History of Center for Puppetry Arts

Learn More About Our Story

We’re so proud of the many contributors and accomplishments we’ve had over the years. Learn more about them by reading through decades of stories.

The 70’s

1978

  • Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog join Vince Anthony to cut the ribbon to open the Center on September 23
  • Nancy Lohman Staub establishes permanent museum
  • New Direction Series (NDS) for Adult Audiences premieres
  • Center begins Outreach Education Programs

The 80s

1980

  • Xperimental Puppetry Theater (XPT), a workshop/performance forum for new, short works for adults debuts at the Center
  • Education Department begins daily workshops for children
  • Nancy Lohman Staub donates 150 puppets for a permanent museum

1981

  • 50,000 visitors view The Art of the Muppets exhibit

1982

  • Vincent Anthony receives the Governor’s Award for the Arts
  • The Center presents an Exhibit of African puppetry tours the Southeast
  • Bruce D. Schwartz, a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellow, performs to sold-out houses
  • The Center co-hosts the annual Puppeteers of America Festival
  • Allegory, adapted for puppets by Kent Stephens, Janie Geiser & Megan McFarland, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA, North American Center of Union Internationale de la Marionnette, the oldest international theatre organization in the world, founded in 1929. The organization’s mission is to promote international understanding and friendship through the art of puppetry.

1983

  • Puppetry of China exhibit opens and China’s Minister of Culture is special guest

1984

  • Jon Ludwig writes and directs Brer Rabbit, his first work for family audiences

1985

  • Dr. Dolittle, directed by Luis Q. Barroso, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA

1986

  • Center purchases the former Spring Street Elementary School through a Capital Campaign and the support of an anonymous local foundation

1987

  • Jon Ludwig’s adult production Cirque Pataphysique runs to sold out houses for an unprecedented nine weeks

1988

  • 10th Anniversary celebration with Jim Henson and The Muppets, hosting two live performances of The Muppets Take Atlanta
  • The Center and UNIMA-USA co-host the first Puppetry of the Americas Conference and Festival
  • Hansel & Gretel, adapted and directed by Luis Q. Barroso, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA

The 90’s

1990

  • The Center begins focusing on educational performances with the breakthrough production of Dinosaurs by Jon Ludwig and Jane Catherine Shaw

1991

  • The Center collaborates with the Metropolitan Atlanta Council on Alcohol & Drug Abuse to develop prevention programming
  • The Center opens a Downstairs Theater for performance
  • Heaven and Hell Tour, by Jon Ludwig, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA

1992

  • The Center becomes U.S. headquarters of UNIMA-USA and Vincent Anthony is appointed General Secretary
  • The Stone Circle, an NDS production, integrates 12 college students with a professional cast and receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA. Co-produced by the Center and the California Polytechnic State University
  • A special exhibit, Breaking Boundaries, celebrates American puppetry in the 1980s, and is also exhibited at Lincoln Center in New York City

1993

  • The Center is selected to participate in the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games Cultural Olympiad, a four-year festival of the arts
  • George Latshaw, a master in the puppetry field, directs the Family Series production The Tortoise and the Hare and Other Fables

1994

  • Jane Henson, puppeteer and wife of Jim Henson,  hosts a screening of The Muppet Christmas Carol
  • Center receives its first Abby Award for Outstanding Arts Organization from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce
  • First annual Puppetry Arts Festival is held on October 29

1995

  • PUPPETS: the Power of Wonder, the permanent, interactive museum exhibit, opens
  • Center embarks on a recycling project and workshops in collaboration with the City of Atlanta, EVERYKID…CAN!, reaching over 40,000 City of Atlanta students in its three-year run
  • The Center begins offering puppet workshops for preschool children
  • Safe as Milk, by Jon Ludwig, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA

1996

  • Center’s second major Capital Campaign, “Making a World of Difference in Atlanta” reaches its goal to raise $2.78 million
  • The Center completes major renovations, including renovation of the Mainstage Theater and the addition of the Love Family Atrium
  • The Center receives an Abby Award for Arts Education from Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in October.
  • The Center participates in the 1996 Olympics Arts Festival, viewed by over 22,000 people from around the world; it garnered the Center international press coverage
  • The Center participates in the 1996 Cultural Paralympiad, offering museum tours and performances that were sign interpreted and audio described
  • Jon Ludwig’s Frankenstein debuts as part of the Olympic Arts Festival
  • Newsweek praises the Center as “…one of the most exciting companies in American theater”
  • Special Exhibit, The Muppets in Atlanta: Vision of Jim Henson Exhibition, (July 12, 1996 – January 4, 1997) features Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Big Bird, and others, as well as video highlights of The Muppets and other Henson productions
  • Fifteen Asian puppets from the Center’s permanent collection are on display in Concourse E at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

1997

  • Education begins offering a series of Adult Education classes, as well as year-round Outreach services
  • Over 180 Fulton County elementary students participate in five Center residencies as part of FRESH (Fulton Roundtable Expanded Service Headquarters)
  • Discovery Channel’s international program Travelers visits Atlanta and features the Center
  • New library/study center opens to the public

1998

  • The Center hosts the Puppeteers of America Southeast Regional Festival and Conference, June 25-28; includes 300 people from eight countries and 36 states and features adult and family performances; special guest Steve Whitmire appears with Kermit the Frog performances of The Muppets Take Atlanta
  • World premiere of adult work Kwaidan, created by Jon Ludwig, theatre artist Ping Chong and designer Mitsuru Ishii, which later embarks on a seven-city tour of the USA, appears at Spoleto, and tours Japan
  • Distance Education/GSAMS established in September; provides free videoconferencing programming to schools across Georgia and the nation
  • Education Department collaborates with VOX/Youth Communication, a newspaper produced by inner city teens, to create a puppet show expressing youth voices and concerns; project culminates with free community performance and reception at the Center
  • Creative Loafing names Jon Ludwig Best Local Playwright (Best of Atlanta, October)
  • Center’s 20th anniversary; Cheryl Henson leads the toast at the 1998 Puppetry Arts Festival; featured guests were Bear and Tutter from Jim Henson’s Bear in the Big Blue House

1999

  • The Center holds the first annual PuppeTrek, an event sponsored by the Atlanta Track Club
  • Fifth annual Puppetry Arts Festival is renamed String Fling, held October 9; featured guests were Bear and Ojo from Jim Henson’s Bear in the Big Blue House

The 2000s

2000

  • The Center receives a challenge grant of $1.25 million from the Ford Foundation; Center is one of 28 arts organizations chosen, and the only one in Georgia
  • The Center is named Best of Atlanta “Best Family Programming,” Atlanta Magazine, December

2001

  • Vincent Anthony honored as “Lexus Leader of the Arts,” February
  • World-famous Salzburg Marionette Theatre presents The Magic Flute in November
  • Atlanta Parent magazine chooses Center as Best Theater for Children, August
  • The Center completes a $3.4 million capital campaign, the Center’s third, which funds a number of physical improvements, including a state-of-the-art scene shop and a metal fence around the property
  • Kwaidan tours to the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the New Victory Theater in New York City, and The Barbican Center in London, England
  • The Plant Doctors, by Jon Ludwig, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA
  • Kwaidan, by Jon Ludwig, Ping Chong, and Mitsuru Ishii, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA

2002

  • PUPPETS 2002, puppetry festival, consists of UNIMA Conference (June 20-23) and Puppets Take Atlanta (June 1-August 18); UNIMA Conference attended by over 300 visitors from around the world; Puppets Take Atlanta, a collaborative effort between the Center and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, unites the city with exhibits, performances and workshops
  • WINNER’S CIRCLE: 10 Years of the UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence in the Art of Puppetry opens January 25 and features Cookie Monster, puppets from Shining Time Station, and the John Cusack marionette from the movie Being John Malkovich
  • The Center receives an Abby Award for Outstanding Arts Organization from the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce in October
  • Atlanta Magazine names the Center as one of the 25 experiences every Atlantan should have
  • First Lady of Georgia Marie Barnes debuts PLAY IT SAFE, written by Bobby Box, at the National Governors Association winter conference; this training video is distributed to every preschool in Georgia
  • MSN.com names PUPPETS: The Power of Wonder as one of the top ten children’s museums in the U.S.
  • First Lady of Georgia Marie Barnes debuts PLAY IT SAFE, written by Bobby Box, at the National Governors Association winter conference; this training video is distributed to every preschool in Georgia

2003

  • Bobby Box directs his Family Series production The Velveteen Rabbit at Ming Ri Theatre in China in February; the show retained its original design but was performed in Cantonese
  • Our Kids magazine names the Center a Favorite Live Theater in its 2003 Family Favorites issue, August
  • Julie Taymor donates Mufasa and Scar, two mask prototypes from Disney’s The Lion King, to the permanent collection
  • The Center turns 25 on September 23
  • The Center’s 25th Anniversary Dinner is held on September 26; special guests include Philip Huber of Being John Malkovich movie fame, Wayland Flowers’ Madame, and Kermit the Frog
  • The 10th annual String Fling is held September 27-28
  • Jon Ludwig, Artistic Director, and Jason Hines, Resident Puppet Designer, and Builder, receive Rockefeller Grant for Avanti, Da Vinci!

2004

  • The Center continues its 25th-anniversary celebration with four performances by the Salzburg Marionette Theater: The Barber of SevilleA Midsummer Night’s DreamThe Magic Flute, and Peter and the Wolf
  • The Center is rated No. 1 for Child Appeal in Atlanta by Zagat Survey
  • The Center receives a “Cultivating the Audiences of Tomorrow” grant from the New Generations Program, an initiative cooperatively designed by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and Theatre Communications Group
  • The Center is a finalist in the 2004 Technology Innovation Award presented by TechBridge and given by Accenture. Avanti, Da Vinci! The Secret Adventures of Leonardo da Vinci by Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines premieres August 5 and receives rave reviews.
  • Creative Loafing names Avanti, Da Vinci! Best Educational Theater Production in its Best of Atlanta issue, October
  • Jane Fonda attends the String Fling Gala 2004 as a special guest and is presented with a Barbarella marionette designed by Jason Hines
  • The Center receives the prestigious George Goodwin Community Grant from public relations firm Manning Selvage & Lee/Atlanta (MS&L) and is awarded $100,000 in pro bono services over a two year period
  • The Center debuts three DVDs – American Tall TalesBeauty & the Beast, and Dinosaurs – as part of the DVD collection, PUPPETS AT PLAY

2005

  • Bobby Box receives a grant from The Jim Henson Foundation in support of Anne Frank: Within & Without, an original work that premiered in 2006
  • Jason Hines & Jon Ludwig present doppelgänger puppets to Blue Collars TV’s Bill Engvall, Jeff Foxworthy, and Larry the Cable Guy. The trio and crew shot a segment of the guys making puppets and entertaining kids at the Center.
  • The American Tall Tales DVD is recognized with a Telly Award
  • Jon Ludwig receives an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing in a Children’s Series for Disney Channel’s The Book of Pooh
  • American Tall Tales, by Jon Ludwig, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA
  • The Center receives a grant from the Competitive Grants Fund of The Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Inc. to support educational programming
  • The Center receives a Special Event Lifetime Achievement Award from VSA of Georgia for 26 years of ticket donations
  • The Center is selected for Atlanta Magazine’s Hall of Fame as one of the “25 Homegrown Favorites that Have Stood the Test of Time” in its Best of Atlanta issue.

2006

  • Anne Frank: Within & Without, written and directed by Bobby Box, premieres January 19 and receives national and international attention from CNN, The New York Times, and Haartez newspaper in Tel Aviv, Israel
  • The Center receives a prestigious $40,000 planning grant for museums from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
  • The Gods and Demons, Monkeys and Men exhibit receives a Public Program Grant from the Georgia Humanities Council and a grant from Woodruff Arts Center’s Celebrate Diversity Through the Arts program
  • The Ghastly Dreadfuls, by Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines, premieres

2007

  • Center is selected by the Henson family to be the destination for their momentous collection of puppets and artifact honoring Henson’s legacy – the largest in the world
  • 2007 Excelerator Grant from AT&T Adds Second Distance Learning Studio
  • Center expands its focus on cultural diversity with new family series programming including guest artist Teatro SEA’s La Cucarachita Martina  and Jon Ludwig’s Duke Ellington’s Cat
  • Anne Frank: Within and Without, by Bobby Box, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA
  • Jon Ludwig receives the Loridans Arts Award, recognizing his significant contributions to the arts in Atlanta

2008

  • The Center receives a 2007-2008 Pinnacle Award for interactive learning and collaboration
  • The Center celebrates its 30th Anniversary with a Members Only weekend featuring Heather Henson, daughter of Jim Henson
  • A bilingual performance of Don Quixote, adapted by Bobby Box, is performed as part of the New Directions Series in collaboration with Manuel Morán of Teatro SEA of New York
  • Jason Hines receives the Loridans Arts Encouragement Award  
  • The Center formally adds Film Screenings to its programming
  • Duke Ellington’s Cat, by Jon Ludwig, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA

2009

  • Puppets Take Atlanta & Beyond, a collaborative effort between the Center and the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, unites the city with performances and workshops in conjunction with the Puppeteers of America 2009 National Festival on the campus of GA Tech. The Center hosts the festival attendees on July 18, 2009, officially proclaimed by the City of Atlanta as “Jim Henson Day.”
  • The Center receives a 2008-2009 Pinnacle Award for interactive learning and collaboration
  • Center premieres The Adventures of Little Noodle sponsored by Aetna Foundation, focused on an innovative way to tackle the topic of childhood obesity
  • The Center’s reference library is dedicated and named after the museum’s founder, Nancy Lohman Staub. The Nancy Lohman Staub Puppetry Research Library officially opened with the gift of 2 rare Japanese Bunraku puppets donated by master puppeteer Kiritake Kanjuro III.

2010

  • The Center receives a 2009-2010 Pinnacle Award for interactive learning and collaboration 
  • The Center Premieres Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer™ to sold-out performances
  • The Center stages 700 performances
  • The Little Pirate Mermaid, by Jon Ludwig, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA
  • The Center receives the Theatre Communications Group New Generations Future Leaders grant to support Jon Ludwig’s mentorship of Center director and puppeteer Michael Haverty over a two-year period

2011

  • The Center receives a 2010-2011 Pinnacle Award for interactive learning and collaboration   
  • The Center sends a large exhibit of international puppets from our Worlds of Puppetry collection to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport for thousands of passengers to view before and after they travel.
  • The Center hosts attendees of the 2011 Puppeteers of America National Puppetry Festival for a day at the Center with performances of The Ghastly Dreadfuls and Cinderella Della Circus
  • The Center receives the “Spirit of Suzi Award” from the Suzi Bass Awards.
  • The Center produces its first production inspired by the guidelines of Theatre for the Very Young (ages 2-4) with The Ugly Duckling by Michael Haverty

2012

  • The temporary exhibit Títere Loutka, Kukla… Puppet! debuts with Sesame Street’s Cookie Monster and Cepot, a Panakawan from the Indonesian Wayang Golek rod puppetry tradition
  • ‘World on a String: Global Puppetry’ exhibit debuts at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
  • The Center receives a $30,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to support Ruth and the Green Book
  • The Center premieres Ruth and the Green Book, a collaboration between Center Artistic Director Jon Ludwig and author Calvin Alexander Ramey. The Green Book helped African Americans find safe, welcoming routes to travel through the segregated south.
  • The Ghastly Dreadfuls, by Jon Ludwig and Jason Hines, receives a Citation of Excellence from UNIMA-USA
  • Distance Learning department celebrates National Digital Learning Day with Digital Open House on February 1
  • The Home Depot Foundation awards the Center with a $20,000 grant for Field Trip Sponsorship Program
  • The Center hosts the National Puppet Slam for the first time with the support of the Puppet Slam Network and Heather Henson

2013

  • Distance Learning partners with Texas A&M on programming to explore STEM skills through puppetry  
  • Education and Distance Learning staff members were guests at the Bahrain Summer Festival sponsored Bahrain Ministry of Culture and Information
  • The Ghastly Dreadfuls receives a Suzi Bass Award for Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical
  • Jon Ludwig receives the Puppeteers of America’s President’s Award for outstanding contributions to the Art of Puppetry

2014

  • The Center announces details on the major renovation and expansion project on January 14
  • The Center receives 2014 CILC Pinnacle Award for interactive videoconferencing
  • The Center receives a $15,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to support Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat
  • The Center hosts an online auction for Steve Whitmire’s personal Henson memorabilia
  • Mallory Lewis and Lamb Chop join the Center to celebrate National Day of Puppetry on April 26
  • Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer™ celebrates 50 years on TV and five years at the Center
  • The Center hosts 2014 National Puppet Slam with support from DragonCon, the Puppet Slam Network, and Heather Henson

2015

  • The Center premieres Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type by Jon Ludwig, based on the book by Doreen Cronin and illustrated by Betsy Lewin. The Center partnered with Georgia State University to host workshops in select local schools to guide the development of this production
  • The Center opens the new Worlds of Puppetry Museum on November 14
  • The Center begins a sensory-friendly initiative for patrons with Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Winner of the Outstanding contribution to Georgia Entertainment Industry Award given by the Georgia Entertainment Gala

2016

  • Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Journey to the Goblin City opened in the Dean DuBose Smith Special Exhibits Gallery
  • To highlight the opening of the Center’s special exhibit, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth: Journey to Goblin City, the Center hosted its first Labyrinth Masquerade Ball to a sold-out crowd with a costume contest judged by Brian Henson
  • The Center for Puppetry Arts acquires Topthorn, from the London production of WarHorse thanks to the generosity of long-time board member and museum supporter, Cheryl Henson
  • The Worlds of Puppetry Museum adds Sensory-Friendly Programming
  • March 12, 2016, the Salzburg Marionettes present a special performance of The Sound of Music
  • Created puppets for The Arrival, directed by Thaddeus Phillips for the Swedish company Teateri
  • Hosted National Puppet Slam 2016
  • Old MacDonald’s Farm, adapted by Amy Sweeny premieres
  • Vince Anthony is inducted into the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Hospitality Hall of Fame

2017

  • The Center acquires the Jim Henson Creature Shop created Krystal Burger Company puppets from the “Shun the Ho Hum” advertising campaign
  • The Center acquires The Bonnie Erickson collection from Harrison/Erickson, Inc.
  • Regular Toddler Programming is added to the Center’s schedule with Toddler Tuesdays occurring monthly in the Museum, rounding out the Center’s Toddler offerings of Preschool Puppetry Playshop outreach programs and Theater for the Very Young performances each fall
  • Indian Puppets: The Great Stories and Dancing Dolls opens in the Dean DuBose Smith Special Exhibits Gallery
  • April 1 & 2, 2017: Special performances of  Japanese Masters: A Kuruma Ningyo Performance by Koryu Nishikawa V, master puppeteer, and the company sponsored by Tom Lee of the Yara Arts Group, the Consulate-General of Japan in Atlanta and the Japan-America Society of Georgia
  • June 10, 2017: Special performance by Pambos Charalambous from Cyprus, sponsored by the Honorary Consulate of the Republic of Cyprus in Atlanta
  • November 18-19: Special performance by Natana Kairali from Kerala India, sponsored by the Consulate General of India Atlanta and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations
  • Hosted the ASTR 2017 Puppet and Material Performance Working Group
  • Distance Learning receives the Georgia Council for the Arts Education Grant in which we were given funds to create a brand new puppet show Aesop’s Fantastical Fables and perform it for schools in Fulton County.
  • Digital Learning receives the CILC Pinnacle Award Winner
  • The Center partners with the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta to offer special STEM Days that allow Scouts to learn how Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math are applied in the art of puppetry. The Center now offers this program several times a season and remains the only place in the Southeast where Scouts can earn all four STEM patches in one day.
  • World premiere of Pete the Cat adapted by Jon Ludwig

2018

  • The Center hosted Fran Brill, Bonnie Erickson, and Sonia Manzano for a panel, moderated by Karen Falk, to celebrate “Women in the Muppets”
  • Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: World of Myth and Magic opened in the Dean DuBose Smith Special Exhibits Gallery
  • New England Marionette Opera donates the last of its puppets to the Center
  • The Center wins a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to double its offering of programming for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder through the 2019-20 season.
  • The Center for Puppetry Arts named Best Museum for all Ages by Atlanta Magazine
  • Digital Learning receives the CILC Pinnacle Award Winner
  • Collaborated with The Atlanta Opera to create puppets for The Magic Flute
  • Hosted National Puppet Slam 2018

2019

  • The Museum acquires Tom and Crow T. Robot from Mystery Science Theater 3000 after a successful crowdfunding campaign
  • Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: World of Myth and Magic wins exhibition awards from the Georgia Association of Museums and the Southeastern Museums Conference
  • Due to popularity, Toddler Tuesdays becomes Wiggle Wednesdays for Toddlers, and is offered weekly
  • The Center wins a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to double its offering of programming for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder through the 2019-20 season.
  • The Center for Puppetry Arts named Best Museum for all Ages by Atlanta Magazine
  • Digital Learning receives the CILC Pinnacle Award Winner
  • Puppeteer Jimmica Collins receives Princess Grace Honoraria to support her work at the Center
  • Vince Anthony honored with the ARTS ATL Luminary Award for Outstanding Leadership
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon, adapted by Jon Ludwig, premieres
  • Hosts the TYA-USA Conference and Festival’s opening night reception with a special performance of Harold and the Purple Crayon
  • Vince Anthony and Jon Ludwig accept Children Theater Foundation Medallion Award for significant achievements for the enrichment of children