By Kristi Casey Sanders
Prior to 1950, the state of Georgia had more than 350 historic theaters. Nearly half have been demolished. The Fox Theatre Institute’s mission is to save the rest.
“The [Atlanta Landmarks Inc.] Board came to me and said, now that we’re stable financially, it is time to share the wealth,” says Fox Theatre General Manager Allan Vella. “No other theater in the world has what we do — the Restoration Department. We’re going to share that. We’re going to pick theaters that want to renovate themselves, help them find grants and teach them how to do it.
“We’ve already been doing it for years, by sharing advice and going to other theaters, but we recognized a need to formalize it,” Vella continues. “[The Fox Institute] will select theaters that are in a good position — they have a supportive community, etc. — so we’re not setting them up for failure.”
For its pilot year, the Fox Institute selected 15 theaters and created a customized program for each. Some need assistance remodeling their lobby or auditorium. Some want to learn about sales and marketing, or need assistance with programming and ticket sales. Some want to train in-house restoration staff. The goal is to help these theaters become viable economic and cultural centers for the communities they’re in, much like the Fox has done under Atlanta Landmark’s guidance.
The Fox is booked more than 325 nights a year. It regularly ranks among the top-grossing theaters in the world. It also has been the catalyst for the revitalization of midtown Atlanta, creating an audience not only for live theater but also for restaurants, bars, nightclubs and hotels.
“The success of the Fox demonstrates the relevance of historic preservation,” Vella says. “With the money we make, we typically invest it in three ways. Every year, $1-$1.4 million dollars goes back into the building, we make donations to other theaters, and we have outreach programs. We’re a non-profit theater that makes money. We’ve been operating in the black for 30 years. If it wasn’t for Atlanta, we couldn’t do this.”
Alan E. Thomas, board president of Atlanta Landmarks, says, “Everyone should know the value of the arts. In America, it means $166 billion and 6 million jobs. In Atlanta, it’s a $274 million industry and has an economic impact of more than $700 million.” Fox Institute theaters are poised to make a tremendous difference statewide.
“Our desire is to use the gifts we were given to help other theaters around Georgia become economic engines within [their] communities,” Thomas says.
After this pilot year is complete, the institute will open its resources to a wider pool of theaters. Membership to interested community groups is free; benefits include social networking and educational seminars.
Current Fox Institute projects:
- Rylander Theatre, Americus
- Morton Theatre, Athens
- Imperial Theatre, Augusta
- The Ritz, Brunswick
- Gem Theatre, Calhoun
- Springer Opera House, Columbus
- Holly Theater, Dahlonega
- The Fitzgerald Grand, Fitzgerald
- Cox Capitol Theatre, Macon
- Douglass Theatre, Macon
- Grand Opera House, Macon
- Strand Theater, Marietta
- DeSoto Theatre, Rome
- Emma Kelly Theatre, Statesboro
- The Ritz, Thomaston
Interested in joining the Fox Institute or learning more about it? Sign up at FoxTheatreInstitute.org or call 404-881-2100.