The Goethe-Zentrum in Atlanta is undergoing a leadership transition even as it continues a shift into the digital age accelerated by COVID-19.
Director Jennifer Gerndt, who took up the post in 2017, has been replaced by Cassidy Chreene Whittle, who started at the center in 2018 as educational outreach assistant.
Ms. Whittle has been tapped as interim director at least until October as a search for a new permanent director is conducted.
Ms. Whittle, who in August will complete Georgia Tech’s new Global Media and Cultures master’s program with a concentration in German, takes up the job as local cultural institutes have been forced to devise ways to keep their audiences engaged — and reach new ones — without in-person courses, fundraising galas or networking receptions.
When the pandemic shut down in-person meetings in March, Goethe-Zentrum joined groups like the Alliance Francaise d’Atlanta, with which it shares an office in Midtown, in moving online, a tough transition for an organization whose model had been built on group classroom instruction.
“For Goethe, the pandemic has been a kick into the 21st century and done an amazing job of making us aware of our technical shortcomings and forcing us to adapt,” Ms. Whittle told Global Atlanta in an email.
Still, the Goethe has completed the shift and will keep its online schedule at least thorough the end of 2020. It has also hosted various events online, from an ongoing series spotlighting various Germanic dialects over Zoom to an interactive gnome painting contest done via Instagram. Formerly held on Saturday mornings, Bundesliga soccer watch parties have restarted, also on Zoom.
Dr. Gerndt, the former director, said she was proud of the online shift, which enabled a broader geographic reach for the center.
“We were able to reach students beyond the metro Atlanta area, which felt great to truly be a part of the entire Southeast.”
Dr. Gerndt told Global Atlanta she stepped down to “exhale” after almost three years of nonstop work for what she called an “incredibly demanding,” if rewarding, position.
She takes pride in the bolstering immersion days at area high schools, spearheading the dialect series and overseeing what she called the first teacher salary raise in 30 years. (The organization celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016, the year before she arrived to take the place of Miriam Bruns.)
“As for the events, I have loved hosting photography and art exhibitions, consulting on film sets, holding book signings and even organizing a concert. The job is special in that you can really connect to all aspects of the German language and culture,” Dr. Gerndt said, noting that she will remain a part of the regional German cultural community. Before joining Goethe-Zentrum, Dr. Gerndt worked for a foreign-language testing service, served as an instructor for the Foreign Service Language Academy at the University of North Georgia in addition to other roles as a German instructor.
Ms. Whittle, meanwhile, a skilled photographer with degrees from the University of West Georgia in German and mass communications, didn’t expect to land in this position so early — an outcome that may be seen as a pandemic silver lining. She hopes to parlay the opportunity into maximum benefit for the organization.
There’s certainly no shortage of activity to manage: The Goethe has raised $11,300 of the $20,000 it’s aiming to generate during a mid-year fundraising campaign, and the team is scheduling online programming for the fall.
“It’s certainly a strange time in everyone’s lives and as tired as we all are of hearing about ‘the new normal,’ I hope to lead the Goethe-Zentrum Atlanta through these difficult times and into a modern and bright future utilizing technology to bring you all closer to the German language and culture,” she wrote in a letter to the center’s supporters.
In the same letter, she noted that her role with Goethe-Zentrum, which included reaching out to various schools and colleges to grow German language instruction, had led to falling in love with the German community in Atlanta, despite the fact she had never engaged with it growing up 20 miles north of the city.
“Now, I cannot imagine my life without it.”
Before joining the Goethe-Zentrum, Ms. Whittle completed internships with the German Academic Exchange Services in New York and the German Bundestag in Berlin, where she also served as a fellow working in the office of the federal commissioner for human rights and humanitarian aid.
See the Goethe’s 10-week summer and fall course German language schedules here; individual and group instruction is available.
Learn more about the organization here.