Meet the New Saturday Program Staff

POSTED ON: May 7, 2024

Saturday Program staff

Since its founding in 1968, the Saturday Program has offered free art and architecture courses taught by Cooper students to more than 11,000 youth across New York City. This year, Cooper welcomed José Ortiz as the Saturday Program’s new director. Ciana Malchione, a 2021 graduate of the School of Art who was previously the program coordinator, also stepped into a new role, now serving as assistant director of the Saturday Program. We spoke with Ortiz and Malchione to learn how their paths brought them to the Saturday Program and why they are passionate about its educational mission.

Tell us a little bit about your respective backgrounds and your work.

José Ortiz: I am an Afro-Dominican multimedia artist and art educator with a background in art history, community organizing, curatorial projects, and public art. Using symbols and myths, I explore our interconnectedness across cultures and belief systems, revealing the underlying themes that bind humanity together. One such project is Many Trails, a permanent installation commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's Arts & Design for the 183rd Street and Jerome Avenue subway station in the Bronx. In collaboration with choreographer Sita Frederick, I co-founded Areytos Performance Works, a multi-disciplinary performance company that showcases contemporary dance-theater rooted in Caribbean traditions and the principles of social justice.

I also have over 20 years of experience in youth development working at various New York City art institutions, including Henry Street Settlement, the Bronx Museum of the Arts, the Children's Art Carnival, and the Anyone Can Fly Foundation. My longest tenure was with the Art Education Program at the Joan Mitchell Foundation, where I provided youth mentorship and career guidance for aspiring artists. I also established residency programs in New York and New Orleans as part of the organization’s Young Artist Initiatives.

As a first-generation immigrant and visual artist, I see diversity, equity, and inclusion as fundamental to my life and work. My mission revolves around advocating for the next generation to access a high quality of life and fulfill their potential. My migration journey to the US began at the age of three, exposing me to the challenges of adapting to a new environment, learning a new language, and supporting my non-English-speaking parents. Education became my pathway to social and economic advancement, granting me firsthand insight into the hurdles students and their families face in navigating the education system. For the past two decades, I've been committed to sharing information, resources, and dispelling misconceptions about the visual arts industry.

Recognizing the obstacles young artists of color encounter in cultivating their creative practice and entering the art and design field, I have focused on ensuring students and families are prepared for college and equipped to manage their finances post-high school, supporting students in overcoming cultural barriers to creative pursuits, and providing creative and artistic role models who reflect the experiences of students growing up in urban environments. Collaboration is truly central to how I work. I recognize that addressing those challenges requires a collective effort. I’m committed to actively seeking out partners whose values align with the program’s mission and are willing to develop shared initiatives. By bringing together diverse voices offering a range of perspectives and a wealth of expertise, we can create dynamic programs that benefit participants. These partnerships are most effective when they encompass a variety of institutions, both public and private, empowering all constituents—students and professionals alike—to be open to learning and contributing.

Ciana Malchione: I am an artist, arts educator, and administrator who is passionate about providing free arts education to New York City youth, many of whom lack adequate arts programming in their schools. I began teaching at The Saturday Program during my undergraduate years at The Cooper Union and have continued to work in the arts education space since.

Before returning to The Saturday Program, I taught art to elementary-, middle-, and high-school-aged boys at The Boys’ Club of New York and completed the year-long Residency for Experimental Arts Education at the Children’s Museum of The Arts, where I led public programming for children and created educational videos and activities for their online learning platform, The Look Make Show.

What brought you to the Saturday Program, José?

JO: It felt like the logical next step in my career. I've been acquainted with the Saturday Program for many years. My introduction to it dates to my high school days at LaGuardia High School, though I was already committed to a community arts program called the Children’s Art Carnival of Harlem since middle school. Despite this, I had numerous friends enrolled in the Saturday Program who would regale me with tales of their dynamic learning experiences on weekends. Additionally, my partner, visual artist Shervone Neckles, is an alumna of the program who has also served as a visiting artist and mentor.

More recently, I had the privilege of meeting Marina Gutiérrez, the founding director of the Saturday Program, during an artist reception. I've been orbiting around the Saturday Program for years, and it's both humbling and an honor to now have the opportunity to contribute to it. Throughout my journey, I've been exploring various approaches to using art as a tool for the personal and professional development of youth, making this role a natural fit for me.

Ciana, what do you see as the value of the program? How did it impact your own educational path?

CM: In alignment with Peter Cooper's vision of a free education for all, the Saturday Program provides 100% free art and architecture classes to high school students every Saturday throughout the school year on Cooper Union's campus. It is a living embodiment of the school's mission!

On a personal level, the Saturday Program allowed me to learn to teach in a supportive environment while I was still a student myself. Teaching the drawing class at the Saturday Program was one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience at Cooper, and it motivated me to continue working in arts education after graduation. I also had the opportunity to take the Teaching as a Social Practice course, which was designed to support Saturday Program instructors with additional pedagogical training.

What are you each looking forward to in your new roles with the program?

JO: What excites me most about my role as director is the opportunity to explore the rich history of the program and identify the key factors that have contributed to its success. I'm eager to expand outreach initiatives to neighborhoods we have not previously serviced and to establish or re-establish connections with the network of educators, alumni, and arts professionals who have historically been involved in the program.

For students, my focus is on improving and expanding college and career readiness opportunities. This includes adding portfolio reviews, college fairs, and career panels to better prepare students for the range of creative career options available. I am also enthusiastic about collaborating with Admissions and other departments at Cooper to expose students to the multitude of offerings available and better inform their college application decisions. I’m keen on providing leadership development opportunities for rising juniors and seniors to help build up their resume of experiences. Furthermore, I plan to increase annual professional development opportunities for undergraduate instructors. This will allow them greater agency in curriculum design and better prepare them to teach in post-graduate environments.

CM: Stepping into this role after previously serving as an instructor and the program coordinator has equipped me with multiple perspectives, which inform the work I do now. I’m excited to be collaborating closely with José as well as our talented cohort of instructors to refine the program’s various offerings and make it as beneficial an experience as possible for our students.

The Cooper Union Saturday Program remains free to all participants through the generous support of our donors, the Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, the Altman Foundation, the Richard and Jean Coyne Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.