Kool Kat of the Week: Carmie McDonald’s Take on Preserving Georgia’s Historic Theatres, Reviving Communities ‘One Theatre at a Time’ and the Fox Theatre Institute’s Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour

Posted on: Apr 30th, 2014 By:

by Melanie Crew
Contributing Writer

Carmie McDonald, Community Engagement Manager at the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI), an outreach division of Atlanta’s Fabulous FoxTheatre, immerses herself in Georgia’s rich and glorious history of magical movie palaces and theatres along with the communities that have stood by them. What’s even better is that she gets the opportunity to join the communities the FTI has served while celebrating their successes during their free Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour, coming to a theatre near you, May 1 through May 3, 2014!

The Revival Tour will make stops at The President Theatre in nearby Manchester, Ga. on May 1, followed by a stop at Atlanta’s own, The PlazaTheatre, ranked as one of the world’s top 20 movie theatres [Men’sJournal, April 2014] on May 2 and lastly, the tour will come to a halt in Athens, Ga., showcasing The Morton Theatre on May 3! Each stop on the tour includes a community festival, helping raise awareness of the importance of historic preservation and showcasing all three restoration project venues funded by their highly competitive FTI grants. Atlanta’s own legendary blues chanteuse, Francine Reed, will take the stage and woo the crowds at each stop along the way!

Before jumping head first into her dream job, McDonald hailed from Savannah where she earned graduate degrees in Historic Preservation and Architectural History at Savannah College of Art & Design. She worked her preservation magic with the Historic SavannahFoundation and was the perfect candidate for the Community Engagement Manager at the FTI.

The FTI is the Fox Theatre’s way of giving back to the community that rescued it from its near demolition back in the ‘70s. In an effort to draw the public into the realm of its glory days while raising awareness of the importance of historic preservation, the Fox Theatre began hosting their Fox Theatre Tours in the spring of 2013 [Herald-Journal, May 2013]. These 60-minute guided tours expose audiences to the behind-the-scenes details and illustrious history of the extravagant and palace-like venue which remains just as magnificent as it did when their doors opened in 1929. And as an added bonus, you’ll have the opportunity to meet our very own Kool Kat Scott Hardin, projectionist at the Fox Theatre since 1978 [July 2013; see ATLRetro’s Kool Kat feature on Scott Hardin, here].

ATLRetro caught up with Carmie McDonald for a quick interview about the FTI, the importance of historic preservation in Georgia’s communities and her love of the Fabulous Fox Theatre, which excitedly celebrates its 85th birthday this year!

Community Engagement Manager for the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) sounds like such a cool job! Tell our readers how you landed such an envious gig and what’s your favorite aspect of the job?

I’ve been with the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) since 2008 and not a day goes by that I don’t pause to think about what a privilege it is to work here. It is rewarding to be part of an organization that has meant so much to the Atlanta community for 85 years. I love seeing someone experience the Fox Theatre for the first time.  You’re never too old to be swept away by the magic of this place!

Has being in the historic preservation field always been a dream of yours? Anything interesting you can tell our readers on what drew you to such a fascinating field?

I’ve always appreciated old buildings and the stories they tell about our past, so historic preservation was a natural fit as a career choice. But, historic preservation is not just a movement about buildings and the past. It is also about the people in the community and the future. I love helping ensure that our historic theatres will be here for future generations to enjoy.

What is the Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) and what does it do for the community? Why do you think it is important to preserve Georgia’s theatres?

The Fox Theatre Institute (FTI) is the community engagement division of the Fox Theatre. We provide support to historic theatres throughout the region in the form of preservation and operations assistance. There are more than 260 historic theatres throughout the state and each one is a significant part of the community it serves. Preserving these theaters is an important part of community-wide revitalization.

What can you tell us about the two restoration projects that were completed this year?  The President Theatre in nearby Manchester and The Plaza Theatre located right here in Atlanta?

The Fox Theatre Institute provided The President Theatre with funding to complete the restoration of their façade, from the marquee to the top of the tower and spire, both being in disrepair for more than thirty years. Through the support of FTI and other granting organizations, this theatre is being restored to its original Art Deco splendor. FTI also provided grant funding for the restoration of The Plaza Theatre’s landmark marquee. The restoration process at The Plaza involved removing rust and repainting the sign to its original colors.  In addition, new LED lighting was added to create a more sustainable and eco-friendly marquee.

And what can you tell us about Athens’ Morton Theatre which received their grant in 2011 and is also spotlighted on this tour?

The Morton Theatre holds a special place in Athens’ history. It was built as a Vaudeville theatre in 1910 by Pink Morton, a prominent African-American businessman. Since then it has served the community as an anchor on Athens’ ‘Hot Corner,’ the historic African-American business district at the intersection of Hull and Washington streets. FTI provided funding for restoration of the theatre’s original wood flooring system in 2011.

How does the FTI choose which theatre receives a grant? Is it a competitive process?

FTI accepts applications from historic theatres that are owned by a public agency or non-profit organization. Applications are reviewed by a panel of arts and preservation professionals. Funding is awarded to theatres that will create significant economic and cultural impact to the communities they serve.

Why do you think it is important to preserve art and culture? What is the goal of the FTI and their desire to, “Revitalize Georgia’s communities, one theatre at a time?”

Arts and culture contribute to Georgia’s communities by creating jobs and providing tax revenue. They are essential to education because they facilitate critical-thinking and communication skills. Furthermore, arts and culture are integral components of vibrant, creative and livable cities. FTI believes that the revitalization of a historic theatre can provide a focal point for the economic and cultural development of a community.

Tell our readers a little bit about the Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour kicking off on May 1, 2014? What sort of exciting things do you have in store for attendees?

FTI will showcase three of its theatre restoration projects during the Second Annual Theatre Revival Tour. The three-day tour, taking place May 1 – 3, aims to raise awareness for each of the historic venues by embracing local community efforts surrounding the preservation of these theatres. Each destination on the Tour will host a community festival, featuring Atlanta resident and legendary blues songstress, Francine Reed.

Tell us a little bit about FTI’s relationship with the celebrated blues chanteuse, Francine Reed and how she was chosen to headline the community festivals attached to the tour.

FTI believes in supporting local talent whenever possible. Whether working with preservation contractors or musicians, FTI strives to partner with people that are connected with their communities. Francine Reed has an amazing voice and a deep connection with the music scene in Atlanta, so selecting her to headline our Theatre Revival Tour was an easy decision!

Anything exciting in the works for future FTI projects?  How about anything new happening with the Fox Theatre Tours you’d like to tell our readers?

Forty years ago, the people of Atlanta rallied to save the Fox Theatre from demolition. Since that time, the Fox Theatre has been deeply committed to giving back to the community that saved us. Be on the lookout for some exciting events during this special anniversary year!

 

 

All photographs are courtesy of the Fox Theatre Institute (unless otherwise noted) and used with permission.

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