Out of Hand, Dad’s Garage win CDC Foundation grants to boost vaccination

Dad's Garage has received a grant from the CDC to help build vaccine confidence. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

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Dad's Garage has received a grant from the CDC to help build vaccine confidence. RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com

Two Atlanta theater companies are among 30 groups nationwide that have been awarded grants from the Atlanta-based CDC Foundation to help build vaccine confidence throughout the United States.

Out of Hand Theater and Dad’s Garage were selected for the program, funded at $2.5 million by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to educate local communities about vaccine safety and effectiveness.

Atlanta theater companies, like performing arts groups everywhere, know first-hand the challenges of working safely during a pandemic. With the omicron variant driving up infection rates this winter, cancellations, postponements and a return to virtual performances have become commonplace once again.

But clearly Americans remain divided on the topic of vaccination. Nearly a quarter of eligible citizens remain unvaccinated against the virus. And on Sunday, thousands marched in Washington, D.C., to protest vaccine mandates.

To persuade as many Americans as possible to accept the vaccine and boosters in such a climate is a challenge. That has left public health officials seeking alternative ways to make the case — the backdrop for the program organized by the CDC Foundation in cooperation with the National Endowment for the Arts. The CDC Foundation’s recent grant announcement notes that “local artists have long served as trusted messengers and translators of vital information in their communities.”

Out of Hand Theater, which received at $73,000 grant, will create a program titled “Time Has Chosen Us” for five South Georgia counties: Macon, Mitchell, Terrell, Tift and Twiggs. The program will be centered around a short film that will be accompanied by an informational video. The theater troupe also is developing a guide for hosting the program and takeaway cards. “Time Has Chosen Us” is being developed in coordination with health, faith and political leaders in those counties.

The story the central film will convey has not yet been determined, said project director Thomas Brazzle. “We are interviewing community members in our target areas about the impact COVID has had on their lives and how that has played a role in their thoughts around the vaccines,” he said. “We will then analyze this qualitative data to create the story for our film.”

The film and its enveloping program are expected to be presented in church halls and community centers in June and July. These “vaccine-drive events” will include talkbacks with public health officials and a guided discussion, with the opportunity for attendees to receive the COVID vaccine and boosters.

“We’re so excited that the CDC recognizes the power of art,” Out of Hand artistic director Ariel Fristoe said. “Trying to move the needle on vaccine confidence is daunting, but it’s your average day at Out of Hand. All of our programs are arts and social justice collaborations designed to tackle issues like racism, HIV stigma, voting rights, mass incarceration and child sex trafficking. We always partner with subject matter experts, and all of our programs combine art to open hearts, information to open minds, and conversation to process feels and thoughts and make a plan for action.”

For its part, Dad’s Garage will create and stage a series of improv comedy shows in its Old Fourth Ward theater and elsewhere around the city that will employ humor to engage audiences of all ages in overcoming not only COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy but influenza vaccine reluctance, as well. A Dad’s spokesperson declined to disclose the amount of its grant.

The shows, targeted for spring and summer and often to be held outdoors, will pair unusual collaborators: improv actors and local public health leaders. The expert will share brief experiences from his or her work in public health, and Dad’s Garage actors then will use these stories as jumping off points for improv scenes that have a positive public health message.

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Tim Stoltenberg is the new artistic director at Dad's Garage. DAD'S GARAGE

Credit: Dad's Garage

Tim Stoltenberg is the new artistic director at Dad's Garage. DAD'S GARAGE

Credit: Dad's Garage

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Tim Stoltenberg is the new artistic director at Dad's Garage. DAD'S GARAGE

Credit: Dad's Garage

Credit: Dad's Garage

“We believe comedy can be used to say something serious,” Dad’s Garage artistic director Tim Stoltenberg said in a statement. “Humor can help people see an issue, such as the importance of vaccination, from a new perspective. Our hope is that by getting people to laugh, we will also create lifelong vaccine supporters.”

While Out of Hand Theater and Dad’s are about as different as two Atlanta theater companies can be, both have experience applying the tools of theater to break down the fourth wall and connect with audiences in unexpected ways. For instance, pre-pandemic, Out of Hand helped orchestrate a series of Equitable Dinners in Decatur to facilitate conversation about race and equity in that city. (The next Equitable Dinners program, offered virtually, is Feb. 20.) Also pre-pandemic, Dad’s performed several “PuppyProv” shows featuring adoptable dogs from Angels Among Us Pet Rescue.

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Out of Hand's 2019 Decatur Dinners was a precursor for its virtual series, Equitable Dinners. Courtesy Night Owl Post Production

Out of Hand's 2019 Decatur Dinners was a precursor for its virtual series, Equitable Dinners. 
Courtesy Night Owl Post Production

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Out of Hand's 2019 Decatur Dinners was a precursor for its virtual series, Equitable Dinners. Courtesy Night Owl Post Production

Now, the two Atlanta theaters join cultural, public health, higher education and other kinds of organizations nationally in working to under CDC Foundation grants to engage the public about vaccination.

Said Dr. Judy Monroe, president and CEO of the CDC Foundation: “We are excited to bring the arts and science together in a really powerful way with these partnerships.”

ArtsATL senior editor Howard Pousner had a 35-year Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporting and editing career. He has also worked as a freelance journalist, and handled media relations and social media for clients including Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, Slotin Auction and Main Street Gallery. A Paradise Garden Foundation board member, he curates its Finster Fest artist market.


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ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

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ArtsATL logo

Credit: ArtsATL

Credit: ArtsATL

Working closely with the American Press Institute, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is embarking on an experiment to identify, nurture and expand a network of news partnerships across metro Atlanta and the state.

Our newest partner, ArtsATL (www.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing audiences about metro Atlanta’s arts and culture. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL’s goal is to help build a sustainable arts community contributing to the economic and cultural health of the city.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be introducing more partners, and we’d love to hear your feedback.

You can reach Senior Manager of Partnerships Nicole Williams at nicole.williams@ajc.com.