One year ago Saturday, the Paramount Center for the Arts in St. Cloud held its final live, in-person event, a dance show by the James Sewell Ballet.
Like every venue in the performance world, PCA has endured a turbulent 12 months. But it has adapted to the times with online performances and has not dealt with any financial trouble thanks to many donors.
With the center celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, it enters its second century hoping to continue as an important part of the St. Cloud community.
"Our love of art is resilient," said King Banaian, Paramount Center for the Arts board chair. "Even in this period where we're doing things online, people are engaging, people are watching, people are willing to watch art on a screen."
Once the pandemic shut things down, executive director Bob Johnson and his staff had to figure out ways to stay relevant while not being able to rely on usual revenue streams.
They started out by holding shows in courtyards near congregate housing so people could listen from their patios and apartments, and livestreaming concerts for free from the center's stage. They have continued virtual performances throughout the year. The center also began hosting online visual art courses in the fall, featuring art kits available for curbside pickup.
The center's most recent programming addition is a virtual field trip program, in which an artist will do a live performance with an educational bent. The shows, which are held each month, can be watched by classes live or on demand. An estimated 7,000 students have watched at least one of the first two performances.
Performing arts director Gretchen Boulka said it has been fulfilling to create and explore these events, and she highlighted the field trip program as something she is particularly proud of.
"We're trying to be creative and offer some new solutions and offer some things to people that are looking to keep the art in their life, even if it isn't how they're used to doing it," Boulka said.
Banaian and Johnson both said their favorite event was the center's annual fundraiser, called Autumn Moon. The event is usually a large gala, but the pandemic moved it online only.
A strong community response and an online silent auction meant total money raised was on par with the center's usual earnings from the fundraiser.
The fundraiser was a turning point for Banaian because it demonstrated the center had the support of the community.
"[We] wondered how will people respond to the fact that you're seeking support for a theater that you can't tell them when it will be open again," Banaian said. "There was a step of faith that they took with us saying you're going to be back sometime and we want to make sure you're there."
As the center looks forward to hosting in-person events as soon as it is safe, it is also excited to host festivities in honor of the theater's 100th birthday.
Although Dec. 24 is the anniversary of PCA's opening, the center has events scheduled throughout the year to celebrate. In addition to the Autumn Moon fundraiser in the fall, the center is planning on holding a block party during the summer.
One event Johnson is looking forward to will come in October, when the center plans on showing the silent film "Way Down East," which was shown on the center's opening night in 1921.
Johnson hopes the events are not only able to be held in person but that they also will remind Minnesotans about the importance of preserving culture and continuing to invest in it.
"I want as many people to be able to understand what goes on here and how important this institution is to the life of the community across the last 100 years," Johnson said, "and then imagining how important it can be for the next 100."
Peter Warren • 612-673-1713