The man behind the Center for Puppetry Arts is retiring.

Vincent Anthony, who founded the Midtown venue in 1978 and has served as its executive director since it opened, is stepping down effective Dec. 31, the center announced Oct. 14.

In retirement, Anthony will take on the role of executive advisor, focusing his time on UNIMA-USA (the American division of Union Internationale de la Marionnette, the international organization for the art of puppetry), fundraising and assisting with a new strategic plan for the center. Anthony also serves as general secretary for UNIMA-USA.

Anthony also will work as a consultant for small and emerging puppet theater companies around the country. Beth Schiavo will serve as the center’s interim managing director, effective immediately. A national search has been launched to hire Anthony’s replacement.

“The Center for Puppetry Arts has been my life’s work with the amazing opportunity to work with so many great people to bring the magic of puppetry to life for hundreds of thousands of children and adults,” he said in a news release. “It has given me the opportunity to develop new artistic work combined with educational programming and a world-class museum.”

In an interview, Anthony said this year felt “like an opportune moment to retire.”

“I (believe) that the center needs to move to another level,” he said. “I think we’re getting some new challenges here, and me moving to an advisory role and hiring a new director will help push it to that level. We want to go to national and international with the message of our center. I would still have some key roles here but wouldn’t have the day-to-day (job) of being the CEO.”

However, Anthony may have already accomplished the goal of making the center an international icon.

He has led the center since Kermit the Frog and his creator, Jim Henson, cut the ceremonial ribbon to open its first building 41 years ago.

During his tenure, the center developed into a leading, internationally recognized institution providing award-winning performances and renowned educational programming.

Its museum has collected and conserved thousands of artistically significant puppets and artifacts from around the world. A milestone in Anthony’s career was securing the world’s largest collection of Henson’s work, including Big Bird, Elmo, Bert, Cookie Monster and more.

The center also has received a record 13 Citations of Excellence from UNIMA-USA. Today, it is the largest American nonprofit solely dedicated to the art form of puppetry.

During Anthony’s career, he has received several awards and has served on review panels for national and statewide arts organizations. In 2016 he was inducted into the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Hospitality Hall of Fame. Earlier this year he received Arts ATL’s Luminary Award for Outstanding Leadership.

“Vince created a true cultural treasure for Atlanta in the Center for Puppetry Arts,” Allen W. Yee, the center’s board chair, said in a news release. “We are very fortunate to have had him at the helm for 41 years. Vince helped put Atlanta on the map with his ability to attract some of the best talent in the country to create the center’s internationally recognized programming.

“Vince has built a lasting legacy for our community. We are very grateful to have had the vision and leadership of Vince. Our challenge now will be to honor his legacy as we move toward the center’s future.”

Anthony said he’d thought about retiring “over the past year or so.”

“After our (Worlds of Puppetry) Museum had opened (in November 2015), I was wondering if we had reached a plateau and wanted to look at the next adventure,” he said.

Anthony started the center after owning Vagabond Marionettes, a puppet company that performed at the Woodruff Arts Center in Midtown and did touring shows. He said he’ll remember the growth the puppetry center has undergone in just over four decades.

“It’s such a pleasure to see it now,” he said. “I can remember when we had two office rooms and we moved into this building with (three or four) other arts organizations. I can remember those times and look back on them and look back on it now and realize how wonderful the center is to this point.”

His replacement, Schiavo, has vast experience in the business and nonprofit industries. She previously served as managing director and CFO of Atlanta-based North Highland Consulting, a partner with international accounting and consulting firm EY LLP and a volunteer and board member for several Atlanta nonprofits, including the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta and The Woodruff Arts Center.

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