The Averitt Center for the Arts will cut the ribbon on its brand new Center for Performing Arts at 41 West Main Street on Friday at 4:30 p.m.
Once again, the Statesboro Arts Council has taken an eyesore and recreated it as an incredibly desirable and wonderfully functioning building. The injection of life to West Main Street is certain to become an anchor of development and growth in an area of downtown that continues to struggle in gaining an identity.
When then Statesboro Mayor Hal Averitt pulled together a group of business and community leaders more than a decade ago to figure out how to rescue two dilapidated buildings in the center of downtown, his vision was much greater than simply acquiring and renovating those beautiful buildings.
Mayor Averitt knew downtown needed a centerpiece. Our citizens needed a reason to visit and continue coming back. The vision grew into what we know now as the Averitt Center for the Arts and the Emma Kelly Theater. I would have to imagine that even Mayor Averitt would be a little surprised by not only its success, but the continued and extraordinary growth of the arts in Statesboro.
I was fortunate to be part of the early group Mayor Averitt selected to help bring his vision to fruition. We spent countless hours visiting, reviewing and learning as much as we could about developing an arts center in our community. We traveled the state seeking out best practices and ideas that would ensure our center's success. From those early meetings we had a few measurable takeaways that seemed to be common threads to success in other communities.
First, we needed a strong, long term financial commitment from the City of Statesboro to ensure a baseline of stable revenue. Using the safety net, we would leverage these funds to grow the center and ensure that the facility not only survived but thrived. Secondly, we needed to identify, recruit and maintain a leader whose vision and passion for the arts would be much greater than any of us could imagine. This leader would challenge us and push our boundaries with out of the box ideas to address and fill the need for arts in our community. Third, it is critical to ensure that the center reaches a diverse population with opportunities in every medium. We could not allow barriers to disturb interest or desire.
Four mayors later, the commitment from our city and its relationship with the Statesboro Arts Council has never been stronger. Former City Manager George Wood, and our city council were determined to find the revenue streams that would ensure the idea would soar.
Because of this, when other arts centers throughout the state were being shuttered during the economic downturn we saw the opposite at the Averitt. Katheryn Grube, wife of then GSU President Bruce Grube, ran one of the most professional and extensive national searches for an executive director I have ever seen. The end result was a pool of tremendously qualified candidates.
From that pool, one stood head and shoulders above the rest and I think everyone reading this will agree that when Tim Chapman was hired, it was a very good day for our community. Lastly, diversity of the arts is alive and well. Ironically, this focus on filling every need has created a demand and thirst in our community for more.
Just like the recreation department creates opportunities for youth interested in sports, the Statesboro Arts Council has replicated this for the arts. Introducing children to the arts very early has a remarkable impact on the success of a child throughout their life. Like sports, early introduction to the Arts creates an incredible feeder program which not only enriches the lives of these children but our community as a whole.
"Our goal in creating the wildly popular after school programs was to provide opportunities for every area of the arts in one place, Chapman said. "Imagine if you're a working parent the challenges of shuttling your child to voice, piano, dance or drama lessons several days per week. We are creating an accessible campus downtown that becomes a ‘one-stop shop' for all things arts."
Success is an understatement for after school programs at the Arts Center. Nearly 500 children are enrolled and participating, with world class instruction in dance, music, ceramics, painting, drawing, strings and theater classes, to name a few. About 28 percent of the students registered in these programs are traveling from outside the county and most are filled to capacity with a waiting list for enrollment.
"We have compelling data substantiating our need for growth," Chapman said. "Our patron's appetites have been exposed to the opportunities that awaits and they are hungry for more."
One of the most remarkable things about our community is our ability to address identifiable needs in extraordinary ways. When the project was originally launched, our community came together to fund the project in full at a price tag of a little over $4 million. I would argue that few investments of this magnitude have made a greater impact on our community.
Now is our opportunity to rise up again and embrace the plan of growth which will provide increased opportunities for our children and improve the aesthetics of downtown. The goal is $1.8 million and that figure would bring to fruition the completion of the Center for Performing Arts on West Main, Roxie Remley's Center for Fine Arts, located where the current dance studio (a partnership with the GSU City Campus and FAB LAB project) and, lastly, the Thurman Lanier Center for Arts Education in a yet to be determined location downtown.
"We are doing our best to offer top notch programming and opportunities for area children, to continue to do so we must expand to meet the demand," said Jenny Foss, president of the Averitt Center Board of Directors. "We need community investment in our mission to be able to provide the necessary facilities."
If you like what you see happening at the Averitt Center and want to help it grow, reach out to Tim Chapman, Jack Orman, chairman of the capital campaign or any of the Averitt Center staff at (912) 212-2787.