Alumni SpotlightYoung Alumni Series

Jeff Thompson ’06 – Building a model for a statewide embrace of the arts

By June 11, 2019 No Comments
Jeff Thompson

Jeff Thompson ‘06 always had a love for writing and creativity, but he never imagined he would be building a model for theater to reach all corners of Alabama.

A typical day for the executive director of the Pell City Center for Education and Performing Arts (CEPA) consists of preparing the $11 million facility to host one of the center’s many events.

While he takes great pride in managing such a large facility, nothing compares to the feeling he gets from bringing his arts programs to some of the most rural parts of the state.

“I wasn’t that much of an arts guy before I came here, but after I talked to these people and listened to what they needed, I recognized that there was a real desire to do this.”

But none of this is what Thompson saw himself doing when he graduated from Auburn with a degree in journalism.

Initially studying architecture, Thompson realized he needed a change after he was confronted with the impenetrable force known as physics class. Having a passion for writing, the new major of journalism sounded perfect.

“I had some great educators, who were really willing to impart incredible wisdom to me and help guide me through that in a way that would prepare me for the real world.”

When the real world came, Thompson went from an intern at The Tuskegee Times to its managing editor, meeting with Civil Rights leaders, working at the Tuskegee Airmen Historic Site and becoming heavily involved with the community.

“I wasn’t that much of an arts guy before I came here, but after I talked to these people and listened to what they needed, I recognized that there was a real desire to do this.”

But none of this is what Thompson saw himself doing when he graduated from Auburn with a degree in journalism.

Initially studying architecture, Thompson realized he needed a change after he was confronted with the impenetrable force known as physics class. Having a passion for writing, the new major of journalism sounded perfect.

“I had some great educators, who were really willing to impart incredible wisdom to me and help guide me through that in a way that would prepare me for the real world.”

When the real world came, Thompson went from an intern at The Tuskegee Times to its managing editor, meeting with Civil Rights leaders, working at the Tuskegee Airmen Historic Site and becoming heavily involved with the community.

He continued his journalism career with a few publications after a move to Birmingham, but a lot of his love for the craft evaporated as the industry evolved in a way that made it a necessity for Thompson to transition out.

The transition to CEPA made all the sense in the world simply because it offered Thompson a way to fulfill the underlying passions that made him love journalism.

In addition to acting as a liaison to the city of Pell City, and the Pell City School System, Thompson is also tasked with engaging people who are interested in the arts, a mission he does not take lightly.

Realizing that not everybody has access to CEPA, one of the programs Thompson helped launch in 2017 called “Spotlight” aims at bringing theatre to every corner of St. Claire County.

After pinpointing communities with a desire for performing-arts programs, Spotlight provides funding and some structure for the different groups to start their own clubs.

Since its inception, Spotlight has grown from 50 people to 400 and went from two shows a year to now 11, totaling 24 performances a year – an 800 percent growth in its first two years.

“I’m so proud of the things we’ve been able to do from this small office just because of great partners, access to this building and a lot of support throughout this community and state.”

Spotlight was even awarded grant money from the state to continue building on the model Thompson and CEPA have laid out.

The program is focused on beginning and maintaining the clubs because of how much it can impact the people in the program. Participating in theater improves test scores, helps with communication and improves necessary life skills, Thompson said.

“This is a real possibility. Your small high school in random county, Alabama, that doesn’t have art, we think that somewhere five to 10 years down the line, we’re going to be able to show you how to do it without breaking the bank. That’s the main goal here, and we’re really proud of the results we’ve gotten so far.”

Thompson believes his time at Auburn and years working as a journalist undoubtedly prepared him for the field he is currently in. From writing and communicating clearly to speaking in front of an audience and intently listening to others, Thompson has seen many journalistic skills transfer over to managing a non-profit organization.

“Auburn gave me the confidence to pretty much do whatever I needed to do within a whole world of different fields. Journalism gives you so much. Just the practice of it can open so many doors.”