Ferst Center for the Arts

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The front entrance to the Ferst Center.[1]

The Robert Ferst Center for the Arts provides both the Atlanta and Georgia Tech communities with an outlet for artistic expression and reception. As put forth in the Mission Statement, the Center seeks to, "enhance the total learning experience of the Georgia Tech student body, serve as a bridge to the surrounding Atlanta community and engage artists in a way that is uniquely Georgia Tech." [2] Through a series of scheduled programs that run from September to April, the Ferst Center gives a varying look into the performing, visual, and comedic arts. [2]


The Arts Before the Center

Long before the Ferst Center was established, the Georgia Tech community was exposed to the arts through the acting troupe known as the Marionettes. From their inception in 1913, the Marionettes produced a series of successful performances; however due to World War II and its impact on the campus community, the troupe decided to disband. [3]

It wasn't until two years after the war ended that Georgia Tech saw its next theatre company. In 1947, a group of like-minded drama enthusiasts decided to end the artistic dry spell on campus with the formation of the Georgia Tech Dramatic Club. Determined to revitalize the arts at the Institute, the club opened with their first official production, "The Drunkard". [3] The performance was so well received that it attracted the attention of the English department. Not only was the club accredited by department (which allowed it to begin to receive financial aid directly from the university) but each of the members involved in the production were awarded academic credit for their time and effort spent on the overall production process. [3]

From 1947 until 1992, the Georgia Tech Dramatic Club spent its years performing at various locations around Atlanta and the Tech campus. The Club was temporarily housed at locations such as the Crenshaw Field House, the Georgia Tech Center for the Performing Arts, and the Church of God located on campus. [3] Then in 1992, the Club (now known as DramaTech Theatre) found a new, permanent home with the establishment of the Ferst Center for the Arts. When the Dean James Dull Theatre was dedicated at the back of the Ferst Center, DramaTech Theatre had an official "base of operations". [3]

According to Institute records, DramaTech Theatre is the oldest, continuously running theatre company in Atlanta. [3]


The actual idea for the Ferst Center came about in the late 1980s when the Callaway Foundation put forward a donation of $3.75 million towards the creation of a "Student Galleria". This project was to include both the Smithgall Student Services Building and the Ferst Center. However, the overall cost of the project was totaled to be $7.5 million, twice as much as what Georgia Tech currently had to spend. So the Institute put up a proposal to the State of Georgia to match the Callaway Foundation's previous donation. Through a short series of negotiations and debates, the State agreed to match the donation. After successfully securing the other half of the funds necessary for the project from the State, construction began on the Center and the Student Services Building. [4]

On April 13, 1992, the Georgia Tech Theatre for the Arts opened its doors officially for the first time; during which a dedication performance was played by the world-renowned pianist André Watts. [2] Shortly after it's opening, the name of the Center was actually reconsidered and was opened to change. After much debate and consideration, the Georgia Tech Theatre for the Arts was renamed the Robert Ferst Center for the Arts in honor of Robert Ferst. Ferst was an alumnus of Georgia Tech who, "gave his time, talents, financial support and heart to his alma mater." [2]

Location and Layout

Located in the center of the Georgia Tech campus, the Ferst Center hosts many different events and attributes of the arts community. The main auditorium holds 1,159 seats and is equipped with various high quality theatrical amenities such as a proscenium stage, orchestral pit, and theatrical lighting and sound systems. [2] These state of the art systems work well for the types of performances that are scheduled and held within the auditorium.

Also included within complex are the Richard and Westbrook art galleries. Although all types of artworks and artists are accepted, the galleries usually showcase art that has a technological theme and has been submitted by a Georgia artist. The reasoning behind this decision steams from the idea that main benefactors of the galleries wanted to feature local artists that are familiar with the Georgia Tech culture (i.e. engineering and technology) alongside more well known artists. [2]

Notable Uses and Performances

The dedication performance of André Watts opened the door for the Ferst Center to host many other notable performances. The Center has annually hosted seasons lined-up with performances from world-renowned artists such as Itzhak Perlman, Marcel Marceau, and Wynton Marsalis. [4] The Center also boats a variety of cultural shows to cater to the widely represented demographics represented at the Tech campus and in the greater Atlanta area. Each November, the African American Dance Ensemble known as Ballethnic puts on their performance of the "Urban Nutcraker". [4] Despite the credibility and prestige of the Center, it is still open for rental for personal events and the like. When students or community organizations rent out the Center, the shows that they perform are, for the most part, open to the student body and general public alike. [2]

In addition to the visual and performing arts, the Center has seen its fair share of important people and debates. In the same year that it opened, the Center proudly hosted not only the Vice-Presidential Debate but the annual Secretaries of Defense Round-table. Four years later saw the opening of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. It was the Ferst Center that was a central part of the Olympic Village on campus at the time. Athletes could stop by to relax, meditate on the day's, or upcoming events, and all the while enjoy a variety of shows that were lined up for the event. President Bill Clinton also stopped by to marvel at the workings of the Center after giving his speech for the official opening of the Games. [2]

Impact on the Community

Not only does the Ferst Center benefit the Georgia Tech community, but the Atlanta community as well. The Center has a significant portion of its efforts dedicated to community service, out-reach projects. Through the Arts Education Program, the Ferst Center exposes families in the greater Atlanta area to music, art, and drama. The students and parents of Centennial Place Elementary School, in particular, are brought on campus to experience some of the regularly scheduled performances. Then their experience is enriched even further by workshops taught by artists who "share their passion, background, and artistry with the students". [5] The program was so successful in its first year of operation that nearby Grady High School was added to participate as well for the second year of the program. Because the program is an educational program, students are expected to gain a deeper insight and knowledge in the subject in which they are currently studying. Topics discussed range from identifying countries on a world map, scientifically examining the properties of sound and identifying the musical instruments associated with them, and learning the vocabulary tied with various subjects.[5] Despite the wide variety of subjects covered, each of these topics can be tied back to the arts whether through music, visual, or performing arts.

The Program has recently added a visual arts component due to a collaborative effort with Hammonds House Museum. The students continue their study with a look at the backgrounds of well-known visual artists and then create their own artwork. [5]


  1. "Robert Ferst Center for the Arts." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. 25 Sept. 2004. Web. 03 Dec. 2010. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Robert_Ferst_Center_for_the_Art.jpg>.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 "About the Center." Georgia Institute of Technology :: Ferst Center for the Arts. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <http://www.ferstcenter.gatech.edu/plugins/content/index.php?id=24>.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 "Inventory of the DramaTech Theatre (Georgia Institute of Technology) Records, 1947-2004."; Georgia Tech Library. 2005. Print. <http://www.library.gatech.edu/archives/finding-aids/display/xsl/UA350>.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Ferst Center for the Arts 10th Anniversary Celebration Remarks." SMARTech. Jan. 2002. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <http://smartech.gatech.edu/handle/1853/21041>.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Arts Education." Georgia Institute of Technology :: Ferst Center for the Arts. Web. 22 Nov. 2010. <http://www.ferstcenter.gatech.edu/plugins/content/index.php?id=16>.
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