Santina Protopapa Leaving Progressive Arts Alliance for Lincoln Center

[photo: Progressive Arts Alliance]
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Cleveland's loss is New York City's gain as an innovative educator who used hip hop to teach students about a variety of subjects, is leaving to take a job at Lincoln Center.

After working in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum's education department for several years, Santina Protopapa began considering a new career path in 2001.

"A group of artists I was working with, we felt really passionate about what we could do from a grass-roots level to bring the arts, especially hip hop at the time, to students.  So that was really the fuel for bringing Progressive Arts Alliance to fruition," she said.

Protopapa spoke with a teacher whom she'd been working with while still at the Rock Hall, about continuing a one-time hip-hop program with the school.   She asked if she brought something similar to the school but through a different organization, would he still want it at his school.

"He said, 'Santina it doesn't matter what the name is on it, it matters what the kids get out of it.'  So I went home that night and said how do you start a non-profit?  I feel real strongly that we can be doing this on our own terms in a real strong, rigorous, meaningful way," she recalls.

In 2002, Protopapa began Progressive Arts Alliance.  She used hip hop as a way to engage students to learn about not only other artistic disciplines but science, math and social studies as well.

"It started off with a hip-hop summer arts camp, which is now in residency at the Idea Center each summer, and grew with my interests to also include an oral history project that we did in collaboration with Judson Retirement Community.  Then we really started to dig into arts education in the schools and that's really what are sweet spot is now," Protopapa said.

Protopapa admits that convincing educators and funders that hip hop can be a teaching tool can be problematic with the commercial hip-hop and rap industry presenting a certain image that doesn't reflect what PAA is doing.  But once people saw that the program is interdisciplinary with rigor and discipline, minds changed.

"People get excited and want to know more, and want to figure out how we can bring it to more students.  It's really about giving access to funders to learn about it as well.  I haven't met a teacher that didn't appreciate hip hop more after they engaged in our program," she said.

Now after 15 years at the helm of PAA Protopapa is taking on a new challenge, as she becomes the director of educational partnerships at New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.  Leaving PAA she admits, isn't easy.

"It was definitely a tough decision.  PAA has been a fabulous opportunity for me to grow my thinking and my passion for teaching through the arts.  At the same time, it wasn't totally a difficult decision because we have a really fabulous staff that we've assembled and grown over the years, who've really helped drive the innovation of our work," she said.

When Protopapa stepped back and asked herself about PAA's future, she realized how much she believed in the team now in place.

"I was confident that the leadership of our board would be able to steward the organization into the next phase of success.  So it was hard.  This is a passion of mine, a baby of mine, that I've been growing for a while.  It was also easy to see the assets we've developed over the years," she said.

Santina Protopapa's last day with the Progressive Arts Alliance is March 15 but she'll continue as a member of the organization's advisory board.

Listen to Dan Polletta's interview with Santina Protopapa and PAA board president Monday, March 13 at 12:33pm and 1:52pm on 90.3 WCPN during Here and Now featuring The Sound of Applause.



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