CEPA receives grant to expand podcast, film program for school drama clubs


PELL CITY — The Pell City Center for Education and Performing Arts has received a $10,000 grant to expand its Spotlight Studio Program. 

The Alabama State Council on the Arts said in a news release that it awarded $814,100 in federal relief funding to 63 arts organizations throughout Alabama, including CEPA, as part of the Alabama Arts Recovery Program. The release said federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan funded the program. 

CEPA Executive Director Jeff Thompson said the center is thankful for the grant. He added that he applied for the money to expand programs, not necessarily recover from the pandemic.

“I don’t think we were ever at the needing saving point,” he said, referring to CEPA’s operations during the pandemic. “We were very clear that we were definitely looking at expansion instead of just recovery, but I think we were rewarded for that.”

Thompson said the center looked for ways to adapt when the pandemic forced a pause in theater shows, but they were able to do that successfully.

He said instead he wants to use the money to expand Spotlight Studio, the audio and video production program CEPA started for its drama clubs in schools across the county during the pandemic.

Thompson said the program has two parts: “The Black Box” and Spotlight Films. “The Black Box” is a audio drama based podcast series where drama clubs work to create a podcast episode off of an original script they create themselves. Spotlight Films, which recently screened its first film “Miss Christmas Business” at Birmingham’s Sidewalk film festival, is a program that takes a script from those podcasts episodes and helps students to make it into a short film. 

The first film was written and filmed by St. Clair County High School students. It originally began as the podcast episode “A Hallmark Christmas.”

Thompson said CEPA plans to repeat this process in the coming year. According to rules he provided, scripts for season 2 of “The Black Box” will be selected from those submitted by members of each drama club with the winners being produced as a podcast. He said one of those podcasts will then be chosen to be turned into a film. 

Thompson said he feels these programs and the arts in general are important to students because it opens the children’s ability to appreciate life and critically think about situations they may not normally have. 

“It’s a window into yourself and into the rest of the world that you do not get anywhere else,” he said. “That’s just the start of it, these programs allow people to work hard for the things that they love, that they want to do, to become leaders in fields, to tackle projects that they never have the opportunities to experience otherwise. 

Thompson said it can change students’ lives. 

“It changes their purpose in life sometimes,” He said “Sometimes some of these people who don’t have access to the performing arts or just the arts in general and then get access to it, they change the way they want to live their lives, they want to be better, they want to work harder, they want to think more. That’s really what we want to do, we want to give them the opportunity to explore that.”


Taylor Mitchell, Daily Home reporter covering Pell City.


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