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.”