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Jim Hammond receives state honor for contributions in theater education
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Jim Hammond, former managing and artistic director of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, recently received the Governor's Award for the Arts & Humanities. (Photo courtesy University of North Georgia)

At the end of a 38-year career in theater education, Jim Hammond received one of his greatest recognitions — the Governor’s Award for the Arts & Humanities. 

Hammond, who served as the managing and artistic director for the Gainesville Theatre Alliance since 1990, said he was having lunch with his son when he got the call from Gov. Brian Kemp’s office in early October. In that moment, he said many emotions were swirling in his mind. 

“One, it was such an honor, primarily because I’m aware of the extraordinary artists who have received this in the past,” Hammond said. 

Some of these people include Kenny Leon, Pearl Cleage and Ed Cabell, the architect of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance and Hammond’s mentor.

Hammond and nine others were announced as the 2020 recipients of the award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that have made “outstanding contributions to the civic or cultural vitality of the state.”

“What an honor it is to be somehow included in that company,” Hammond said. “Another thing I immediately thought of was just the fact that there’s no way this career is possible without the support of so many people, including those involved with the Gainesville Theatre Alliance.”

He described the program as a “remarkable 41-year collaboration” between the University of North Georgia and Brenau University. Through the patronage of Northeast Georgia community members, he said it has been able to thrive and create substantial ticket revenue. 

When receiving the Governor’s award, Hammond said he also thought of the young students he taught, those he now considers family. 

“One of the beautiful things about teaching for as long as I have, is that they (graduates) have all moved on and are scattered across the country and overseas as well,” he said. “I can visit almost every city and meet with a former student.”

In early January 2020, Hammond said he made the decision to retire from his director role with the Gainesville Theatre Alliance. He sat down with his students and told them that it was exactly 30 years ago when he drove his car to Gainesville to interview for the position of artistic managing director. 

“I made a choice to go into theater education and teach, not because I wanted to be a teacher, but that I never wanted to stop being a student, working and learning at their side,” Hammond recounted. “(In early 2020) It just became clear to me that it’s time for me to graduate and move onto whatever that next chapter is going to be.”

Hammond said he recently moved from Gainesville to the Vinings area of Atlanta to live closer to his son, daughter and two grandchildren. Instead of jumping into his next adventure, Hammond said he intends to take a full year to decompress and discover who he is without the weight of his former job.

“Only then, will I know what the next chapter will be,” he said. “I want to feel like whatever I’m doing is making a valuable contribution to people’s lives, and I want to tell important stories that inspire people. I don’t know what that is ultimately going to be, but that’s what I’m going to spend the next year thinking about and exploring.”

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