Q&A with Paramount Executive Director Bob Johnson

Q&A with Executive Director, Bob Johnson

Paramount Theatre & Visual Arts Center Executive Director, Bob Johnson, has a longstanding appreciation of the arts in Central Minnesota. Johnson, a St. Cloud resident of over 20 years, came to The Paramount from a long career in the healthcare industry. With one year under his belt, he’s excited to play a part in creating opportunities for Central Minnesota Arts. Bob calls The Paramount the “living room of the community.” It’s a place where people can be inspired, entertained, educated and connected.

You’ve been at The Paramount a little over a year; what is your impression so far?
I’ve always loved the Paramount and the concept of arts and culture being inextricably linked to the entire community. This place is bustling with activity for all ages, genders, cultural and ethnic backgrounds and we have an outreach program that touches students, teachers, seniors, nursing home residents and many others. I believe, to some degree, that this is one of  the best-kept secrets in Minnesota, even though 80,000 people per year attend some function at the Paramount. That number could and should double. Hopefully, our team can develop tactics and strategies to make that happen over the next few years.

What do you enjoy about the St. Cloud area?
I love St. Cloud! The whole community has been good to me and my family. Good educational institutions, good neighbors, good healthcare, local government and lots of leisure activities available. I like the idea that I can run into people I know just about everywhere in town and really enjoy seeing folks at the Paramount.

Have you done any stage work?
In the past (years ago now!) I played a few roles in community theatre productions: Rudolph in “Hello Dolly,” Fagin in “Oliver,” Harold Hill in “the Music Man,” Sir Evelyn Oakley in “Anything Goes,” the Narrator in “Into the Woods” and God in “Children of Eden.” Once you play God, any other role is anticlimactic. I’ve enjoyed meeting people, learning the music, lines, more about myself and just getting away from my regular responsibilities. I think being onstage is a great way to understand what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes and can teach all of us to be more tolerant and open to those around us. Though it’s been awhile and life is busy, I do wonder about getting involved in a stage production again in the not-too- distant future.

Do you have a favorite performance that you’ve seen at The Paramount?
Two immediately come to mind: GREAT did “Ragtime” in the fall of 2015 and I thought it was one of the best presentations I’ve seen ever in St. Cloud. Because of the themes and the teachings that come out of the dialogue, music, and interaction of the characters, I really found myself wishing that everyone in the whole community could have seen it. The musical itself presents some of life’s greatest lessons.

My second favorite performance was just this month. Shaun Hopper , a fingerstyle guitarist with added percussive techniques, played all alone on our stage for a couple of hours and was just spectacular. The talent, the musical selections, the variety and brilliance of the arrangements all served to get the audience to their feet a number of times. Again, I wish more people could experience the magic that art and artists can deliver with such ease and grace. It really is life changing sometimes.

How is The Paramount important to the arts in Central Minnesota?
The Paramount is the premier space for presenting in our region. Nearly 100 years old, this place drips of history and talent. In terms of preservation and growth, the Paramount offers unique challenges and has served the public in so many ways for all these years. It really is like our own living rooms where folks laugh, cry, inspire one another, enjoy being entertained and educated, and can connect with others and relax.

What are ways the community can get involved at The Paramount?
Members of the community can support the Paramount first by attending events and having a good time. The arts contribute greatly to the economy of the downtown area yet are not themselves all that lucrative. We need loyal patrons and many of them. Additionally, volunteers are always needed whether for our annual fundraiser, Autumn Moon, to work with kids in the visual arts center , to help sell the work of local artists in the Gallery, or to usher for stage presentations. We love our volunteers!

Lastly, though we have some earned income and apply for multiple grants, we always need contributions from businesses and individuals to keep things going. It can be an expensive and risky proposition to program and put an act on the stage, not being sure of the response. Art is pretty subjective and sometimes we struggle to determine what the public wants. I’d like to invite the public to tell us what they’d like to see on stage and invite them to help us with donations when they can so that we can bring more and more art/entertainment/people and economic vitality to downtown St. Cloud.

I also want to thank those who worked to save the Paramount years ago and all who are supporting it now to ensure it lives on into the future for our children and grandchildren.

Can you tell me about visual arts classes at The Paramount?
There is a wide range of classes offered each season in the Visual Arts Center. One can learn oil painting, ceramics, glass work, weaving and more. I just started a wood turning class this week and having spent so many years “riding a desk,” I really was energized by playing with equipment and scattering sawdust everywhere. On a more serious note, the instructors are great! It’s wonderful to meet new people in class, and I think we’re all a bit surprised when we discover there may be an artist in us. If anyone wants to find out more, they can always go to our website and/or pick up a brochure at the box office and all the information about classes and other offerings is there.

How can you purchase tickets to shows?
Online ticket purchasing is simple and easy. You can pick where you want to sit, print your tickets at home and you’re all set. The website is the starting point. If you’d rather call the Paramount, our box office number is 3202595463. One of our agents will be happy to help you make a purchase and will mail your tickets directly to you.

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