Sunday, June 30, 2019

Paramount Center for the Arts Interview

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................."

Note:  This is the sixth interview in a series with Aroha Philanthropies Vitality Arts grantees delving into their launch, management and continuation of creative aging programs for seniors.  The final interview to post at the end of the week, followed by a wrap up, including resources, next week. 

The mission of the Paramount Theatre & Visual Arts Center is to provide opportunities for artistic production, creative exploration, arts education and the enjoyment of arts and entertainment.
The facility is managed to ensure use by a diverse set of patrons, enhance artistic opportunity, provide a creative environment for community involvement in the arts, and generate a positive economic impact on Downtown St. Cloud.

Project Description:
Developed under the heading of Growing Art-FULL, designed for individuals over 55.
• (3) course mediums were developed: movement, clay, and choir
• (10) sessions per course – the tenth session being a culminating event, a concert or showcase
• Courses were held on the premises of (1) senior living facilities and (1) senior day program
• We rotated the mediums per facility into (3) session periods – so all (3) courses would be operating concurrently.
• Each class was led by (2) teaching artists - professionals in their unique field


Barry:  What made you want to pursue a vitality arts program for seniors? Had the center had previous experience with crafting programs specifically designed to focus on arts, and appeal to seniors?

Paramount:  Past experience serving nursing homes with arts classes had been very successful and made us aware of the limited options available for residents in other areas of senior living facilities such as independent and assisted living. Paramount’s stage offerings drew a large number of seniors but our arts programming did not. The combination of perceived need and past success, along with the availability of quality teaching artists, made this grant opportunity a perfect match. We wanted to grow our service audience and expand our program offerings.

Barry:  Your project encompassed three separate opportunities for seniors: 1) dance - movement, 2) sculpture - clay, and 3) music - choir. What was the thinking in focusing on those three art forms?

Paramount:  First of all, these were areas of strengths for our facility and our teaching artists. Secondly, these were options not currently being offered in the facilities we hoped to work with. Third, this offered a visual, auditory and kinesthestic option to help us assess for future programming. Fourth, the activities could accommodate sufficient numbers of participants.

Barry:  The Aroha projects mandated inclusion of teaching artists to conduct the training for the senior participants. How did you go about recruiting those teaching artists? Was that easy, or more difficult than you imagined? What was involved in their training and involvement that you didn’t anticipate at the outset? Were there benefits to the teaching artists involvement that came as a bonus?

Paramount: We chose experienced artists whom we trusted to have the skills needed. However, the initial three artists really wanted to have a second artist for each area so they would have someone to plan with, confer, reflect and present. This proved to be a strength of the program as the audience was new to the artists and so they appreciated having a partner. We chose to have a male and female of different ages for each art form to again strengthen the program and provide another area to assess. Having two artists was good for the artists and good for the participants giving them a greater chance to make a connection with an artist. Also, in the second year we asked each first-year artist to mentor a new teaching artist and so now we have 12 teaching artists with experience as we work to sustain the program. Because the artists were very experienced teaching artists, the training provided was mainly around the grant goals and the development of curriculum that would honor those goals and serve the intended clients.

Barry:  How did you deal with issues such as non-native speaker participants, diversity recruitment, disability issues, dealing with transportation issues of the senior participants etc.

Paramount:  Our main task was to deal with disability issues and transportation. The artists were incredibly creative in dealing with mobility, hearing, vision, some limited memory issues. Once a class roster was established, the liaison at each facility was most helpful in helping artists to be pro-active. A registration sheet also invited participants to share any concerns or limitations they felt might impact their participation. No one was turned away from programming. Holding the classes where the clients lived helped to limit transportation issues. Providing pay for adjacent parking for the Paramount classes was seen as an important provision for those traveling to the clay classes.

Barry:  In creating a budget for the project, what were the major projected costs, and were there any unanticipated expenses? Did you leverage additional funding from other sources? What sources and how difficult was raising the additional funding?

Paramount:  The major costs were in providing two teaching artists for each class. Beyond that, once we realized that participants from facilities were not willing to travel to the Paramount for clay classes, we had to find a way to pay for the added time needed for artists to take the class to them. Preparing the clay and hauling back and forth for drying and firing was less than convenient, but critical to success. Purchasing electronic supplies such as microphones assured that all could hear the teachers and the music needed. Having authentic quality supplies be it music folders, printed music, proper clay supplies were essential to provide an authentic arts experience. One unanticipated expense was providing time for choral staff to arrange pieces to meet the reality of the group assembled. For example, an SATB piece might have to be rearranged to an SAB if there was an imbalance of men and women. Or a piece might need to be simplified and enlarged for a person with vision loss. Additional funding came from the two facilities for year two programming once they saw the value of year one. In addition, we gave the audience opportunity to contribute following the closing performances, but that met with limited success.

Barry:  Did you accurately identify the workload and time involved that management of the project ended up taking, and can you describe that workload and the time involved. How did you develop your team to oversee the project? What elements did you include?

Paramount: The time allocated to manage the project was insufficient. Staying in touch with all the teaching-artists, the site managers and meeting the grantors expectations proved valuable, but time consuming. The role of project director was not just that of managing the budget and marketing, but also became the cheerleader who held the project in a cohesive whole, intervened if there were issues, encouraged and empowered artists, problem solved, and dealt with a myriad of details that could not have been predicted. It was a complex and worthy project with many new components for us. The learning provided was incredibly valuable, but did have costs. One very valuable tool that was developed was the weekly log that both the artists and the site manager completed. Because I simply could not attend every session, reading their logs helped me gain a sense of what was happening at each site, and to jump in when I sensed a lack of cohesion in reporting.

Barry:  Did the project involve any collaborative efforts and / or partnerships with other organizations within the community, such as with universities, senior centers, care facilities or otherwise? How did those come about and how did they work?  How critical were those to the success of the project?

Paramount:  The collaboration with Good Shepherd Assisted Living, St Benedict Independent Living and St. Cloud Whitney Senior Center were key to our success. The relationships developed are authentic and I have no doubt will continue as all parties continue work to meet the needs of a growing aging population. They came about via past successful programs and were only fortified. The liaison at each site proved to be essential. They took care of many of the details (pencils ready, taking attendance, recruiting, following up with absences, communicating with artists, etc). Their importance was made clear when a staff change at one site caused a disconnect that proved challenging. We were lucky to have strong site facilitators who were advocates for their residents and for the program.

Barry:  What kinds of marketing did you employ in recruiting senior participants and did you go outside your constituent base?

Paramount:  The Paramount has a graphic designer who produced recruiting fliers for all sites. The programs were also advertised on Paramount's website and in the newsletters of collaborating sites. Project Director and artists also made site visits prior to each class to encourage and invite participation. Good Shepherd also has a policy of recruiting through the local Community Education program in Sauk Rapids. We also invited family members of those living in facilities who were over 55 to participate in the classes. There were several participants, who, after being in a class at one facility would follow and participate again in another site.

Barry:  What were the overall pros and cons, logistically and otherwise, in designing, creating, and implementing the project? What benefits were there to the organization - e.g., new volunteers, new support, new audience members, greater community involvement, media coverage, expanded organization image within the community etc.?

Paramount:  Pros are many. The project:
1. helped us expand our pool of experienced teaching artists and to support them over a two-year period
2. helped us to purchase critical supplies that will be important in sustaining programs.
3. gave us the opportunity to produce a professional video to help tell the story in a compelling
4. taught us to develop and use data in effective ways.
5. expanded our programming and our participation base
6. connected us to new funding sources, expertise, and knowledge
7. provided new commitment to the power of the arts by virtue of participant and artist testimony. The joy we witnessed is priceless.

1. Moving from grant support can be challenging. Even though people have experienced the value of a program, getting them to pay for what was previously given to them takes creativity!
2. The time required to manage when this is one of many programs offered.

Barry: What criteria did you use to determine if the project succeeded from your organization’s point of view? How did you evaluate the project during its course and post completion?

Paramount:  The evaluation tools provided by Aroha were the basis of our assessment. We relied on the monkey survey tallies to help us tell the story. Informally, we were always watching recruitment and retention numbers, capturing weekly stories of breakthroughs and delights, maintaining artist and site management logs, and taking photos of smiles and product to document participant sense of success. The success was not always in the quality of the dance or the pot or the song, but also on the sense of accomplishment, the smile, the tears of joy, and the surprise of participants’ family members at what their loved one had accomplished. Of course there is always the budgetary bottom line that is crucial to sustainability.

Barry:  When you conceived the project, what obstacles and barriers did you identify, and was the reality of designing, then implementing, the project pretty much as expected, or were there elements that surprised you?

Paramount: We wanted a ready audience and so pursued working through both the Paramount and established senior communities. One was an independent living facility, one an assisted living and one a community senior center. Again this would give us good data in a variety of settings to help us make decisions about sustaining the program.

Barry:  What lessons did you learn from your experience with the project? How will you apply what you’ve learned to the sustainability of offering new and additional creative aging projects to the senior community in the future?

Paramount:  Learnings include:
1. While having two artists was critical to the experimental stage, it is not feasible in the sustainability phase.
2. Paying artists a particular fee during the research phase is not possible to continue post grant/ research phase. Helping artists to understand that will be crucial, as will be still paying them a fair wage.
3. While this project helped us connect with those 70 – 95, we are missing out on better serving
those 55 – 70. We need to develop programming at the Paramount or Whitney to assure the entire Age range is being served.
4. Watching the success of other Aroha programs has made us want to expand the offerings to include writing, theatre, sculpture. Watching the other programs was extremely informative.
5. The higher up the corporate ladder one climbs, the more important quantitative data becomes. Seeking funding from a foundation board takes more that touching stories and photos. We are grateful for the quantitative data that Touchstone has provided as we work to get the participating agencies to increas their buy-in.
6. It is critical to simplify processes as much as possible. Having standard documents that can be used at all sites will be important the next round. We did too much individualization that created unnecessary complexity.
7. It was helpful to ask facilities to consider expending marketing as well as programming funding for the program, as they understood that past programming (bingo!) will not suffice for the coming generation of facility residents.

Barry:  Would you recommend that other senior center organizations consider creating and launching their own creative aging vitality arts programs? What are the major considerations organizations ought to consider before embarking on the launch of their own programs? What are the specific considerations in your experience that senior centers ought to consider in planning a creative aging vitality program?

Paramount:  YES! Gaining access to strong model programs and education from agencies such as Aroha, Touchstone and Lifetime Arts helps to break down the walls of “what is” to imagine “what could be”. But imagining is not enough. Those who buy in will do so because they understand the research and the data that shows quality of life is at stake. Understanding must accompany emotion. If these major players continue to share their expertise at conferences and publications aimed at senior management facilities, it will make it easier for arts organizations to “sell their wares” to them. If the information comes only from the arts organizations it can seem self-serving.

Barry:  What advice would you give those organizations gleaned from your experience?

1. Poll your residents/members to see what they want, but don’t limit options to what they say. They may fall in love with something they had never considered if it is offered, marketed well and presented by an excellent teaching artist.
2. Market your arts programs in your publications. A rich menu of choices will say a lot about who you are as an organization.
3. Real work for real audiences is really important. Whatever programs you offer, provide a way to
celebrate and show-off their accomplishments.
4. Work with quality artists and pay them fairly. That can be hard to assess on your own so working with an arts organization provides a quality control that is invaluable. Working with a professional adds an element of respect and expectation for those participating – a way of saying “you are worthy of the be and capable of producing.” What a powerful message!
5. There is a difference between an artist and a teaching artist.

Barry: Do you intend to continue to offer these kinds of program to your senior community? Why or why not?

Paramount:  We most certainly intend to take advantage of the incredible momentum built within our artist and our Senior community. It will be important to bring the players together to tune the program, identify what went well, what was confusing and what needs to change and then to craft a plan together. Having all parties feel a part of the planning will be important to any continued success we have. The evidence Is clear, and the Paramount is the agency with the ability and the mission to carry on this work.

Thank you to Solveig Anderson at Paramount for help with this interview.

Have a good week.  And Happy Fourth of July.

Don't Quit