- Progressive Arts Alliance
Arts Education with a Purpose
Ten years ago, Santina Protopapa founded an arts education organization that was unlike any other initiative in the region. Her goal: to introduce contemporary art forms to students to excite them about the arts and unleash their creative capabilities. “What fueled our interest in arts education was a quest to make it different and relevant,” says Protopapa, executive director of the Progressive Arts Alliance (PAA). “We wanted to fill that niche in Cleveland and do it in a way that was high-quality and rigorous.”
Today, PAA serves more than 1,000 schoolchildren each week who attend STEM schools in Cleveland and live at or below the federal poverty level. “We are strongly committed to and really focused and passionate about using contemporary forms of art, culture and media to reach kids through arts education,” Protopapa affirms.
That means PAA’s professional artist-educators are ingrained in the schools, introducing such art forms as hip-hop by showing students how to use turntables as a musical instrument or teaching them how to create film documentaries. PAA artists collaborate with classroom teachers to create a more vibrant learning community in schools.
In turn, students gain problem-solving and creative-thinking skills that can be applied to real life. That inspires them to achieve and shows them career paths, Protopapa says. For example, at Orchard STEM School in Cleveland, middle school students worked with a PAA industrial designer to create a locker organizer that would allow the students to make the most out of cramped storage. This involved math, designing a product to scale and presenting their ideas. The end result was to-scale renderings that were forwarded to a design firm.
“Art in the classroom can make learning very real,” Protopapa sums up. “There is no better way to reach kids today than using arts integration in the classroom—it just brings every subject to life.”
Out of Class
Beyond school-year programs, PAA’s summer outreach includes classes hosted through the Cuyahoga County Public Library system. Programs such as PAA’s two-week RHAPSODY Hip-Hop Summer Arts Camp give students from all backgrounds an opportunity to make new friends, develop their imaginations and improve their self-esteem through hands-on arts experiences.
Protopapa, a native Clevelander, is proud that PAA has been providing a different type of arts experience for so many students for the last decade. Her attitude: “What can we give Cleveland that Cleveland doesn’t have?”
“I think if we continue to build Cleveland in the right way, we can keep other young people here,” she says, adding that COSE has provided networking and back-end business tool capacities that are so critical for organizations like PAA. “COSE provides an invaluable support structure for small businesses, including those in the arts, and it’s important and refreshing that COSE recognizes artists as entrepreneurs in our region."