Making an impact: After 20 years Progressive Arts Alliance is now Arts Impact

For nearly 20 years, the organization known as Progressive Arts Alliance has been working with students in Cleveland area schools, nonprofit groups, and community organizations to integrate the arts into learning the ABCs and other academic basics.

Now the organization wants the entire region to feel its impact on arts education and its role in Northeast Ohio schools.

Since 2002 Arts Impact has served more than 35,000 students in Northeast Ohio, helping them to develop into creative thinkers, lifelong learners, and problem solvers.Now, on eve of its 20th anniversary, Progressive Arts Alliance has become Arts Impact—bringing learning to life through art using arts integration, social and emotional learning, STEAM concepts, and arts enrichment to help students grasp a complete picture in their learning.

In 2022 Arts Impact will celebrate 20 years of arts integration in Northeast Ohio. Part of the celebration includes the name change, with officials announced in late October to better reflect what they do.

Arts Impact recently completed a strategic plan that outlines its goals for the next three years. Officials say the name change is just the beginning of an effort to increase student engagement, demonstrate the impact of the organization’s work, and strengthen it by emphasizing its commitment to racial equity.

“We work with students in Cleveland using art to try and improve academic performance and we use art to try and help students grow—both academically and personally,” explains Arts Impact executive director Rick Grahovac. “The impact of what we do is really more of the focus, and we just felt [the name] Arts Impact better reflects the work that we do every day.”

Founded in 2002, Arts Impact works with Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) and other schools; and community organizations like Open Doors AcademyYouth Challenge, Cuyahoga County Public Library, Bellaire Puritas Development Organization, and Esperanza, to bring artist educators in to execute custom-designed arts programming that complements the academic work students are doing.





Known as residencies, the artists usually come into the schools or organizations for five to 10 sessions focused on the academic material the kids are learning.

“For instance, if kindergarteners are studying the lifecycle of butterflies, maybe a dance instructor will also be focusing on the lifecycle of the butterfly through dance,” explains Arts Impact development and marketing director Susie Bauer. “The kids are doing work on [butterflies] when we're not there, but then they're also extending and learning through the arts when we are there.”

Since 2002 Arts Impact has served more than 35,000 students in Northeast Ohio, helping them to develop into creative thinkers, lifelong learners, and problem solvers.

While Arts Impact works exclusively with schools and community organizations, Bauer says they have many partners and connections to artists and can help parents find the right programs for their children.

“We do have a lot of partners, so we can point them in the right direction,” she says.

During the recent strategic planning process, Arts Impact staff identified three goals as the organization moves into its next 20 years:
  • Increase student engagement through intensive partnerships with target schools and new program development.
  • Demonstrate the impact of its work by revamping evaluation tools and engaging in research. 
  • Strengthen the organization by emphasizing its commitment to racial equity. This commitment includes examining the curriculum through a racial equity lens; training for the team; and board and staff recruitment, hiring, and retention efforts. 
As 2022 approaches, Grahovac and Bauer say they are also making big plans—aside from the name change—to celebrate 20 years of integrating the arts into the education of Northeast Ohio young people.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.