Feature Story

Same Road, Other Direction

Foundation board member Jim Hopes walked away from his art for a more conventional career. Now he makes it easier for young artists like Hannah Miller to make a different choice.


HANNAH MILLER KNOWS what you probably think about her decision five years ago to leave a career in IT and become a puppeteer, and she’s perfectly OK with it. In fact, before you even have a chance to say it, she laughs easily and finishes the sentence for you: “And then I ran away and joined the circus.”

Certainly that’s an easy thing to think. It’s impulsive enough, after all, to leave a stable job to concentrate on oil painting or jazz saxophone or writing the Great American Novel. But puppetry?

Jim Hopes with this year's scholarship winners, (left to right)
Hannah Miller, Matthew Brown, John Currie, and Nadya Sudjita

The fact is, though, you’d be mistaken. Because Miller, now a full-time art student, is pragmatic, mature and level-headed with an ambitious career  goal and a solid plan for achieving it. It just happens to involve puppets.

That’s a big part of what made her stand out among more than 100 applicants this year for one of several J.R. Hopes Art Scholarships awarded annually to UCF students demonstrating not only artistic talent and financial need but also well-developed visions for careers in the arts.

In Miller’s case, that vision includes creating a permanent physical home for fine art puppetry, a colony dedicated to the development and evolution of the art. “Building a community around the medium that I love,” she says, “is what’s most important to me.”

But doing so takes more than just talent, so Miller is minoring in nonprofit administration and plans to pursue an M.B.A. next. She’s also gaining valuable experience as director of marketing and public relations for IBEX Puppetry, the Orlando company run by Heather Henson, daughter of Muppets creator Jim Henson.

Listening to Miller talk this way — about marketing and grants and business school — it’s easy to forget that she’s first and foremost a very accomplished artist. Right up until she picks up what amounts to a rumpled bandana with its corners stuffed into wooden rings and with a few deceptively small motions, almost absent-mindedly, brings it to life in a series of disconcertingly human gestures and attitudes.

The irony here — and the beauty, too — is that UCF Foundation board member Jim Hopes, who funds the scholarships each year, traveled almost the same road as Miller but in the opposite direction, walking away from his artistic aspirations for a more conventional career.

Even though that decision led to notable success as senior vice president of marketing at AOL-Time Warner and an early retirement to focus on philanthropy, Hopes still regrets it at some level. “If I could do everything all over again,” he said at a recent lunch with this year’s scholarship winners, “I would be in your seats, at this table, with an art career in front of me. Hands down. Because if you do great art, you can just affect people’s lives in amazing ways.”

Which is exactly what Hopes himself is doing by making it easier for promising young artists like Miller — 23 of them so far — to pursue their passions.

Learn More

To learn more about the J.R. Hopes Art Scholarship, see the work of current and previous winners, and help support the scholarship, visit scholarships.cah.ucf.edu/hopes.

© University of Central Florida Foundation, Inc. 2017