Candidate for State Representative, Kelly McDonough, interview with Susan Rohn executive Director at Yocum Institute for the Arts, West Lawn. 
A little about your background

Have you lived in this area your whole life?
I was born in Pottsville which is in Schuylkill County.  After Graduating from Penn State I moved to the Berks County Area and have spent the majority of my adult life here.

Have you always been interested in arts education?
Yes, since volunteering for the Reading Public Museum’s Docent program many years ago, arts education and the impact it has on education as a whole has always fascinated me. My first job was managing an art gallery at Doneckers Art Works, from there I went on to work for the Reading Public Museum in special events, then got into fundraising for the Greater Berks Food Bank and Alvernia College. Everything came together when I became Executive Director at what was then the Wyomissing Institute of Fine Arts, more than 15 years ago.

What made you want to start this non-profit here in Berks County?
The “Institute” as it is still affectionately called by many in Berks County, had been an educational arts resource for 70 years when I became Executive Director. What we have done since that time is strengthen the on-site programs in dance, visual arts, music and theater, create greater accessibility to the arts through extensive partnerships in the community, design programs that integrate the arts and develop and facilitate programs that use the arts for non arts outcomes.
Identifying a new location then renovating and relocating to Penn Avenue in West Lawn, has probably been the most advantageous thing we have done to foster stronger programming, growth and accessibility.


About the ‘Yocum Institute for Arts Education’ non-profit?

How did you come up with the name?
The Wyomissing Institute of Fine Arts was founded in 1934 on Penn Avenue in Wyomissing  to ensure that people not living in the city had the same opportunities and accessibility to the arts as those living in the city. Access has always been important.My guess is the name is indicative of the place. In 1941 it relocated to 1100 Belmont Avenue and remained there until the move back to Penn Avenue; this time in West Lawn in 2018.
The name was changed in 2009 to the Yocum Institute for Arts Education to honor longtime donor, James H. Yocum, who has been instrumental in  ensuring the stability of the organization. He wanted to make sure that the community understood exactly what we do – Education, in and through the arts.

When was the Yocum Institute founded? 1934

How many people do you employ or are involved as volunteers?
It varies depending on time of year. Generally we have approximately 7 full time employees and 56 part time instructors or aides.Depending on productions or other programming needs, we have about 50 volunteers. For  Example, Art Goes to School is sponsored by the Yocum Institute and that is purely volunteer. Productions require other types of volunteers.

Yocum specializes in Arts Education, tell us a little about what goes on at Yocum on a daily or weekly basis. As an educational organization, instruction in Dance, Visual Arts, Theater and Music classes and private instruction occur Monday through Saturday, when in session. Our state licensed arts-based preschool and Kindergarten operates Monday through Friday from September through May. When you add to the mix summer camps and Broadway Junior, a year-round schedule of Productions, Exhibits and Jazz on the Avenue Concerts, 95% of the year we have a full house. A new member of the Yocum Family is the East Coast Karate Martial Arts Program that was launched in February. In addition to all of our on-site programs we also offer extensive programming throughout the local community in partnership with outside organizations.

How many people (kids and adults) benefit from Yocum?
It depends on how you measure that, if you measure how many directly are impacted by on-site and outreach programs, we could say approximately 30,000. If you measure how many are impacted by broadcast programming and  the virtual programs we have on-line that can be accessed free, it’s much more.

Since you are a non-profit, what is your primary source of funding?
Tuition, contributions and rent.

Tell us a little about your Dancing with the Reading Stars Fundraiser and its impact on the Yocum Institute?
Dancing with the Reading Stars is a friendraiser and a fundraiser for the Yocum Institute. It showcases one of our strongest departments, dance,  and is an opportunity to integrate the other departments – music, theatre and the visual arts – all in one major event.  It utilizes both staff and volunteers, especially the Teen Theater Scholarship Ensemble and gives us a platform to educate the community about who we are, who and how we reach the community through a partnership network and what we actually do to impact education and the quality of life in Berks County.

Can you tell us the impact Yocum has had on the community through assistance and scholarships programs?
We strive to accommodate anyone or any group that needs assistance, whenever possible. The Arts are so beneficial and important to a well rounded education and quality of life that we will struggle to meet you at least half way. We are always trying to identify funding that will meet individual and community needs.

What other organizations, if any, do you work with?
Our partnerships include public and private schools, county libraries, Berks Parks and Recs, John Paul II Center for Special Learning, Olivet Center for the Arts, Miller Center for the Arts, YMCA,  local Colleges and Universities, other non profits in the community and we can’t  forget Children’s Theater Company in Minneapolis.

How has COVID-19 affected the Yocum Institute?
Unfortunately, through refunds and loss of projected income, we expect a $300,000 loss for the last quarter of the fiscal year which ends on June 30. Our Department heads and instructors  have worked hard to make as much as possible a virtual experience.
Fortunately, we have been blessed with help from SBA, EIDL, Yocum Board of Directors, Covid-19 Nonprofit Continuity Grant Program Fund of the Berks Community Foundation and corporate and individual contributions. All help to reduce  our loss but not erase it.

We understand that Dancing with the Reading Stars has been postponed until next year, what impact will that have on Yocum moving forward?
The revenues are part of the original $300,000 projected loss. That being said again we have been fortunate as The Henry Family has come forward and offered to match every dollar raised for the 2021 Dancing with the Reading Stars. That is a true gift of generosity from the Heart. When society is faced with something as far reaching as covid-19 our first thoughts are food, clothing and shelter. Often the arts are the first to go and last to be remembered. In this case we have been very fortunate.

Have you had to close? If so, how have you transitioned? Yocum closed on March 16 and we are hoping the government allows us to open in June so we can be ready for summer camps, classes and Broadway Junior.  Initially, we put as much on line as possible. Winter Session programs for visual arts and theater had ended that weekend, so that was fortunate. Everything that could be done virtually was put on line and the department heads and staff put together an abbreviated virtual spring session that runs into early June. Currently, we are evaluating what we have to do to open camps safely, yet effectively when we get the go ahead.

What are your concerns or questions you want addressed in the midst of this health crisis? Right now, our concerns are reopening and creating a safe environment for everyone.

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