ARP Grant Spotlight: Center for Puppetry | Catch My Job


Kermit the Frog is on display at the Center for Puppetry

Kermit the Frog on display at the Center for Puppetry’s Jim Henson Gallery. (Photo courtesy Center for Puppetry Arts)

Founded in 1978 by Vincent Anthony, the Puppetry Arts Center in Atlanta, Georgia, is the nation’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to puppetry and one of the few international organizations of its kind. Pre-pandemic, the center hosted about 17 shows per season, about half a dozen of which were original productions. Others were presented by puppeteers from across the United States and around the world. The center houses a museum with a 4,000-piece collection, offers educational programming to youth; both in person and online, and serves as the US headquarters for UNIMA, the world’s largest puppetry organization.

Serving as a museum, performance space, and education center all in one makes the center stand out on the world stage. “Puppetry is a very nomadic lifestyle; puppeteers will pack their bags and go to libraries and schools and little theaters. It was really visionary to have a place for puppets, where puppeteers can come from all over the country to a place that’s just for them,” said Beth Schiavo, center. Executive Director of For Puppetry Arts.

Thanks to an American Rescue Plan grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, as the organization continues to welcome patrons and school groups, they are also working to reflect the scope of their programs and increase the ways in which giving back continues. to the community

One program, Puppetry Now, is a new museum exhibition series that highlights the work of contemporary artists of color. The program debuts in late June 2022 when the Center for Puppetry Arts unveils a production titled “5P1N0K10,” a play on the 1881 Italian children’s novel The Adventures of Pinocchio. Created by Tarish “Zegeto” Pipkins, whose nickname is a play on Pinocchio’s woodcarver father Geppetto, the story was adapted into an Afrofuturist “hip hopra” about a robot boy who engages in b-boying and hip-hop culture, a piece of humanity from Pipkins’ show. Will join the permanent collection.

Schiavo noted that in the United States, the puppetry industry has not traditionally recruited talent from the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community, but now there is a greater effort to increase interest and reach out to all groups. For example, the long-running Sesame Street continues to create a more representative Muppet world that now includes Black Muppets and a Muppet with autism.

One way the Puppetry Arts Center employs a variety of puppeteers is through their residency program. “We are proud to have a residency program that allows artists to have a voice in the center’s overall strategy. We’ve been able to leverage their talents throughout the center, but also their input into the production and what we’re offering our audiences here,” said Schiavo.

Since nearly every culture has some form of puppetry, the Center for Puppetry Arts’ collection also plays an important role in showcasing the diversity of puppetry around the world and throughout history. “Puppetry is a long history of early forms of civilization. It was a way for people to be able to communicate with each other when normal means of communication were more challenging. In any of your history readings, you see that period of time reflected in dolls,” says Schiavo.

In India, puppets are mentioned in the epic Mahabharata, the oldest parts of which date to 400 BC. In England, Punch and Judy, the comedy duo that delighted British audiences in the 1700s, still perform today.

“Puppetry is a universal language,” Schiavo said, and the center has followed these guidelines to design virtual and in-person programming for youth and adults.

Just 48 hours after the center closed in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, staff uploaded pre-recorded content and later worked with teachers to create additional educational content to engage families and children during the school day. This online strategy expanded the center’s reach to 87 from seven countries within six weeks. Since then, the center has expanded its digital programming to include students in grades seven and eight as well.

“Children are very responsive to dolls. All you have to do is look at a child with a Barbie doll and you will understand why dolls work with children. It is much more accessible to children than to an adult. A child will feel more comfortable communicating if they are able to do it through a doll or other object,” Schiavo said.

In its more than 40-year history, the Center for Puppetry Arts has proven that it is more than just puppets, but a place for humanity and shared stories, despite the different languages, histories and cultures around the world.


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