STATE OF THE ART

Culture is king in the state where creativity was born

Eudora Welty once said,

“Long before I wrote stories,
I listened for stories.”

Even as a small child, the Jackson-born author knew that her homeland was fertile ground for folk tales and fantasy, the stuff that would later fuel her celebrated career.

 

What inspired Welty to create complex characters and classic novels has also sparked creative fires in a world-class who’s-who of playwrights, authors, artists, musicians and other cultural visionaries. From Tennessee Williams and Jim Henson to Walter Anderson and William Faulkner, the common thread that runs through this incredible tapestry is Mississippi. Creativity, it seems, runs as freely through the veins of this state’s residents as our sweet tea flows. And exploring the state’s rich culture is, as Welty advised, as easy as listening for the stories.

 

Visual art is an appropriate place to start this cultural journey, since its stories can be told without any words at all. On the Gulf Coast, the work of the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi,” George Ohr, is showcased like never before at the stunning Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. This masterpiece of steel, glass and brick is the brainchild of architect Frank Gehry, and despite being devastated by Hurricane Katrina only months before completion, the rebuilt museum is now one of the most significant attractions in the region.

 

When you think of Coast artists, you can’t forget Walter Anderson, the eccentric painter and naturalist who made Ocean Springs his home. Today, the Walter Anderson Museum of Art highlights not only his diverse works but also those of his brothers, potter Peter Anderson and painter and ceramist James McConnell Anderson.

 

 

The colors and clays run right up to the northern parts of the state, too. In the small Delta town of Merigold, McCarty’s Pottery is an internationally recognized artist studio in an unlikely setting—an old mule barn. The distinctive look of the pieces made here by McCarty family members since the 1960s draws visitors year round to this creative oasis surrounded by colorful gardens.

 

Performing arts tell their own moving stories here in Mississippi. In the northeast Mississippi city of Columbus, the Tennessee Williams Tribute brings at least one of the playwright’s works to life in his hometown each fall, along with a host of other related events. In Clarksdale, which also lays claim to a portion of his childhood, the Mississippi Delta Tennessee Williams Festival draws scholars, actors and fans to enjoy porch plays, table readings, monologue competitions and more.

Lovingly restored historic theaters abound all around the state, creating the perfect venues for original and touring theatrical productions. The Hattiesburg Saenger Theater, for instance, was a silent movie palace when it opened in 1929; today its still-elegant architectural details make a picture-perfect backdrop for fresh performances. In Meridian, the old Grand Opera House is now home to the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts and routinely brings in big-name acts from Buddy Guy to Randy Newman.

 

The world of dance has come to find its own home in Mississippi. Since 1979, the city of Jackson has been home to the USA International Ballet Competition, which welcomes dancers from dozens of countries to show their diverse choreography in an Olympic-style contest every four years. “The USA IBC is synonymous with the discovery of new talents and the launching of careers,” said competition Executive Director Sue Lobrano at the start of the 2014 event. “Dancers invited to participate in the USA IBC know they have a chance to test their skills against the highest international standards.”

 

From the page to the stage to the screen, Mississippi is also a hotbed for some of Hollywood’s hottest movies. As it turns out, films have been made in this state since 1916, but there’s never been a better time to be a film buff in the Magnolia State than right now, when incentives and infrastructure are attracting more and more high-profile projects to shoot within our borders. Films like A Time to Kill, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Help are some of the most recognizable to make use of our unique locations, but many more blockbuster and indie movie projects are on the box-office horizon.

 

The members of Mississippi’s culture club are so many that a new attraction will soon be built to celebrate them all. The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, slated to open in Meridian in 2017, promises hands-on exhibits and a Hall of Fame. Stars are already lining a Walk of Fame that will eventually lead right to its doors. But even before those doors swing open, Mississippi’s creative stories continue to be told.

 

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Like Welty said, all you have to do is listen.

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