CLARKSTON, Ga.—Renovations to the Fine Arts Building at Georgia State University’s Perimeter College are now complete, just in time to mark the 50th year of the college’s Fine Arts program.
The Fine Arts Building, housing the Cole Auditorium, was finished in 1968, setting the stage (literally) for hundreds of musicals and concerts to follow over the next half century. During the past few decades, the aging structure has received updates — plus a facelift to its Cole Auditorium.
To celebrate, the college is planning a Fine Arts Festival Sept. 9-13 on the Clarkston Campus. The week of art, music and interactive workshops also will include a reception.
A matinee of the Peach State Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème” will kick off the festival Sunday, Sept. 9. The following week of performances, exhibits and workshops will include a staged sword combat fighting exhibition by the internationally known duo, Crossed Swords — both of whom are members of Perimeter College’s faculty.
Returning alumni — and visitors to the college — will see new offices and spacious music lesson spaces, a renovated art history room, a renovated and redecorated art gallery lobby and an elevator large enough to accommodate a grand piano, among other improvements.
The elevator, installed in 2010, was gamechanger, said Jennifer Jenkins, fine arts production manager. Jenkins is not only a Perimeter alumna herself, but has been employed by the college since 1982. She remembers student workers moving heavy percussion equipment and stacks of chairs up two and half flights of stairs if it was raining outside.
“It was the bane of their existence,” Jenkins said.
This summer, the Cole stage served as temporary home to thousands of costumes, during the building’s wardrobe storage renovation.
The main residence of the DeKalb Symphony Orchestra since 1968, the Cole Auditorium also has been the place to host major speakers at the college. Among the famous personalities gracing the Cole stage in the past decade include former President Jimmy Carter, U.S. poet laureates Rita Dove and Natasha Trethewey, civil rights icon and U.S. Rep. John Lewis and author Pat Conroy.
Alumni, such as acclaimed visual artists Kristin Thorson and the late Lori-Gene, and ceramics artist David Moss honed their talents as students in the college’s art program. Thorson’s and Lori-Gene’s work, as well as faculty artists’ work, will be on display in the building’s Fine Arts Gallery during the alumni art reception Thursday, Sept. 13.
Former students, such as theater alumni Jeremiah Davison and music grad Cole Smith, cite some of their best memories as experiences with their professors and involvement in the Fine Arts program.
“I always knew I wanted to come here (Perimeter College) first for my associate degree,” Smith said. Now a middle school band teacher in Americus, Smith graduated from what was then Georgia Perimeter College in 2014 and from Georgia State in 2017 with his bachelor’s in music education with a concentration in instrumental music. The saxophone player remembers the mentorship of music professors Greg McLean and Slava Prudchenko, who helped prepare him for auditioning for Georgia State’s music program.
“The professors I had — specifically Greg McLean, my music theory teacher — gave me real life applications of things I would need to know and prepared me for Georgia State and beyond,” Smith said.
Smith recently came back to the college this summer to conduct the Perimeter Wind Ensemble with former professor — and now colleague — Slava Prudchenko.
Davison, a former college homecoming king who graduated in 2015, returned to the college recently to watch and direct the “Plays in a Day” event. Davison started the annual event four years ago and has been heartened by its continued popularity.
“I was so happy I got to see something I was able to create for students and community members,” he said.
“Coming to Perimeter was a great experience for me, and it really had a great impact on my life,” Davison said. “I felt at home instantly, not only for the love they instilled in me for the theatre program, but for the great school spirit. I loved the different festivities on campus and activities that allowed you to meet a lot of diverse people. The program taught me more than just preparing me for my bachelor’s degree — it gave me confidence and let me find my true love of producing and directing.”
Davison, who received his bachelor’s degree from West Georgia State University, recently finished an apprenticeship with the Atlanta theatre company Actor’s Express. He is acting in the fall and Christmas productions at Stone Mountain Park, as well as producing and directing independent films.
Here’s a look at the schedule of events for the Fine Arts Festival. All performances take place in the Cole Auditorium, and are free unless otherwise noted.
Monday, Sept. 10: The Global Village Chorus at noon, followed by interactive workshop
Tuesday, Sept. 11: Timothy Harper, spiritualist, at noon followed by an interactive workshop
Wednesday, Sept. 12: Brien Engel, glass harp, at noon, followed by an interactive workshop.
Thursday, Sept. 13, Crossed Swords, staged combat sword exhibition with internationally known theatrical combat fighters, Mike Sakuta and Nicole Harsch, at noon, followed by an interactive workshop. Sakuta and Harsch are faculty members at Perimeter College.
Thursday, Sept. 13, Fine Arts Festival Closing Art Reception, 6 -8 p.m. at the Cole Fine Arts Gallery. The reception will include artists whose work is on display in the Fine Arts Gallery, the JCLRC fourth floor gallery and the Studio gallery.
Photo: The Global Village Chorus will perform Sept. 10 at Perimeter College’s Fine Arts Festival. The choir is a group of teen girls who are new refugees from across the globe. They are educated at a Decatur-based school where they learn English and other academics.