Interlochen Prepares Students for Enduring Academic and Artistic Success
Located in idyllic northwest Michigan, Interlochen Center for the Arts is more than just a world-class private boarding high school. It brings together a 500-student fine arts school with a 2,500-student summer camp program; two public radio services; more than 600 arts presentations annually by students, faculty, and world-renowned guest artists; and a global alumni base spanning nine decades.
Interlochen Arts Academy, the accredited fine arts high school, prepares young artists for rewarding careers and fosters academic excellence. Major areas of study at the Academy include creative writing, comparative arts, dance, filmmaking, theatre, music, and visual arts. Its graduates are titans in the arts.
“Of major professional orchestras throughout the country, 17% of the musicians are alumni of Interlochen,” says Margaret Fako, Business Architect. “We just announced our 46th Presidential Scholar. Our alumni have won 124 Grammy Awards, 26 Tony Awards, and 11 MacArthur Genius Grant recipients.” Interlochen’s alumni include Google co-founder Larry Page, writer/producer Vince Gilligan, actors Ed Helms and Terry Crews, and musicians Josh Groban and Norah Jones.
Students and faculty alike reinforce a culture of learning and holistic collaboration. “Our students arrive with a passion for their art and a desire to work hard,” says Jennifer Wesling, Dean of Students. “And we are here to help them grow both as young artists and as young people.”
Merging—and Managing—Traditional and Non-Traditional Programs
Behind the exceptional programs and outcomes, not-uncommon management inefficiencies were holding back Interlochen’s also-exceptional staff. Combining Interlochen’s more traditional high school with non-traditional (both supplemental and separate) year-round programming presented challenges known to vibrant, holistic schools that serve as pulsating hubs of activity. Interlochen needed a way to easily integrate typical private school functions like admissions, financial aid, and fundraising with less common functions like online marketing and ticket sales. “We’re not just a high school,” says Michael Slawnik, Director of Technology, Applications and Development. “We’re not just a summer camp. We’re not a university. So, a lot of systems that are designed for those customer bases don’t really fit.”
Interlochen had multiple systems and databases—oftentimes with differing information—to serve students and families, many of whom were involved in more than one program. Individual departments had only partial information about these constituents and often had trouble simply navigating their own respective systems.
“Everything was operating as a silo,” says Margaret Fako, Business Architect, “but the people who visit us don’t act in silos.”
Interlochen needed greater interoperability; a way for each system to share information with all the others, and to consolidate management of disparate pieces into a single place.
“We needed to find a platform and a solution we could develop that would meet our needs, because nothing else was,” says Fako.
It was at that point that the IT team turned to Salesforce.
“Salesforce gave us a flexible, scalable, but also extremely resilient, powerful and secure platform on which to build the kind of functionality we need to support our mission,” says Slawnik. “Connectability, scalability, flexibility—there is nothing else that does it!”
Disparate Programs, Single Platform
Interlochen first implemented Salesforce in 2010 to streamline admissions and financial aid. Shortly thereafter, the school expanded its Salesforce instance to also support fundraising, student billing and scholarships, summer camp enrollment, and the performing arts center box office. “Whatever the transaction is, if it’s going out to an external person, nine times out of ten it goes through Salesforce,” says Slawnik.
AppExchange app PatronManager, which Interlochen uses for ticket sales, has been a particularly valuable component: “If Patron Manager hadn’t been as great as it was,” Slawnik observes, “we’d be in a very different place.”
Now that Salesforce has become key to managing so many of Interlochen’s internal and external systems, the IT staff has turned its attention to additional challenges that had been difficult to solve. “We’re working on the biggest pain points,” says Slawnik. “When we identify one in a department, we first consider moving that department over to Salesforce to address it. We’ve already moved on to building a custom student management system for the day-to-day operations of our school.”
Salesforce has enabled Interlochen to implement solutions with greater speed and flexibility, freeing up IT staff to address needs from increasingly more programs. “When there’s a system solution Interlochen should implement, now I don’t have to say no,” says Slawnik.
Empowered to Engage Each Individual Uniquely
Interlochen now has a single, user-friendly system that equips staff to pull insights from each department’s available data. This has allowed specific programs—and the institution as a whole—to develop deeper and more fruitful relationships across its varied constituents. “If we know that you have donated, and you’ve purchased tickets to a concert, and you’re an alum, we now engage with you differently than if you are just a radio listener,” says Fako.
This engagement goes beyond external stakeholders; it extends to internal staff as well: Making a universal database readily available to staff across every key function facilitates more regular and efficient collaboration. “Departments across our organization are able to see a 360-degree picture of each individual within the Interlochen community,” notes Kristina Nichols, Vice Provost of Education Operations.
More intentional interactions have changed relationships with both external and internal stakeholders. “Our internal satisfaction is through the roof,” says Slawnik. “Part of that is because we do a good job, but a lot of it is because we have implemented this wonderful tool that people love.”
Interlochen is continuing to explore innovative ways to use Salesforce. “As our organization evolves, the platform is able to evolve with us.
For example, we’re leveraging Lightning Web Components in places we used to use VisualForce and we’re seeing super scalable success,” adds Slawnik.