The Center for Puppetry Arts is the largest non-profit organization in the United States that is devoted exclusively to puppetry. It is located in the Midtown area of Atlanta. Nearby attractions include the High Museum of Arts, Atlanta Symphony Hall, the Ferst Center for the Arts and Atlantic Station. Both downtown Atlanta and the Buckhead area are ten to fifteen minutes away. The center is immediately accessible from the Interstate 75/85 Downtown Connector. MARTA, Atlanta's rapid transit system, has a train station about five blocks away, and several bus lines serve the area.
The Center for Puppetry Arts comprises a performing arts center, which features live performances and films for all age groups; a museum, which contains one of the largest puppet collections in the world; and an educational center, which holds classes at the center and does outreach work. Eileen Blumenthal, a professor of theater arts at Rutgers University and the author of Puppetry, a World History, calls the institution "the prime center of puppetry arts in the country.'' In what Vince Anthony, the center's Executive Director calls "an institution-changing gift,'' the museum received several hundred puppets from the family of Jim Henson in 2008 and will open a Jim Henson Wing in 2012.
The center performs at least a dozen shows every year, from classic, traditionally told stories to new and innovative performance pieces. The shows vary in age appropriateness, from those that are suitable for young children, to shows for teens and up, to performances for adult audiences only. A wide variety of puppets are featured, including marionettes, hand puppets, finger puppets and Japanese bunraku puppets, to name a few. The center also presents a film series.
The museum at the center has 350 puppets on permanent display, including several of Jim Henson's creations and many styles of puppets from all over the world. Discovery Boxes scattered throughout the museum provide an interactive experience for children (and adults!). The center's collection has been enhanced by the Henson gift, which will eventually take up about half of the museum's space. In addition to the permanent exhibit, the center always has several special exhibitions on display. These may include tributes to certain artists, explanations of puppet making or the artistry of puppet performance.
Educational programs at the center have been praised around the world. In-house programs include hands-on workshops for all ages and special training for teachers. The center has garnered international acclaim, awards and grants for its outreach and distance learning programs. According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, "The center's distance learning studios have provided educational programming to more than 120,000 students in 42 states and three countries since its inception in 1998.'' The center puts on four to six conferences a day throughout the school year, many of them to rural or otherwise underserved schools. Julia Heighway, of the Center for Interactive Learning, says the Center for Puppetry is "always very highly rated by the teachers. ... They're one of our top providers.''
The center is mostly a hit with reviewers on the Internet. The Jim Henson puppets are especially popular, with one visitor calling the exhibit "one of the greatest things I've seen in my life!'' Another person said of the experience, "This place is wondrous, and proves that puppetry isn't always just kids' stuff.'' The children's workshops are also well-liked. Those who did not enjoy the center say that the museum was "boring,'' or "not what I expected.'' One woman cautions that visitors attending shows should call ahead so as not to be surprised by inappropriate content.