Written by Melody Parker
Original story published at wcfcourier.com
CEDAR FALLS — The Gallagher Bluedorn Performing Arts Center’s Kaleidoscope Series went virtual during the coronavirus pandemic – and is on track to increase attendance by 32%.
The series’ mission is to provide young people multiple opportunities to experience a wide range of the performing arts. Through live performances in the Great Hall, “typically we reach around 45,000 annually,” said Amy Hunzelman, director of education and special projects. When the season wraps in April, she anticipates virtual programming will have reached 66,556 individuals.
“It’s been amazing to see the growth of the Kaleidoscope Series as we’ve been able to extend beyond the Cedar Valley and Northeast Iowa. We’ve always been a presence in smaller communities with shows we take on the road, but jumping into a complete virtual experience has enabled us to serve more students and school districts and provide those art experiences,” she said.
She cites the “Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad,” a drama with music about the abolitionist born into slavery who escaped and helped others to freedom. The show, which began Feb. 3 and runs through March 26, has already reached nearly 16,000 third- through eighth-graders.
“We’re able to connect with students, teachers and families throughout the United States and into Canada and even Jamaica. That particular title has reached more people out of state than in state,” Hunzelman said. So far there have been 7,708 out-of-state viewers, 1,552 Canadian viewers and 60 Jamaican viewers, compared with just under 6,300 Iowans logging on to watch.
When the pandemic began last year, the Kaleidoscope Series lost about 50% of its anticipated attendance in March and April, Hunzelman said. Through summer, “we had to figure out how we could provide resources for classroom learning. In our 20-year history, schools and teachers have relied on arts experiences to supplement classroom learning.”
National touring companies also had to decide how best to offer their titles to programs like the Kaleidoscope Series.
Iowa Arts Council, McElroy Trust and the Guernsey Foundation made it possible for GBPAC to shift the series to a digital platform.
The season has included historical fare on such topics as Ellis Island, but the most popular shows are based on children’s literature, including “Miss Nelson Has a Field Day” and “Pete the Cat,” which was seen by more than 10,000 Iowa pre-kindergartners through second-graders and 334 out-of-state students.
“Little Red Hen,” a country musical based on the children’s classic book, concludes the series and is expected to be viewed by nearly 11,000 pre-kindergarten through third-graders from March 8 to April 9.
Teachers like Danielle Mummelthei from St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Waverly have expressed their appreciation for the virtual shows. Her students watched “Voices from Ellis Island” and in her comments said the program “opened up conversations to how families arrive in America. Thank you for making these accessible to us during this weird year.”
One teacher said, “Thank you for allowing my virtual students to still feel like they are going on field trips that take them on creative and enriching journeys,” and another noted, “Coming to the Gallagher is always such an exciting event and such a great connection to our classrooms. I am so glad we can still do it virtually.”
Aimee Dietrich, a social studies teacher from the Philadelphia School District in Pennsylvania, said she was “very thankful to have stumbled on this resource. We have been virtual since March, and I’m always looking to add a new layer to my teaching.”
In addition, the Kaleidoscope Story Time series has proven popular with thousands of viewers. Iowa artists and community members act as storytellers for popular children’s books, such as “I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More,” “Punk Farm,” “Froggy Builds a Treehouse” and “My First Biography: Abraham Lincoln.” The recorded read-aloud stories feature interactive elements.
Virtual programming likely will remain a component of the series, Hunzelman said. “Nothing can replace the live arts experience, but a virtual platform gives even the smallest Iowa communities an opportunity to see the arts come alive.
“We’re eager to get back into the auditorium. As an industry, we’re really thinking about what it’s going to look like and feel like when we do.”