"We were able to, within 72 hours, bring all our students online, which was very important because we realized the impact of the . . . isolationism that would be affecting all of our students."
Linda Weise is Founding CEO of the Colorado Springs Conservatory. Since 1994, the Conservatory has provided world-class, performing arts training to students of all ages and abilities across the Pikes Peak region. In addition to arts immersion studies, the Conservatory places a high value on community arts advocacy.
In this episode, Linda recounts her team’s race against the clock to transition all programming online, while maintaining high-quality instruction and prioritizing personal connection. In addition, she celebrates the surprising success the Conservatory has seen this year, including serving a record number of students and families.
Listen to our conversation to see how the arts are shining light in a dark time. Browse our full COS in COVID miniseries for more pandemic stories and interviews.
Joe: Hi there. I’m Joe, president and founder of Keyhole Marketing.
Shannon: And I’m Shannon Jirik. I work for Keyhole as the assistant brand manager.
Joe: And this is Metaphorically Speaking, a podcast that explores the mysterious side of marketing.
Shannon: Hi, and thank you for joining us on Metaphorically Speaking for another COS in COVID episode. Today we’re talking with Linda from the Colorado Springs Conservatory. And Joe, that just makes me think that you need to sing our intro today.
Joe: Again, no singing aloud.
Shannon: Take it away.
Joe: No. Not at all.
Shannon: Yeah, I’m sure Linda and her team is thankful for that as well as anyone tuning in. Well, this was a really cool conversation with Linda who just shared a little bit about the conservatory’s mission to just inspire and motivate and include students as they work toward reaching their musical goals. But in addition to that, it’s just immersion into the study of art and I love just the community advocacy that they bring to the conservatory as well. So-
Joe: I mean, it’s really amazing what they’ve been able to develop since COVID came around. And she talks about some of the programs in this episode, but she had said to me personally, I think, that they were around 1,500 students and then COVID hit and now they’re around 3,000.
Shannon: That’s right. Yeah.
Joe: Just some of the students who had other activities, sports, and other things that have been canceled or postponed, their parents had been looking for other activities to get their kids involved in, and certainly, they’ve been the beneficiary of that.
Shannon: Absolutely. Yeah. So they had really good goals to just provide online programming and Zoom programming when COVID hit. And it really was miraculous to me just how fast her team was able to pivot and just serve the needs of her community. And like you just said, even totally expand the number of students they were able to reach.
Joe: Yeah. I think within 72 hours they had an online offering available, which I think they love that in person interaction and it’s just amazing how much they were able to quickly shift that musical training from a personal to a digital format and still keep the quality there. And then entertain other opportunities and other outlets along the way. So it’s exciting to see where they are today and where they’re headed. They’ve also got that Rocky Mountain PBS show that they’re launching in August 16th. So by the time this show airs there might be a few episodes on there, but I know they’re rerunning every Sunday morning and just great for younger kids to get an introduction with really free access to such great musical training.
Shannon: Definitely. So tune in to that and check out the conservatory if that’s something that you think your children would be interested right now. So thank you Linda for just sharing your story with us. We’re really happy to see that the conservatory has done so well. Thanks for listening.
Joe: So maybe we just start with just sharing a quick synopsis about the Colorado Springs Conservatory. How long have you been around? What’s your mission? Why do you exist?
Linda Weise: Sure. Thank you for asking. Well, the mission of the Colorado Springs Conservatory is to inspire, motivate and challenge students to aspire to their highest potential through arts immersion studies and community arts advocacy. We started the program in 1994 with just a handful of students that were coming after school. And I’m really proud to say that affectively 26 years later, we are providing access to arts immersion programming for over 3,000 students across the Pikes Peak region and that is about to expand even further. So we’re now running programs during the day with our educational partners, be they school districts, homeschool academies, or other educational partners. We have our afterschool program, which serves students ages birth through high school seniors from a 100 mile radius. And then we have our community programs, which include rather extensive programming for young people with special needs, as well as an arts immersion programming for military enlisted and retired and their families through Citizen Soldier Connection.
Joe: Okay. So it isn’t just kids, it’s adults as well.
Linda: We do have community programs that include adults, yes. And I imagine that’s going to expand now that we have added this virtual platform as well.
Joe: Perfect. Yeah, I’d love to hear more about that. Before we get into that too much, can you talk a little bit about just businesses were all over the map as far as some stayed open the whole time, some had to shut down for a period of time, how was your business impacted by COVID in the early days?
Linda: Certainly. I’m really proud to tell that story because when we saw that coming, we were poised and ready to pivot and we were able to, literally within 72 hours, bring all our students online, virtually, and with Zoom capacity, which was very important because we realized the impact of the social, emotional piece and the isolationism that would be affecting our students, all of the students, be they partner and the afterschool programs. So the feedback that we got from the parents was they were so pleased because so many of their other children’s activities had a very challenged time in providing access, but we were there and we were connecting and we were continuing our lessons and our classes, but most importantly, we recognize right away that the most important thing was for the kids to stay connected personally.
Joe: Yeah. You talked a little bit about just the kids’ lives changing, some of the activities that they were used to be doing during the spring and summertime got either put on hold or canceled altogether. Talk a little bit about sort of why people were choosing you in the first place. What were some of the pain points? Why were they coming to you? And then talk a little bit about how that’s changed since COVID has arrived.
Linda: Sure. Well, what I think is a very unique component about the conservatory is that we don’t audition young people to participate and yet we continue to get incredible results. And in our afterschool program, graduate a 100% of the students to the colleges, conservatories, universities that they choose to go to. They don’t all go into music, but that speaks volumes to our mentors and to the commitment of helping these young people achieve their dreams. So with that being said, I think that word got out very quickly that we were not only a resource for excellent arts immersion programming and studies to include private lessons in instrumental, voice, and theater and so on and so forth, but that we did provide that additional personal access, which parents and families recognized right away was going to be very important to their children.
I think that what we saw initially and the access and the Zoom and the fact that families were sharing their being pleasantly surprised with how we were gracefully aggressive with how we maintained the rigor of access. Again, it wasn’t always easy because a lot of students don’t have internet, they don’t have the equipment, they don’t have the instrument, so we worked very hard to make sure that everyone had access to what they needed. And then when we were able to go live, think that it would be noted that the conservatory experienced exponential growth from new families.
And I think that a lot of that was just the word getting out that we were assessable and that we were connecting personally and how important that was. All our camps filled up right away. And again, they’re very small, so not that that was hard, but it was a pleasant surprise for all of us. But we had recording arts, DJ, theater camps, young performer camps, we had composition. And again, we continued lessons, so we had a myriad of new students at that time. And we’re getting ready to ramp up for fall semester, which starts next week. And again, parents are very pleased that we are in compliance with CDC safety precautions around COVID, but that we’re assessable and we will continue to provide also extraordinary performance opportunities, again, all while remaining safe.
I’m only speaking also just to maybe a few elements of it. We also saw incredible expansion and assessability for our early childhood programming in that we are partners at CPCD Head Start and the resource exchange afforded access to their constituents, which was a little over 2,000 families that could effectively come to a Zoom class. And again, kudos to my community partners who saw that this sort of programming and the personal connection was critical to the social, emotional wellness of the children that are in our community.
We went one step further and our partnering alongside our friends at Rocky Mountain PBS and we turned some of our early childhood programming into basically a television program complete with animation. And I’m really pleased to say it premiers this Sunday, August 16th at 6:00 AM. So super excited about that and imagine the access that will come of that for kids across the state. So a lot of good has happened, and I anticipate that because we are, relevance is very important to our culture, I do believe that we will continue to expand, there’s no better word for it, in a graceful way and excited about the new partners that are stepping forward to see what we’re able to do together across the county, across the region.
Joe: Yeah. You’ve outlined really a great before and after picture of sort of what the programs were offered prior to COVID, what’s been added to the mix since, do you think these will stick around for the long run? Are they sort of just in this interim phase while we’re dealing with COVID’s existence and prevalence or do you see them just really being part of your ongoing offering going forward?
Linda: That is a really good question. And on the heels of several weeks of conversations with educators, policy makers, families, parents, community partners, I do believe that much of what we’re seeing right now will remain in one iteration or another. And I think what’s going to come out of this is maybe things won’t sustain in the fashion that we see them today, but I think what will happen is some incredibly new ways to collaborate, ways to educate, ways to provide access.
I believe that it has no doubt heightened awareness of the fact that so many don’t have access and that as schools offer things both online and live, I think we’re all surprised at how many are choosing online, which you can look at in two different ways. In some of our more underserved at risk portions of our region, they’re not staying home to learn online necessarily as much as they are that the 12-year-old has to stay home to babysit the nine-year-old, the six-year-old, and the three-year-old. So I think that that being said, what we’ll see down the road is some pretty significant dips in what kids know, how we’re learning, and that this period of time in where we’ve all had to stretch, I think that new things will be in place. And if we pay attention, we’ll be able to thwart that dip, if you will, in such a way that maybe it won’t be as significant as some of my colleagues are anticipating it to be.
To me, that’s one of the most exciting parts about the access on the television is that there’s going to be one platform i.e. television, and knowing that there’s 28 minutes out there, that’s dedicated to music and literacy, motor cognitive language and social, emotional benchmarks and milestones, you go, “Okay. Well, in addition to the other educational pieces that Rocky Mountain PBS are offering, I have absolutely no doubt that there’ll be a small little impact that that would have, I would hope.” To answer your question, I don’t think that everything’s going to exist as we see it today, but I do believe that there’ll be iterations of everything that we’re seeing today, everything, I have no doubt. And I don’t want to call it the new normal, I just call this like it’s an exercise in relevance. It’s been profound to watch some of my colleagues shift and some of them just be very hesitant or be so mired down that they can’t, and so hence they’re not able to serve anyone. So it’s an interesting moment, but we’re in front of it. I’m really excited about that.
Joe: Yeah. That’s amazing. With some of this online technology, has it caused you to want to expand your audience? Are you still focused on the Pike’s Peak region exclusively? Or how are you thinking about that from a longterm perspective in terms of who you’re trying to serve?
Linda: Well, thank you for asking that. Again, I think that this whole thing has forced that conversation in a graceful way. But when I talk to my colleagues across the state or across the nation or across the globe, really what we’re doing and what we’ve been able to create has become very much a model. I mean, I’ll always say I want to change the world, but it’s not that we, at the beginning of this pandemic thought, “My God, we’re going to expand. We’re going to grow.” I do believe the universe said, “This is exactly what the world needs right now and so people are going to seek you out, you better darn well be ready, you and your team.” And we were.
So I have no doubt that we will have more folks that will have access to us. And I have no doubt that we will continue to have our eyes wide open as to how we can all serve, because we’re all in this together. I think that’s the other thing that I’m hearing from my colleagues. This isn’t just one city or one country or one neighborhood. This is an entire world. So what’s been interesting is those that are seeking to remain relevant and be able to provide are finding new ways to work together. So that’s exciting.
Joe: It’s super exciting. Yeah. I’m so excited to how things have developed for you and I’m excited about the PBS show for sure. I’m going to check that out with my son. How would you-
Linda: Yeah, this Sunday.
Joe: Yeah. I will definitely check it out for sure. One final question. As much as you were unknowingly preparing for some of these things with the technology you had in place and some of the programs you were already dreaming up, what kind of grade would you give yourself? From my perspective, it’s just really exciting to hear how you responded and just been really resilient during this time period, but step back a little bit, and how would you grade your own performances as a conservatory?
Linda: That’s a really interesting question, because I’m not one to hand out A pluses. I would collectively hand out an A plus to my team. They were Herculean. They are Herculean. They continue to be Herculean. And I don’t take that energy for granted. I don’t know how to answer that for myself personally, Joe, because I feel like in so many different moments of crisis I feel like I was in a fog. If I was to look back and if you were to ask me, how many hours a day did you work? I would say the first three and a half months, we probably put in 28 hours a day. I would just say that when it got to a point where we felt like we had a rhythm and that we had points of contact with everyone that we were working with that it felt really good.
I would say my team, A plus. I would say myself, I don’t know. But I do know that when I reflect back on some of the calls that I made, I was asked to be on the governor’s economic relief committee alongside Deborah Jordy for the Pikes Peak region for arts and culture, and I think that, again, it was shocking to me, no, it wasn’t shocking. It was enlightening in that it really is a testament of leadership. There’s those that were willing to close their eyes and say, “Okay, this will pass really quickly.” There were those that said, “There’s the fire. I’m going to walk into it and do whatever I can to save what I can and put it out and rebuild.” And I’d like to believe that the conservatory was one of those organizations. And I do believe that, yeah, it’s been extraordinary. Hope that answered your question.
Joe: No, it definitely does. And I think we’re all in that constant personal judgment and you probably won’t even have the answer to a round grade until months and months down the road when you’re able to fully look back and see collectively how we perform, because I think I have the same personal reaction you do. I’ve had seasons, days, weeks, where you’re sort of checked out and then you feel strong the next week and it sort of comes and goes. But I’ve enjoyed hearing your story and what the conservatory has done as a group and certainly has been seen based on the community’s take of what you’re offering and I’m excited to see where you guys go from here.
Linda: Well, thank you for including us in your conversations, Joe, and best of luck to you. Please let me know if there’s anything that we can do for you.
Joe: Thank you so much, Linda.
Linda: All right. Thank you.
Shannon: You’ve been listening to the “COS and COVID” miniseries on the Metaphorically Speaking Podcast. At Keyhole Marketing, we tell big stories for small businesses.
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