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Averitt Center marks 10th year

Arts center to celebrate with '10 Days Marking 10 Years'

Averitt Center marks 10th year

Averitt Center marks 10th year


The Averitt Center for the Arts is celebrating its 10th season of bringing the arts to the people of Statesboro and the surrounding area and bringing the people of Statesboro and the surrounding area into the arts.
In terms of performances, the Averitt Center started ambitiously. The inaugural 2004-05 season brought a grand-opening night of music headlined by Broadway singer and actress Christine Andreas in the center’s Emma Kelly Theater, a main gallery exhibition by Savannah visual artist Lori Robinson, and a local production of the musical “Radio Days” staged while Statesboro and Georgia Southern University were hosting the Governor’s Conference on Tourism.
“We really started with a bang,” recalls Tim Chapman, the Averitt Center’s executive director.
For the 10th anniversary, the Statesboro Arts Council asked the staff to plan events that reflect what the Averitt Center has done during the past decade. The resulting “10 Days Marking 10 Years” will begin with the 2013 Legend in the Arts ceremony at 5:30 p.m. Thursday and extend through Sept.21. The schedule includes a literary event, musical productions, a film, a two-night run of locally produced musical theater and lessons in visual arts and dance.
Several elements of the anniversary series — visual arts, music, professional artists and local amateurs — were also present in the opening season. But the lessons and additional opportunities for local people to get involved as more than audience members reflect an unexpected shift in direction that Chapman and others observe has occurred during the decade.
At first, the Averitt Center’s leaders saw their core mission as bringing visual and performing arts to Statesboro. Now the spotlight has shifted to bringing local people into the arts.
“What we thought we would be doing in the very beginning, what is considered now our core product, really will become more of a secondary product for us in the future,” Chapman said. “And our core product will be more grassroots programs that allow youth and adults to pursue arts-related and skill-based training.”
Tony Phillips certainly has experience on the performance side. Before starting his current job as the center’s program director four years ago, he served in other capacities, such as a ballroom dance instructor and area coordinator of the Grassroots Arts program. Meanwhile, Phillips directed musicals both under the Averitt’s auspices and in independent productions.
But now Phillips, the director responsible for some of the Emma Kelly Theater’s popular shows, such as “The Sound of Music” circa 2007, “Oklahoma” around 2008 and “White Christmas” in 2010, refers to the center’s ongoing programs for children and teens as his “fabulous five.”
These include the Statesboro Youth Ballet, Youth Chorale, Youth Theater and Youth Visual Arts, plus an after-school program. Together, these programs currently enroll 211 youths ages 2-18.
Now in its third year, the after-school program, Art After Hours, exposes first- through eighth-grade students to theater, visual art, chorale and ballet, while also providing homework time and other activities. Currently, 31 students participate.
The National Endowment for the Arts recently recognized the Averitt Center with a $10,000 grant, to be awarded this fall for its youth programs. NEA officials contacted the center about the invitational award after seeing information online about the local programs online, Chapman said.
Chapman and Phillips aren’t saying that performances will be less important in the future, only that instructional programs and local involvement are growing in importance.
“We will always bring in outside artists to either exhibit their work or showcase their work on stage,” Chapman said. “That will always be a part of what we do. But right now we are really focusing on our grassroots efforts to create arts within our community.”

Local commitment
From the outset, the Averitt Center has represented an essentially local commitment to the arts. Bulloch County taxpayers approved a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax including $750,000 for an arts center in 1997. A second five-year SPLOST approved in 2002 included $1.3 million for the center.
The architectural firm Hussey, Gay, Bell and DeYoung did the design and Paul S. Akins Co. was general contractor to turn the Bank of Statesboro building, dating to 1911, and the Georgia Theater, which was built in the 1930s, into the arts center. Renovations and equipment costs ran to about $2.5 million, and supporters raised more than $500,000 in private donations.
Blending neoclassical and art deco design elements, the three-story structure encompasses 15,000 feet of interior space, including galleries, studios and classrooms as well as the 358-seat Emma Kelly Theater, named for Statesboro pianist and singer Emma Kelly, the “Lady of 6,000 Songs.”
The center itself was named in 2001 for David H. “Hal” Averitt, then retiring as Statesboro’s mayor. Averitt was able to attend a number of events at the center prior to his death in April 2006.
Connie Averitt  recalls that her late husband was one of the people, but not the only one, who had envisioned the bank and theater buildings as an ideal arts center location.
She said he would be amazed at what the center has done in its first 10 years.
“I think that he would be greatly pleased and greatly honored that it has done as well as it has, and that reflects on the management and wonderful work of Tim Chapman and staff and the ever-changing board,” Averitt said. “People come in who have new ideas, and it progresses from there. It’s an ongoing thing.”
Chapman had been hired prior to opening season, while construction was getting underway. So what to the public is the 10th season is Chapman’s 11th year with the Averitt.
“For me, it’s been kind of my child, if you will, watching my child grow up these 11 years,” he said. “And it’s been kind of magical to be part of it.”

Arts & business
The buildings remain property of the city, but the nonprofit Statesboro Arts Council Inc. operates them, “doing business as” the David H. Averitt Center for the Arts. The center now has 10 employees, five of them full-time.
The current annual budget is about $850,000. Of this, 52 percent is “earned income” from memberships, sponsorships and ticket sales, Chapman said. Much of the remainder comes from the city’s general fund and the hotel-motel tax. Federal grants are a small part of the revenue, and state grants currently nonexistent.
That the arts can be good for business is part of the Averitt Center’s philosophy. This has been the case since an early flier about the proposed center stressed that “arts attract tourists” and “industry wants the arts.”
Another independent agency with city backing, the Downtown Statesboro Development Authority, or DSDA, works closely with the Averitt Center.
“We see the arts center not just as a service and a cultural expression that has an entertainment and educational component, but that also, from a downtown point of view, it brings in a lot of clientele, a lot of people, that when they come downtown eat in our restaurants and shop with our retailers,” DSDA Executive Director Allen Muldrew said.
He credits the center’s programs with bringing 60,000 visitors downtown each year, including those taking classes as well as show and exhibit attendees.  The Averitt Center’s 2012-13 annual report showed 8,216 tickets sold for gross revenue of $99,032. The report used an Americans for the Arts economic impact calculator to show an impact to the area of $2,161,300.
Meanwhile, center repurposes some older downtown buildings, as when a former car dealership became the center’s new dance studio in 2012. Chapman points out that the center also creates jobs, especially by paying artists for their work in its programs.
For the future, Chapman foresees the Averitt Center extending its reach beyond Bulloch County more often. In 2012, the Averitt Stars carried performances of “Twelve Angry Jurors” to Screven and Effingham counties. Already, 25 percent of Averitt ticket sales are to residents of other counties.
“We’ve got a big vision for our organization,” Chapman said. “We would like to regionalize our name, Averitt Center for the Arts. We do certainly receive lots of support locally … but we would like to brand that name in at least the seven contiguous counties around Bulloch.”

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