Getting Creative in Cleveland

Name: Emma Thompson

Type of Project: Artistic and Creative Endeavors

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project: For my STEP project I wanted to further explore my love for drawing and painting in a fun, creative, and productive manner. I decided to start an online shop (known as an Etsy shop) where I sold my drawings and paintings. This allowed me to be creative AND gain business experience.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?: When I began my project, I had never really felt like a “real” artist. As silly as that may sound, I simply felt like my passion was nothing more than just a hobby. Because my STEP experience also doubled as a business, it gave me a real opportunity to critique myself as an artist. My customers even left me some really great reviews on my online shop page. To be able to create works of art that were so beautiful and unique that complete strangers wanted to hang them in their homes was such a confidence booster. Below you can see an example of my art that has been purchased by many complete strangers to hang in their home and office I have never been a more confident artist before this summer.

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? I had many different positive experiences during my STEP experience that made me a better and more confident artist. One of my favorite things to make this summer was dog portraits. An example of a dog portrait I created this summer is shown below. One of the dog portraits I got to make this summer was for a family that had recently lost their labradoodle. I honored the beloved family pet by making a portrait for this family to hang in their home. The family loved their portrait and was so thankful I shared my talents with them


In another experience, I created a “Cleveland Skyline Canvas” (shown below) for a customer that was starting a new job at Sherwin Williams in Cleveland. Sherwin Williams is an important part of the Cleveland Economy and I was so flattered that my painting was going to be hanging in their office space. The customer told me he gets so many compliments on my art.


I was really proud of how much my business grew. Below you can see a chart of revenue vs. month (for July, as I am writing this article). As more and more people discover my shop, more and more people are buying works of art from me. That makes me feel great about my art. I have never been this confident of an artist. I now feel comfortable trying to techniques knowing that I have a multitude of customers who like my work.

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Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  Truthfully I have never been a confident person. In high school, I always felt like I needed verification from others in order to feel good about the art that I have created. If I got a “B” on my AP studio art assignment I felt that I somehow lacked talent and technique. Now I finally can feel good about what I create. I can try new things knowing that SOMEONE will find it beautiful. In addition, I also got some wonderful business experience. I loved my STEP experience and I really think it allowed me to broaden my horizons in a way I would not have otherwise!

Link to my (now inactive) Etsy page:



Stepping Out Of My Comfort Zone

Hello, my name is Sushmitha Ravikumar and the purpose of my STEP project was to help me explore more performance opportunities in Indian Carnatic Classical music and promote Indian Carnatic music and diversity through music. This past summer, I had the opportunity of performing in several venues across the country. Each performance was challenging in different ways and throughout this summer I have grown tremendously as a musician.

I had several concerts this summer which are listed below:

October 10th, 2015- Vocal concert for Pallavi Darbar Bridhavani in New Jersey

September 26th- 27th- Vocal concert in Toronto

September 5th, 2015- Youth festival in California

August 8th, 2015- Violin concert in Lima and Anubhava Dance tour

July 31st- August 2nd, 2015- Chicago temple for Adithya Chakravarthy

July 19th, 2015- Solo violin concert in Dayton, Ohio

July 5th, 2015- Vocal concert in the Cleveland temple

June 27th, 2015- Arangetram for Pallavi in Pittsburgh

June 21st, 2015- Arangetram for Ria Datla

June 20th, 2015- Columbus Sai Baba temple and concert for Smt. Vasanthi Ramesh

June 13th and 14th, 2015- Youth festival in Washington D.C.

May 30th, 2015- Youth festival in Rochester, New Jersey

However, I wanted to highlight a few concerts that were transformative for me.

I began my summer concert season in New Jersey where I accompanied a vocalist for one concert and a saxophone artist for another concert. Although I have previously accompanied for concerts before, this was the first time I accompanied for a saxophonist. It was challenging because the instrument itself has a different tonal quality and is played much different than traditional instruments. Because the saxophone is traditionally a western instrument, which has only recently been adapted into eastern music, the concert was a great opportunity for me to bridge the gap between eastern and western music and diversify my skillset in accompanying.

Anvita and Me

Later on, I played for an arangetram, or first recital, for a girl named Pallavi in Pittsburgh. I have played for dance arangetrams, but this was my first time playing for a vocal arangetram. This concert was definitely a challenge for me and pushed me to work hard. Because arangetrams are first recitals for the main artist, the accompanist cannot make mistakes because it can distract the main artist. Therefore, I had to be extra attentive to make sure everything I was playing was perfect and this was a difficult task since most of Carnatic music is improvisation!   But, this experience helped me focus on minute intricacies in my own playing and helped me strive more for perfection than I normally do.

Pallavi arangetram

A couple weeks after that I had a solo violin concert. I have done many violin solos as a trio with one or two other instruments, but I have never done a violin solo completely by myself with only drums to accompany me. Playing a complete violin solo was challenging because it is harder to keep an audience entertained for an hour and a half without the additional support. Therefore, I practiced and tried many new instrumental techniques that I typically don’t do in concerts, which enabled me to step out of my comfort zone. I also decided to include some challenging keys, which further pushed me to grow as a solo violinist.

More recently, I joined a production tour, Anubhava, which includes six dancers and six musicians of my age. The unique aspect of Anubhava is that it is the first group of all students born and brought up in North America to choreograph and set all the music for the performance without external aid. This was a very thrilling experience for me because I was able to set my own music. Being a part of this performance was also challenging because I had to play with emotion to match the mood of the dancers. Typically, I play what I feel is right, but here, I had to pay more attention to the story the dancers were telling and match the story’s mood. Moreover, our group decided to take on a bigger challenge by using our creativity to try a different piece, Ragam Thanam Pallavi, which is typically never done in dance productions. This completely transformed my view of dance productions and showed me that music doesn’t have to only be choreographed to dance, but that the dance can be choreographed to music. What added to the complexity was that all the practicing was done online and quickly rehearsed the day of the performance. Therefore, I had to be quick to pick up on cues, learn new pieces in a short time frame, and also be flexible since anything could change.


Learning music has always been a passion of mine and performing music has helped me enhance my professional goals to give performances and teach music when I grow older in addition to my academic professional career as an engineer. My performances have ranged from playing for dance recitals, to vocal recitals, to international music festivals where I am able to connect and intermix Indian music with other forms of music. This year, my goal was continue to perform throughout North America and promote diversity through music and this summer I have achieved that in different ways and have grown as a musician as a result. I have challenged myself in ways that I never would have imagined, pushed myself to utmost creativity, and certainty stepped out of my comfort zone. I plan to continue giving performances and expanding my skills. Ultimately, these efforts will help me continue to expand my creative boundaries and work with organizations to maintain an international connection.

The Sightless Step

The week of August 3rd-7th I was privileged enough to work with an extraordinary group of kids at the Ohio State School for the Blind. For those that don’t know this school teaches a wide range of kids with visual impairments, from completely blind to just very near sighted. Not only do they teach kids, they house them and feed them throughout the year, and when they graduate they can still come but, until they are 22. But what’s even more incredible is the fact that the music program fields a MARCHING band every year, yes a BLIND marching band. These kids overcome all adversity to partake in one of the most traditional forms of music in the United States, and do it while not seeing the music or where they are going. Now, the students who need more help do have “marching assistants” who are volunteers which help guide the students around the field. My job was less of guiding them and more of teaching the kids their music for the week. Which in in-of it self was very complicated as half the kids didn’t know how to read music if they could even see it.

The human brain acts in very strange ways, and as one sense is taken away normally all others are enhanced. This is the case for these kids, they may not be able to see the music but their ability to listen and memorize parts and play what I play is incredible. I would break down songs and play their parts while explaining the patterns to them, all the while they are memorizing everything I say and play. By the end of the week the kids were marching to five different songs at various tempos.

This week not only offered me the chance to work with a drumline but it gave me a chance to learn how I teach others and to improve on my teaching skills. I had so much fun with this camp that I plan on  using all my resources from STEP to work more band camps next year, and with the valuable experience of this camp I know I can grow to be a great percussion instructor.

Please enjoy some pictures I took during the camp:

The Ohio State School for the Blind Marching Band

The Ohio State School for the Blind Marching Band



Full Uniform

Full Uniform

Percussion Section silly picture!

Percussion Section silly picture!

The Ohio State School for the Blind

The Ohio State School for the Blind

Marching Assistant helping a student

Marching Assistant helping a student

Marching Assistant helping a student

Marching Assistant helping a student

Marching Assistant helping a student

Marching Assistant helping a student