By Mikkel Hyldebrandt

As with so many other art institutions, The Center for Puppetry Arts was deeply impacted by the onset of the global pandemic a year ago. They managed to pivot to digital content fairly quickly but not without having to restructure the organization entirely, including letting staff go. Beth Schiavo is the Executive Director for the Center for Puppetry Arts, and she worked hard with the rest of the leadership team to get the center back to its full programming – both in-person and digitally. 

Like countless other businesses and organizations, you have been deeply impacted but the global pandemic. How did you manage all this?  

The Center was quick to react to the challenge of closing our theaters by providing free educational and entertainment content to families over Facebook Live. Our leadership team met daily to develop innovative programming that could be offered digitally. We have been quite proud of our reach during the pandemic, with over 200,000 views in 87 countries in less than two months. Sadly, like most performing arts organizations, we were unable to maintain full employment of our part-time and some full-time staff. We have thankfully been able to start bringing people back into the Center for special performances and museum activities. We employ Optimistic Resilience at the Center. We are not naively optimistic, but rather we have become comfortable with change in a way none of us have had to do in the past. Resilience is all about taking some risks knowing that not all decisions will be successful, and quickly move on to those that are successful.

Do you think any of the initiatives adapted during the pandemic will prevail in future lineups?

Absolutely. We learned that there is a true need for high-quality, interactive, and online content which works well with our existing Digital Learning model. Now, we have an opportunity to curate programming for a broader public audience that is fun and interactive while also being educational. This could take the form of our mainstage theatrical performances, museum tours, educational and VIP panels, in addition to our Digital Learning portfolio.

What are your hopes and expectations for the upcoming spring and summer season for the center?

First and foremost, we hope for a healthy community, and our Center activities will continue to be diligent with respect to our visitor and employee safety. We have planned both digital and in-person programming this spring and summer and will be launching a special museum exhibit with related programming this summer. I am incredibly proud to be talking with other cultural leaders on a weekly basis as we navigate through the balance of financial sustainability and cautious engagement with the community.

Can you share some upcoming season highlights with us?

While we will continue to build and expand our digital programming, we’re very excited to be back in person on stage and in our workshops. We will continue to limit numbers and require safety measures, but we’re looking forward to presenting more performances and workshops as well as new Museum programming, including special exhibits and events. We have some new projects in development that we will be sharing in the coming weeks, but for now, we’re thrilled to have all of our programming safely open and available to the public. 

How can we support the Center for Puppetry Arts until it is fully open again?

With a library of archival performances as well as live, interactive digital offerings, there are a number of performance-related choices. Visit the museum when we open our special exhibits and events planned for the year. The Center has been a unique Atlanta gem for over 41 years, and we welcome more than 160,000 visitors a year, approximately 70,000 of those children traveling from schools on field trips. With the temporary pause on field trips, we need passionate supporters of the arts and healthy children’s programming to consider philanthropic support to bridge the gap of lost revenue. Our goal is to ensure that future generations of children and adults can experience the magic that is puppetry in Atlanta.

Learn more about the Center for Puppetry Arts at puppet.org.