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The Averitt Center matters
Burney - head shot - Cropped
Burney Carl Marsh

On Sept. 12, the Averitt Center for the Arts will begin celebrating its 10th anniversary with 10 days of events and activities planned for the enjoyment of the public. The first day will include a Legend in the Arts Induction and a GSU Music Faculty Showcase. When I look over the list of offerings, from the Lamar Dodd art showing reception on the 13th, to the thank-you performances by students from Averitt youth programs for city and county officials on the 17th, I am reminded of how great a hub of culture and entertainment the Averitt Center has become to Statesboro, Bulloch County and the region.

As a child growing up in 1960s Statesboro, I am also drawn to remember how far we have progressed as a community, to have a thriving arts center that reclaimed two iconic-historic downtown structures while helping revive the downtown area and enrich the greater community. Culture in Statesboro, for me in the '60s, was in the books on the shelves of the Statesboro Regional Library on South Main. Besides riding the Minkovitz Department Store elevator, entertainment was a matinee at the Georgia Theater, an earlier incarnation of what is now the Emma Kelly Theater. "Mary Poppins" and "The Sound of Music" stand out in my memory, along with "Krakatoa," "East of Java" and "Hang 'em High" in 1969. The latter was controversial as one of the first Sunday matinees, which was deplored from many local pulpits, including the one in my family church. It was bad enough for me to sneak off uptown on my bicycle with a friend without permission, but to do so for the purpose of seeing a Clint Eastwood movie on a Sunday after church had me worrying about the devil waiting for me where we left our bikes in the dark side alley of the theater. I was amazed to see the Emma Kelly Theater for the first time, glowing and alive in what had been the dark, cavernous movie theater of my youth. However, for the celebratory Movie Matinees on the 15th, I will miss the dark red, goldfringed stage curtains dramatically drawn as the audience waits to see our own Emma Kelly in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

The old Statesboro Bank Building, now housing galleries, studios, performance rooms, classrooms and offices of the Averitt Center, was largely vacant in my memory, except for a barbershop I was taken to for a while as a child. Besides wondering what was on the upper two floors, behind the wavy sand glass of the unadorned Palladian windows, the building was symbolic in my family folklore of loss and devastation, the starting point for the Great Depression. My maternal grandfather was sent by his great uncle, for whom he worked at a Portal turpentine company, with a draft on the Bank of Statesboro. The family patriarch wanted to test the rumors, to make sure his money was still there. The money withdrawn that day was all an extended family had left after the bank closed its doors forever shortly thereafter. I never fail to think of my grandfather when I walk across the same threshold to see a wonderful art exhibit or reception at the Averitt Center main gallery.

It is ironic that on the evening of the 13th, Michael Kitchens, author and photographer of "Ghosts of Grandeur," which catalogues beautiful endangered Southern architecture, will be speaking from an arts center created from two historic structures saved, reclaimed and made new again as a vital part of the cultural, entertainment, and creative lives of many citizens of all ages.

It is fitting that the Averitt STARS production of "Southern Hospitality," from the 19th through the 21st, will be a highlight of the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Averitt Center, for it is described as: "How the Futrelle sisters and the other citizens of Fayro (Texas) pull together and save their town is a testament to Southern strength and ingenuity - and a recipe for total hilarity." As a new board of directors member, I am appreciative of the strength and ingenuity of the dedicated citizens who made the Averitt Center a reality. I have witnessed that same dogged determination to not just keep this vital resource flourishing, but to grow the Averitt to fulfill the needs and aspirations of the public it serves.

I hope everyone will join us for 10 days of events offered to the public to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their Averitt Center for the Arts.

Burney Carl Marsh is a member of the Averitt Center for the Arts' board of directors.

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