Historic Holly Theater
Where: 69 W. Main St., Dahlonega
Dahlonega’s Holly Theater has gone through a number of transformations since its grand opening in the summer of 1948. What began as a movie theater has become a national historic site, and brought big-time musical acts to Northeast Georgia on a smalltown stage.
Community is the heart of the Holly, a private, not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers for everything from working the box office to performing on stage.
This year, the Holly has been chosen to receive two grants to help restore and maintain the theater. The Fox Theater Institute has chosen the Holly as its sole recipient of this year’s grant of $10,000, and the Georgia Council for the Arts gave $20,000 for the Tourism Product Development Award.
“We believe strongly in the role of arts economic development, and that the arts and tourism is an essential component of that,” said Karen Paty, executive director of the arts council.
“For us to be able to talk about that is one thing. For us, it’s to be able to provide some key funding for communities to really think about what that looks like locally. One of the things we ask in the application and that our panelists are looking for is that this investment is contributing to the long-term success of the entity or program.”
Paty said there is a lot that goes into the process of choosing grant recipients. Over the last three years, the council has helped communities around Georgia fund the arts.
“When we bought the building we didn’t have any money so we’d raise a little money, do a little repair, raise a little money, do a little repair,” said Hal Williams, one of the founding members of the Holly’s board of directors. “Thousands of man hours from the community were involved in this, and the entire community got behind it.”
Through a variety of shows and programs, the Holly has provided a place to for artists and their supporters to donate, perform, attend a show or volunteer.
“This theater belongs to the people of Dahlonega and Lumpkin County and we invite all our neighbors to participate as well,” Williams said. “We feel like we’re part of the heart and the pulse of Dahlonega.”
Community is one of the essential characteristics used to be chosen for the tourism grant.
“When we started back in 1990, we had two objectives,” Williams said. “One of our objectives was to bring people downtown at night. The other objective was to provide a venue for the people of Lumpkin and the surrounding area, especially our young people, to be exposed to the performing arts.”
In the early 1990s, Lumpkin County High School did not have an adequate stage to support its band, chorus or other any type of performing arts. It relied on space at North Georgia College, now the University of North Georgia, but its rules prevented the programs from raising money.
“Having a great deal of luck and having the right people at the right time, we were able to develop a children’s education program in theater here, which has received No. 1 (ranking) in the nation from Disney and others over the years in competition,” Williams said. “Through this program, we educate 300 young people a year, from age 8 through high school, and those kids have gone on to the Gainesville Theatre Alliance. A lot of them are now teaching theater throughout the United States; some of them are on Broadway.”
“It is funding opportunities for community members to come together and celebrate a sense of place and create a collective identity while celebrating what makes them unique or distinct,” Paty said. “The arts have an incredible power to do that, and whether you’re looking at a community theater program, such as that run out of the Holly, or historic theaters downtown, or festivals. The idea of the arts being a convener for a community, and the opportunity for individuals to get together face to face and have shared experiences, I think is incredibly important to our social fabric.”