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The mission of the Averitt Center for the Arts is to provide quality arts opportunities for Statesboro, Bulloch County and surrounding areas as well as to serve as the centerpiece for a vibrant, historic downtown Statesboro. The purpose of the Averitt Center for the Arts is to make available a broad range of experiences in the performing arts, visual arts, literary arts, heritage arts, and general arts education for the citizens of Statesboro, Bulloch County and surrounding areas, regardless of their socio-economic, cultural, racial, physical or religious differences.
The buildings making up the Averitt Center for the Arts are a unique combination of two downtown Statesboro historic landmarks. The Bank of Statesboro was chartered in 1891 and formally opened its doors in 1895. Bulloch County’s first bank survived many hurdles in its 37 year run. Relocating for the third time in 1911, the Bank of Statesboro moved to 33 East Main Street and continued serving the community until the stock market crash of 1929, and forever closed its doors in December of 1932. Although the Bank of Statesboro never reopened, the building was utilized in many different capacities until the City of Statesboro bought it in 1997 to house the David H. Averitt Center for the Arts.
The Georgia Theater was built as a “motion picture theater” and opened for business in 1936. Featuring modern conveniences such as steam heat and a coffee shop in the lobby, the Georgia Theater was also one of the first air-conditioned public buildings in Statesboro. Entertaining audiences for close to 50 years, the theater closed in the 1980’s. The building’s style was maintained in the 1997 renovation which made it a part of the Averitt Center for the Arts. Named for the Statesboro musical legend, the building is now known is the Emma Kelly Theater.
David H. “Hal” Averitt, a University of Georgia graduate, was first elected to the Statesboro City Council in 1979. In 1987, he was elected to his third term and served as Chairman of the Finance Committee. Joining Sea Island Bank in 1984 as Executive Vice President, he was promptly elected to the Board of Directors and named President/CEO. In 1990 he was elected Mayor of Statesboro and served until 2001.
This past president of the Georgia Southern College Foundation, Statesboro-Bulloch County Chamber of Commerce and Statesboro Rotary Club was instrumental in providing a vision for the creation of an arts center in downtown Statesboro. David passed away in April 2006, at the age of 72. His leadership and vision will not be forgotten for his legacy of developing a community art center in historic downtown Statesboro will impact generations to come.
Emma Thompson Kelly was a Georgia music icon. She was named the “The Lady of 6,000 songs” for her encyclopedic knowledge of popular music by the late Johnny Mercer. She was a Bulloch County native and her lively performances at church services, civic clubs, school graduation, senior proms, weddings and recitals, endeared her to thousands of Georgians – both young and old. She had many accomplishments including a cameo role in the 1994 movie, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” directed by Clint Eastwood. The movie was taken from the best-selling novel written by John Berendt. Berendt dedicated an entire chapter of his novel to Emma’s ability to flawlessly perform virtually any musical request. This recognition launched a nation wide concert tour entitled, “Midnight,” allowing her to perform her unique style of soft, hearty melodies to sold-out crowds from Washington’s Lincoln Center to the Wadsworth Theater in Los Angeles, California. In 1998, Mrs. Kelly was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts for her contribution to music from Georgia Southern University. Mrs. Kelly passed away in January 2001 at the age of 83, leaving a rich legacy of family, friends and music to endure for decades to come.
Jan Brown Anderson was born and raised in the Sinkhole District of Bulloch County. In fact, she still lives in the very house where she grew up. A former school teacher with a deep love of Bulloch County and its children, Ms. Anderson became a major donor of the Averitt Center for the Arts when she learned that the center would offer different artistic educational opportunities for the children and youth of Statesboro and Bulloch County. “May the lights of this stage shine bright with God’s glory and in His marvelous light. I am what I am by the grace of God,” she said. It is with this spirit that the Averitt Center conducts its performances on stage of the Emma Kelly Theater.