by Dennis Dalman
The Paramount Center for the Arts in downtown St. Cloud has a new executive director as of Sept. 1.
Gretchen Boulka was named to replace current executive Bob Johnson, who left that job at the end of August.
Boulka is currently the director of performing arts for the Paramount Center, a job she’s had since 2017. Previously she worked with the Children’s Theater (Minneapolis), the Dale Warland Singers (St. Paul), the National Lutheran Choir (Minneapolis) and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra. All told, Boulka has 25 years of experience with arts programming, development, special events, program management and communications.
Boulka earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the University of Wisconsin–River Falls and a master’s degree in arts administration from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota. She currently serves on the boards of the Minnesota Presenters Network, the Central Minnesota Arts Board and the St. Cloud Convention and Visitors Bureau’s advisory board.
Johnson took the job of executive director of the Paramount Center in 2015. As director, Johnson led a fundraiser to replace the theater’s 800 seats, which had become dilapidated; he helped secure a multi-million dollar grant to support the Center well into the future; he led the Center through the shaky, uncertain years of the COVID-19 pandemic; and he organized a 100th birthday celebration of the Paramount in 2021. Before becoming director, Johnson worked for many years in health-care administration, first in Michigan and later in St. Cloud as executive director of the CentraCare Heart and Vascular Center.
For more than 100 years, the Paramount Center has been an entertainment mecca for people in the greater St. Cloud area, for central Minnesota and even beyond. It offers high-quality stage plays, musicals, visual-art contests and exhibits, arts-and-crafts classes and performances by local and nationally known singers, musicians, bands and other kinds of performances.
The Paramount Theater, located at the western edge of St. Cloud’s downtown Germain Street, has long been a landmark in the area. It was built in 1921. Its first movie showing was the silent movie “Way Down East” starring Lillian Gish and directed by one of the early masters of cinema, D.W. Griffith.
The Paramount was renowned for its opulence with red-velvet touches, chandeliers, a scalloped balcony, a long swoop of a lushly carpeted lobby. In its first years, it was known as the Sherman Theater. Throughoout the decades it hosted concerts, vaudeville performers, touring road shows and patriotic rallies during World War II.
The Sherman Theater was re-named the Paramount about 10 years after it was built.
In its long history, the Paramount underwent many restorations and changes, including installation of a sound system after “talkies” (sound movies) began to replace silent movies.
Gradually, the theater fell into a state of sad neglect. A fire in 1985 damaged the theater. But throughout the 1990s, a series of major renovations restored the theater to its former glory, making it a “home” for all art forms.