the history of hip-hop and how it has grown into a global cultural expression. Hip-hop was started by a relatively small group of youth in the South Bronx in the 1970s “as a means to give them a creative voice and uplift them out of a disadvantaged environment,” explains Executive Director and founder of PAA, Santina Protopapa, who taught hip-hop history lessons at camp.

Santina hopes students at the camp come away with an understanding that “hip-hop can be a positive form of creative self-expression” and that “there is another side to the sometimes negative world of rap music they are often exposed to.”

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