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Arts Commission News

For Immediate Release

Contact: Charlotte Smelser, Arts Education Director ( / 601-359-6037)

Eight Underserved Counties Benefit from Arts Grants

African drummer Baba Asante Nalls (with Lisa Dunn) performs at Bay Springs Municipal Library in Jasper County, one of the eight counties to benefit from MAC funding for community engagement around the arts. (Photo: Larry Morrisey)

JACKSON, MISS. – Jan. 13, 2017 – Eight underserved counties around the state have improved community engagement around the arts and literacy, thanks to a recent initiative of the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC), in partnership with the Mississippi Library Commission. The initiative focused on Chickasaw, George, Humphreys, Issaquena, Jasper, Perry, Smith and Tunica counties, where MAC grants brought free arts performances to libraries and other public spaces. Each gathering was well attended by a variety of community members, who may not have otherwise visited their local libraries nor had the opportunity to enjoy an arts performance.

“We pride ourselves in serving all 2.9 million people who call themselves our neighbors, our family and our fellow Mississippians,” said Malcolm White, executive director of MAC. “Over the decade past, we discovered that we had not funded a grant in eight counties. With that in mind, we launched this special initiative in concert with the Mississippi Library Commission so that we could accomplish one of our most important goals—to reach the underserved.”

In November and December of last year, MAC provided grants for two different artists to perform in each of these underserved counties. Each guest artist was selected from the Mississippi Artist Roster, MAC’s juried directory of professional artists who have demonstrated mastery of their work. After the artist presentations, in disciplines such as storytelling, music and dance, MAC staff discussed how organizations and individuals could apply for grants in the arts. All events were open to the public and free of charge.

“It wasn’t just the young people who were excited to engage with the artists, but the adults, too,” said MAC Arts Education Director Charlotte Smelser, who oversaw the initiative. She recalled that when musician Jerry Jenkins invited his audience members to try out the African djembe drums, they rushed forward with enthusiasm—children and seniors alike.

“The energy in the room was inspiring,” Smelser said.

Each of the grantees reported that the initiative benefited their communities in a number of ways:

Chickasaw County
“The community actively supported the project. The mayor helped promote the project and personally asked people to attend. The main success was the impressive crowd that attended. They thoroughly enjoyed the performances and lingered afterwards to visit.” - Regina Graham, Okolona Carnegie Library (Presentations by June Caldwell, Storytelling, and Damein Wash, Music)

George County
“Some schools do not have art or music classes. This (project) offered (the youth) a chance to see what art and music are really like … We had eighteen people attend; there were fourteen adults, two teens and two children. Being a farming community and living in a rural area, it is a hardship for a lot of the patrons gas-wise and distance-wise to go to town where the library is located. So to have this many is a success in itself.” - Cynthia Morgan, Lucedale-George County Public Library (Presentations by Richelle Putnam, Writing/Songwriting, and Kim Whitt, Visual Art)

Humphreys County
“We wanted to cultivate a love for reading and encourage children to use the library as a research source and stimulate their imaginations. Our goals were achieved in this project. The children had an increased desire to check out books on drawing and had an understanding and comprehension of putting a story together.” - Joe Goldberg, Humphreys County Library System (Presentations by Chuck Galey, Children’s Publishing/Illustration, and Doris Jones, Storytelling)

Issaquena County
“(This grant) gave (the youth) a chance to consider new horizons as they begin to mature, make their own choices, and enter their own journeys.” - Linda Short, Town of Mayersville at Issaquena County (Presentations by Amelia Brame, Dance, and Jerry Jenkins, African Drumming)

Jasper County
“In addition to the local schools, we had individuals attend from our local Rotary Club, the local genealogy group, the local library board of trustees, a court supervisor, and an individual from the circuit clerk’s office … We were asked to provide future programming to one local school. We have not previously had a partnership with this school and we hope to be able to form one based on conversation we had during the MAC program.” - Joshua Haidet, Bay Springs Municipal Library (Presentations by Annie McKee, Writing & Storytelling, and Baba Asante Nalls, African Drumming)

Perry County
“As a result of this grant, we are seeing more of the public using the library, and the patrons have been suggesting ideas for other programs for little or no cost.” - Donna Shipley, Pine Forest Regional Library (Presentations by Da Terrence Roberts, Storytelling, and Julie White, Dance)

Smith County
“[Our] goal was to have a program that would be both entertaining and informative. It was a success, and we hope that we will have artists like this again. [Our] community was excited by the experience. Both artists were very effective in their area and it was a very enjoyable program.” - Mara Polk, Floyd J Robinson Memorial Library (Presentations by Dianne Butler, Storytelling, and Jason Mathena, Percussion)

Tunica County
“Many children are unable to visit (the library) regularly, and some endanger themselves by walking across a busy highway to get to the library. (This project) gave underprivileged children in the community an opportunity to experience performances that will inspire and create an interest in the arts. The children that attended were excited, and many of them did not want to leave.” - Tasha Jackson-Sow, Robinsonville Public Library (Presentations by Patricia Carreras, Storytelling, and Ricky Burkhead, Percussion)

For more information, contact Charlotte Smelser, Arts Education Director, at 601-359-6037 or


The Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) is a state agency serving more than two million people through grants and special initiatives that enhance communities, assist artists and arts organizations, promote arts education and celebrate Mississippi’s cultural heritage. MAC is funded by the Mississippi Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mississippi Endowment for the Arts at the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson and other private sources. For more information, visit

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