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Archived Columns by former MAC Executive Directors Tom Pearson, Sallye Killebrew, and Malcolm White (who previously served from 2005 through 2012)

June 2015

Dear Friends,

The end of the school year for students brings trips to swimming lessons, summer camp, or taking a family vacation, while the classroom becomes a distant memory.  Most parents also shift into a summer mindset. Dedicated administrators and educators however, rarely take a vacation from the ever-present challenge of providing high quality opportunities for teaching and learning.  


Mississippi communities, including parents and students, are frustrated with failing schools.  Everyone is eager for solutions even if the solutions look much different than the traditional classroom.  


The time has come to talk about the ‘new’ classroom.   For over 15 years, the Mississippi Arts Commission has championed the creative concept that arts integrated instruction works for all schools and all students, especially schools struggling with declining scores. 


Arts integration is simply a teaching strategy that uses the arts as a tool to teach other subjects.  Research shows that not all students learn in the same way.  By using arts integrated instruction, the teaching methods are varied to reach the learning styles of all students.  How many students face the frustration of asking a question only for the answer to be demonstrated in the same way again using the same instructional method that they didn’t understand the first time?  Using arts integrated instruction, the learner becomes more engaged in the subject matter and learning becomes more interesting and practical. 


Industry leaders predict that the most important skills for the job force of the future are creative thinking and creative problem solving.  These are the skills that an arts integrated curriculum brings to the classroom. 

The Mississippi Arts Commission’s Whole Schools Initiative is leading the way in establishing the classroom of the future. This educational initiative is a homegrown Mississippi model that has been in our schools for over a decade.  The program is dedicated to the strategy of incorporating the arts to make learning engaging, relevant, and meaningful.  Arts integrated strategies engage students cognitively, physically, and emotionally. Test scores go up because there is an emotional connection to the material and learning is embedded with deeper meaning.  Teachers are inspired to be innovative and help to guide their students in discovering their strengths and establishing a love of learning.  


To make sure educators are successful, the Mississippi Arts Commission’s provides in-depth professional development in arts integration through the Whole Schools Summer Institute.  It is a four-day workshop featuring local and national experts who share best practices, strategies, and model arts integrated lessons. The informative sessions give teachers and administrators the tools they need to transform their classrooms from a lecture style, teacher-driven environment, to a more hands-on, experiential, project-based method of instruction.  This shift facilitates a lifelong love of learning and ensures that students are ready to launch successful careers, think creatively, problem solve, and are prepared to attend college or be competitive in the work force of the 21st Century.  


During the summer break, consider a creative pathway and innovative strategy for school reform in Mississippi; one that the Arts Commission’s Whole Schools Initiative can offer.  When in a conversation about education or merely considering educational possibilities, be aware of the national reform model that has proven itself in the state for the last 15 years; a model that was created, developed, and implemented in Mississippi, by Mississippians for Mississippi schools.

My best,



April 2015

Dear Friends,

It is spring in Mississippi and this time of year brings with it growth and renewal.  The 2015 legislative session drew to a close and state lawmakers awarded the Mississippi Arts Commission an increase in funding.   These additional funds will be invaluable towards our efforts to provide greater support to artists and arts organizations across Mississippi in the coming year.


The early part of 2015 saw a very exciting time for MAC.  At the annual Governor’s Arts Awards we celebrated the talents and dedication of three outstanding artists, one inspirational gospel group and an arts organization that is changing the landscape of their community.  We also welcomed a new, but returning Poetry Out Loud champion, who will represent the state again in Washington D.C. at the end of the month.


Arts supporters from around the state gathered at the State Capitol in March to proclaim the “Arts Matter” to Mississippi lawmakers.  It was a day of music, fun and advocacy and I would like to personally thank those who attended, as well as those who took a moment to call or write their legislators.  With a strong group of arts advocates we can make a huge impact on annual arts funding.


We have moved into granting season and things are hopping around the office in preparation for grant panels.  If you are a potential grantee and wish to attend your grant panel review, be sure to check our website for the dates and times.  As always, please call us if you have any questions.  We are YOUR Arts Commission, and funding your work and programs are our priority.


I hope you enjoy this beautiful time of year in Mississippi!




February/March 2015

Dear Friends,

The Year of the Creative Economy is off and running into the future with great interest and the new legislative session is underway with many interesting policies being discussed.  We would like to encourage everyone to join us for the upcoming Mississippi Arts Commission’s Governor’s Arts Awards, celebrating and recognizing 27 years of the best of arts in Mississippi. 


We are looking forward to a favorable legislative session and are hopeful that we will receive our request for funding so that the important work of the Arts Commission will continue. Without the support of the Governor, Lt. Governor, and our legislators, this agency would not be able to provide critical funding to communities and artists to do important and worthwhile work.  We are fortunate to have the support of these policy-makers.  They understand the connection the arts have to the state’s economy, quality of life, and a sense of place for all Mississippians.


On February 19th, we invite you to join us as we celebrate the annual Governor’s Arts Awards.  This year we will honor the Lane Chapel Quintet, Maude Schuyler Clay, Chesney Blankenstein Doyle, the Mississippi State University Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts, and Craig Wiseman.  These recipients will join the ranks of other gifted Mississippians such as B.B. King, John Grisham, Morgan Freeman, Bo Diddley, and the USA International Ballet Competition.  This event is meant to not only recognize the accomplishments of the recipients, but to celebrate the artistry and creativity of Mississippi.


As we look forward to an exciting year ahead, it is my goal to continue to focus on the strategic directions of the Arts Commission…..LIVE, WORK, LEARN.  We will continue to support the value of arts in education, lifelong learning, creative placemaking, the development of creative partnerships, supporting the development of individual artists, and access and equity for all.

Our best creative days are ahead.


Winter 2014/2015

Dear Friends,

As this year comes to a close, it is time to reflect on what was accomplished and appreciate new partnerships.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank the passionate and talented MAC staff.  I hope our constituents realize that these professionals work tirelessly to provide assistance and guidance to artists and arts organizations across Mississippi. Our newest team member is Whole Schools Initiative Director, Andrea Coleman.  I am confident Andrea will do an outstanding job and will build on the work of the Whole Schools Initiative. 

I would also like to extend my thanks to members of the Mississippi Legislature for their continued support; giving this agency the means to provide valuable resources to those we serve across Mississippi.  Governor Bryant, Lt. Governor Reeves and other Mississippi elected officials have been extremely dedicated to making sure the arts have a seat at the table.

MAC’s Board of Commissioners represent the citizens of the State of Mississippi and serve in a voluntary capacity to provide oversight and guidance to the agency.  Their leadership and knowledge are invaluable to the continued growth of our programs and work on a grassroots level.

Most importantly, I want to express my appreciation to the talented and creative people throughout Mississippi who continue to do amazing work and help to create a better quality of life within each community.

We have many positive outcomes to celebrate at the close of 2014, and many to be excited about in the new year to come.  We look forward to serving the citizens of the state again in 2015, and please know how much we appreciate your support and dedication to the arts in Mississippi.

My best,


Fall 2014

Dear Friends,

Along with the changing of the seasons in Mississippi, there are many changes here at MAC.  I am delighted to announce that we are now fully staffed and excited to get to the important work at hand.

Our new staff members bring many years of experience in various fields of the arts and arts education.  Along with our seasoned staff members, the new MAC team is a dynamic group of individuals who are ready and eager to serve all of the citizens of Mississippi.

With this highly qualified staff, it is my vision to lead the Mississippi Arts Commission to becoming the premier state arts agency across the country by connecting, facilitating, nurturing, supporting, and providing cutting edge arts and arts education programming that is accessible to every community.  Our team’s overarching goals are to:

  • foster creativity                                                                                              
  • expand arts participation across the state                                     
  • promote greater development of the state’s creative economy

The group of FY2015 grant receipients represents an outstanding listing of fellowship winners, as well as minigrant, project and operating grant recipients representing most of our 82 counties.  We encourage you to extend your congratulations to those who have been awarded funding.  It allows artists and groups to continue the work they do in your community.  MAC is honored to be a part of this important work.  It is inspiring to see the tremendous role the arts play in establishing vibrant, creative places in Mississippi.

As always, please let us know if we may be of any assistance to you or your community.  Our agency is here to serve all of the citizens of Mississippi!

My best,


Summer 2014

Dear Friends,

With the dog-days of Summer in full swing, we are reflecting on a successful Whole Schools Summer Institute, the closing of our 2014-2015 grant cycle, and moving on to new projects.  I recently celebrated my one year anniversary as Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission and I want to personally thank everyone who has helped to make it a great year for me and for the agency. 

Communities across Mississippi are focusing on the things that make them unique, and it is evident now more than ever, why Governor Bryant proclaimed this as the “Year of the Creative Economy.”  We have the most unique, creative places across our state and it is wonderful to see a new, revitalized energy coming to the forefront.

The Whole Schools Initiative is continuing to grow and show more student engagement and achievement.  Performing Arts venues across Mississippi show increased attendance and community involvement.  The International Ballet Competition was again a tremendous success and brought visitors from around the world to Jackson.  MAC’s Blues Trail Curriculum continues to be discovered by those who want to put it to use in their classrooms and programming.

Be on the lookout for MAC program directors to be out and about in your communities.  It is our commitment to assist artists and arts organizations across the state as they strive to provide quality arts programming to their citizens.

Before the cooler days of autumn arrive, use the hot weather as an excuse to visit a museum, see a live performance, or take an art class.  When you do, please keep in mind that the Mississippi Arts Commission is honored to be helping communities make these activities a reality.

Thank you for a great first year,


Spring 2014

Dear Friends,

Last month as we celebrated national Youth Arts Month and Music in Our Schools this national spotlight reminded me of the roles that we all play in supporting and increasing the access of arts education for all students.  It brought to mind a few things that we must also ask about our local schools and communities:

Do all students in my community have access to a sequential, quality arts education?


How can I as a citizen and community member influence decisions that will make it possible for all students to have a quality arts education?


As a community-based organization, how can I support and encourage quality arts education programs in my community?

These are important but necessary questions that we all should be asking everyone in our communities.  Through 30 years of research, we have learned that the arts are critical to a quality education for children as well as adults.  It has also been proven that education in and through the arts is vital to the overall increased quality of life for a community. 

Since Governor Bryant has declared 2014 as The Year of the Creative Economy, it is my hope that we all can focus on the important role that arts education plays in that equation.

I would personally like to thank everyone who attended “Arts Day” at the Capital on March 26th.  It was an outstanding celebration as we all gathered together to shout the value of a life filled with the arts!

Let’s continue the celebration!


Summer 2013

Dear Friends,
I would like to begin my first letter by saying what a privilege it is for me to serve the people of Mississippi as Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission. The arts and arts education have been my life’s work, and it is my personal goal to continue to elevate the arts and artists of our state and to promote the Mississippi story nationally and internationally.

I have just completed my first full month in the MAC office. I am continually amazed at the fine work that is being done across the state and by the staff at MAC. I want to thank Sallye Killebrew for the excellent job she has done as Interim Executive Director for the agency, and she continues to be a terrific resource. Sallye is currently serving as Interim Deputy Director and will continue to support our work in that position.

As we move into fall, I will be traveling the state visiting arts organizations, artists, legislators, and supporters. I hope to meet many of you on my travels. MAC’s Blues Trail Curriculum workshops are kicking off soon, with four sessions across the state for educators wanting to learn more about this wonderful classroom tool. The curriculum was designed to meet the benchmarks of 4th and 10th grade Mississippi History framework, but also to allow flexibility for teachers of other grade levels and subject areas. The curriculum is based in an arts-integrated approach to learning. It is divided into six core areas: Music, Meaning, Cotton, Transportation, Civil Rights and Media, and was created to help students to understand how blues music developed and continues to impact contemporary culture and to address subjects such as geography, history and social studies in the five regions that the Blues Trail is divided. For more details on the workshops, read further into this information-packed newsletter.

This is an exciting time for MAC and for the arts in Mississippi. We have so much talent and creativity within our state. It is important for us to tell our rich and diverse story across the country and the world. Together we can build a stronger Mississippi through the arts. You can count on MAC to be a catalyst for creativity and innovation throughout Mississippi.

My best,


Summer 2013

Dear Friends,

Earlier this year, I wrote about change being the most natural thing in the world, and change is in the air once again at the Mississippi Arts Commission.  As we welcome the new Executive Director, Tom Pearson, to the MAC team in a couple of weeks, there is the excitement and anticipation in our office that typically accompanies change.  On behalf of the MAC staff, I’d like to welcome Tom to Mississippi, and we look forward to his passionate intent in continuing to celebrate and support Mississippi’s arts and culture.  Being a Hattiesburg native, with additional roots in the waters and beaches of the Gulf Coast, Tom is delighted to be returning to his home state with the opportunity to serve its citizens in and through the arts. So, as we at MAC again acknowledge our change and emotion, we also embrace the notion of positive action and a future consistently filled with supporting our state’s creative and innovative spirit.

The Mississippi Arts Commission received a generous appropriation from the legislature for FY’14, and we are deeply appreciative of their attention and interest in the work we do to support all aspects of the arts in our state. MAC aspires to reach every citizen, adults as well as children and students, in an effort to share the value of Mississippi’s unique culture and strong sense of place. This summer, the agency is hard at work to ensure that planning and programming for the upcoming year is closely aligned with our strategic principles and is poised and committed to pursuing its three innovative strategic directions: LIVE, WORK, LEARN.  We will be focused on advocating the value of arts in education, lifelong learning, creative placemaking, access and equity in all work, entrepreneurial thinking and creative partnerships, supporting our individual artists, and championing the Mississippi story.  Additionally, we will continue communicating with and educating policymakers and the public about the value of MAC’s contribution to arts and culture, both nationally and statewide, as well as improving and optimizing the value of the human factor by increasing direct service to our dedicated constituents through travel and visits across Mississippi.  

So, as we look forward to a hearty welcome of a new executive director at MAC, we also welcome you to come by our offices and meet Tom, invite him to your community, get to know his passion and determination for the arts in our state, and celebrate with us a new chapter in the creativity and innovation that is Mississippi.

Thanks and take care,



Spring 2013

Dear Friends,

As an unknown author so eloquently said, "If nothing ever changed, there would be no butterflies." Change is the most natural thing in the world, and as we all begin the anticipation of that colorful entry into spring, we also embrace some intriguing changes at MAC. As the Interim Executive Director, the staff and I say a bittersweet goodbye to Malcolm White, as he continues to celebrate and support Mississippi's arts and culture in his new role as Director of the Tourism Division at Mississippi Development Authority. Malcolm instilled in us a tireless passion for serving the citizens of our state in and through the arts, and the values we all created together during his 7-year tenure will continue as MAC unceasingly advocates and advances its mission to be a catalyst for the arts and creativity in Mississippi. So, as we acknowledge our own change and emotion, we also celebrate positive action and a future consistently filled with the mission of supporting our state's creative and innovative spirit. 

As go the blooms and butterflies of springtime each year, the state Legislature is in session pondering our FY14 budget, and we are ever-grateful for the friends we have guiding policy and funding there. MAC is seeking increased funding for the arts, the championing of more arts in education, and is advocating for further, if not continued, support of Mississippi's creative spirit. In return, we promise transparent and accountable management of those valued funds, along with our usual good stewardship of coveted public dollars. We encourage you to call or write your legislators, say hello when they come home with an encouraging word of thanks, and be sure they are aware and mindful of the strength and leverage of arts monies in your community. Please join us for Day at the Capitol on March 26th at 11:00, as we raise the roof to advocate for the arts in Mississippi.

MAC has recently completed its 2014-2018 Strategic Plan, and we are pleased to have this attractive, innovative, and informative piece to tell our story and help our constituents and lawmakers see further into MAC's mission, vision, programming, and philosophy. While sleek documents and bright websites are part of our present and future, MAC still embraces the age-old "human factor" and understands the significance of face-to-face fellowship in communities, as well as in our offices in downtown Jackson. Please visit our website to view the MAC Strategic Plan, but don't hesitate to invite us to your town, your school, or your festival; also know that you have an open invitation to visit us across the street from the Capitol. These are MAC principles that never waiver, even when the seasons and staff are filled with change. 

So, as we look forward to the exciting welcome of the wonderful rites of spring, we also welcome you to another innovative change at MAC, the first gleaming edition of ARTicles, our new bi-monthly newsletter. We just honored our 2013 Governor's Awards recipients during the 25th Anniversary celebration with a change in format and concept, we are piloting a proud new partnership with the Kennedy Center VSA in our Arts Education programming, a Stennis Institute Arts Integration Study is in the wings, the Creative Economy continues to gather energy and presence, and we're on our way to a smooth transition for permanent leadership when the time is right. Change can be a frightful occurrence, but we at MAC look at change as a bright and bold opportunity for more and better things in the arts and culture of Mississippi. Come along and enjoy the season of change with us, then go out and watch for butterflies.

Take care,


Fall 2012

Many good people with good intentions have given their lives to teaching and learning, including most of my family, yet it seems no one is satisfied with how far we’ve moved the needle in the area of improving what we call education in Mississippi. As director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, I have the privilege and honor of pondering the connectivity of the arts and education; to ask what role the arts play in learning, community and the schoolhouse.  My own experience tells me Mississippi began to unceremoniously remove the arts (and P.E.) from the school day about 20 years ago when funding was called into question and testing time became a priority.  With all respect to generations of leaders, educators and funders, my perspective is not a new program to fix education in our state. Nor am I suggesting that the arts are a panacea for our education dilemma. I would merely like to invite a new way of thinking in general for us all, in and out of school. The idea is both simple and complex and lies right here in Mississippi communities and in Mississippi neighborhoods. I call this proposal “Community Learning.”  

     The Southern Educational Foundation report, Miles to Go, states that “Mississippi is at a crossroads in education. Education today is the primary engine for the state’s economic growth. Small, steady gains in education over time can make a big impact on the Mississippi economy.” Simply said, Mississippi needs to create its own innovative workforce, and our students need to develop and hone the creative skills necessary to compete in a global society. I am confident that part of a successful strategy for this reality can be found in the arts arena and right in our own backyard.  

     Numerous methods and reports have come and gone in the name of education reform, and still Mississippi lags behind statistically on many reported lists. Therefore, an inspiring environment for lifelong learning is imperative in our schools and in our communities. Communities can strengthen, and our education system can benefit, by working together through partnership and collaboration. It is a known fact that the deepest level of learning comes from direct application, and application makes learning relevant to students. Community Learning coordinates the subject being taught in the school curriculum with the message being delivered by the cultural institutions, festivals, our local libraries, and after school activities in the community, so that the schools and the community are on the same page during the approximate same time period. The student begins to feel a sense of community, solidarity, and belonging with supportive resources available in the form of mentors, role models, and experts who matter to the student, reside in their own neighborhood, and speak their own language.  

     Our communities can nurture local expertise to provide real life learning situations and application opportunities for the PreK-12 schoolhouse, workforce development, and entrepreneurship. Identifying partnerships and implementing small, strategic steps for collaboration can put a Community Learning theory into practice. Ultimately, when the arts and cultural community are in sync with the schools, a low-cost to no-cost teaching/learning partnership is offered to the school system. The arts can then be seen, not as a distraction, but as a compliment and extension to the learning day. Whether it’s a charter, magnet, private, parochial, home or extended-day school, it still takes a village to educate the whole child, and all options should be on the table. 

     So, Community Learning may very well be the big idea that is too simple to implement or too challenging to understand and appreciate, but I propose that it’s an idea certainly worth considering in this climate where we are quick to single out charter or private or home schools as a possibility. Few states could potentially make this concept a reality because of size and numbers, but Mississippi is prized by its citizens for accessibility, networking value and attention to a strong sense of place. This idea does not seek to replace any existing curriculum or programming but rather aims to collectively create a statewide, agreed upon approach to how a community learns together. The arts are what separate us as human; they are what provide us the means to process and understand our world. The more we learn about each other and the world around us, the more we can synchronize for the betterment of our state, our community, our family, our neighbors, and the schoolhouse. 

My best,


Summer 2012

     With the end of the school year in Mississippi, our school children begin their trips to swimming lessons, grandma’s house, summer camp or the beach, and the classroom becomes a distant memory. Just like the students, most parents get busy with hot summer days, and the focus on education takes a break. Dedicated administrators, policy makers, and educators, however, rarely take a vacation from the ever-present challenge of improving education in Mississippi schools and providing high quality opportunities for teaching and learning in our state.

Recent and lengthy discussions at the State Capitol and in the media regarding the viability of Charter Schools highlight the notion that it is imperative to consider all of the resources and options available in our state. Parents and the community, as well as students, are frustrated with failing school districts and are eager for solutions, even if the solution goes against what they see in a “traditional classroom”.  The time has come to talk about the new classroom!

     For over 15 years, the Mississippi Arts Commission (MAC) has promoted the creative concept that arts integration works for all schools, especially those schools threatened with failure.  In this day of jargon-heavy conversation, let me clarify the meaning of arts integration. Arts integration is, simply, a teaching strategy that uses the arts to teach another subject. Arts integration is not trying to make English teachers into art teachers or substituting the jobs of art teachers; it merely gives the teachers the basics of each arts discipline as building blocks for making connections. Collaborative teaching between classroom teachers and teaching artists or arts specialists opens the doors to the world, connecting and making relevant the skills required on state tests. This is the new classroom, and this educational initiative is a homegrown Mississippi model that has been in our schools for over a decade.

     The MAC’s arts integration program, known as the Whole Schools Initiative (WSI), is dedicated to the strategy of incorporating the arts to teach a subject which makes learning engaging, relevant and meaningful and involves students mentally, physically, and emotionally. Test scores go up because there is a personal connection to the material which makes learning exciting. Teachers are inspired to be innovative and to engage their students in discovering their strengths and establishing a love of learning. These schools achieve much of what policy makers desire from the concept of Charter Schools, and the strategy exists right here at home, in our unique Mississippi model.

     The MAC’s jewel in the crown of professional development in arts integration is the WSI Summer Institute, a four-day workshop that brings in national and local presenters to share teaching strategies and model arts integrated lessons. WSI sessions give teachers and administrators the strategies they need to transform their classrooms from a lecture style, teacher-driven environment to more hands-on, experiential, project-based instruction.  This facilitates a lifelong love of learning and prepares our children for the 21st Century, ensuring they are ready to launch self-directed careers or be college ready. The program embraces communities and parents, using available resources and local businesses to improve both the school and surrounding community. The school opens its doors to invite the community in, and the students go out into the community to learn. Above all, the most important advantage these schools provide is a higher quality education for the children of Mississippi.

     During the summer break, I invite you to ponder the creative pathway and innovative strategy for school reform in Mississippi that MAC’s Whole School Initiative can offer. Whether you find yourself in a conversation about education in our state or find that your mind is merely considering educational possibilities and how they work, please know that the MAC believes all tools, all strategies, and all options should be available to rethink education in Mississippi.  But, in our haste to find the silver bullet, let’s not overlook this national reform model called the Whole Schools Initiative that was created, developed and implemented in Mississippi, by Mississippians, in Mississippi schools.

Spring 2012

     Mississippi’s cultural landscape is a blending of time-honored traditions and great artistic expression long celebrated by the Mississippi Arts Commission.  Our state’s art and culture contributes to the very DNA of each of us and shapes the core of our existence.  In a paper written in 1954, the treasured Eudora Welty introduced the phrase “sense of place,” stating that “the art that speaks most clearly, explicitly, directly and passionately from its own place or origin will remain the longest understood.”

By taking a short trip around this unique state, one will quickly see the reasons Mississippi is the most colorful and miraculous place, and why Miss Welty was probably moved to pen those meaningful words. 

     Picture a warm and cozy kitchen, the cold winds of a Delta winter stirring outside, while two sisters move quietly about the room dancing to a rhythm they have moved to for so many years.  The sweet smells they are creating remind them of the task that is before them; the long-remembered tradition of creating delicate and tasty fig preserves, just as their elders did before them.  The final result of their work is a true art form, and one that is part of our bountiful heritage.

Traveling south, a master fiddler sits in his living room awaiting the arrival of his young apprentice.  As the young man enters, fiddle in tow, the respect and admiration he has for his teacher is almost palpable.  They sit across from one another and very quickly the room is filled with the joyful sounds of fine bluegrass tunes with only a few missed notes along the way.  The knowledge that the amazing gifts of this master Mississippi musician are being passed to the next generation provides a sense of southern comfort in this age of technology.

These creative traditions represent only two examples of what goes on across our state each and every day.  These are examples of how we tell our story; they make us who we are; they create that “sense of place” that make living in the museum that is Mississippi a true gift. From its very beginning, the Mississippi Arts Commission has worked diligently to offer support, encouragement, and resources to fortify the legacy of Mississippi’s arts and culture.  I encourage you to celebrate the gifts of the exemplary Mississippians from your community who carry out this artistic legacy and who provide all citizens with an opportunity to share our state’s abundant creative heritage. 

Winter 2011

     The human brain is an amazing instrument.  It can play, it can create and it can confound on a daily basis.  In one moment, we can recall with exact detail; a smell, an image, a memory from our childhood.  And then in the next night’s sleep, we randomly dream of searching to locate the classroom from our college or high school days where the final exam is underway.  Education and learning, it seems to me, is the tuning of the instrument, and I have long been fascinated by how we learn, how we tune.  Research tells us there are many styles of learning and many different kinds of learners.  I am an experiential learner, which means that I make meaning from direct experience and learn through reflection on doing.  I learn by going to a concert and observing and interacting with the performance environment, as opposed to reading about music from a book. Aristotle once said, "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." As I understand the human brain, learning occurs by practicing and by participating. Some people have extraordinary memory skills and excel at rote memory and testing, while others, like me, learn best by experience and “doing”.

Ken Robinson, an internationally recognized leader in the development of education, creativity and innovation, writes “There is a paradox. As children, most of us think we are highly creative; as adults, many of us think we are not.” And of course, Picasso let us know that, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once they grow up.” But no matter who says it or how it is said, it is agreed that we have a problem retaining our youthful knack for being artistic or learning to be creative thinkers, creative learners. Being creative or artistic doesn’t mean you know how to draw or play an instrument. Being creative is a way of thinking, a way of viewing the world.

     Another understanding I have about the amazing human brain is that it has two sides where very different activities and tasks take place. Two personalities in one head, so to speak.  The right side of the brain is best at expressive and creative tasks. The left-side of the brain is considered to be adept at tasks that involve logic, language and analytical thinking. So when we talk about how to learn, we must keep these understandings in mind as they relate to teaching our children. Not every child is starting in the same place, and not every child is headed toward the same place. Some need freedom in order to learn. Some need structure. Some need a mix. But all need respect for their individuality, trust in their abilities to succeed, and adults who have the foresight to design experience to bring out individual greatness. When a student finds the way they learn, it can produce a dramatic change in grades, attitude, and self-image. Let’s consider this as we move forward in the 21st century classroom. The school day of the future will be unpredictable, inconsistent, and designed to be wildly relevant for the learner, their engagement, and their development.

     One parent recently wrote to MAC about our Whole School Arts Education Initiative, “Children need champions outside the home to prepare them for kindergarten, especially when parents are working and struggling to teach skills at home. As a working mother of a preschooler, I am constantly looking for creative ways to get my son’s attention. The arts have provided a vehicle for him to recognize letters through visual and theatrical arts, slow down his speech patterns through music and movement, and observe the world around him through literature and storytelling. The prospect of being able to receive early education that “teaches the whole child” excites us.”

     Beyond the return of the arts and play to the school day, we need to consider integrated learning as a strategy to reach more students that “teaching to the test” simply overlooks or ignores all together. Our teachers and schools need the arts as a teaching tool and need to know and understand that integrating subjects like math and music makes good sense. Ever wonder why you remember the lyrics to your favorite songs and forget the Declaration of Independence? The same way the old joke goes about the New York cab driver and the tourist looking for Carnegie Hall, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” asked the tourist. “Practice, practice, practice”, replied the cabbie. 

Fall 2011

August in Mississippi brings to mind many things: heat, humidity, another year of SEC rivalries, high school football Friday nights, the last of the season’s blueberries hanging on the bush and this year, creativity, innovation and opportunity.  August 10th brought us the Creative Economy Summit at the Jackson Convention Complex.  The event was held to celebrate and present the study of Mississippi’s creative economy, brought to fruition by an unprecedented partnership between the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Mississippi Development  Authority  (   For the first time in state history, Mississippi's creative and economic development agencies have partnered in an informative and cohesive study that takes a pioneering look at the state’s non-profit organizations side-by-side with for-profit entities to assess the potential of our creative assets. The study outlines and explores what the creative economy is, what portion of Mississippi's overall economy is in the creative sector, and how we can support, encourage and grow this emerging culture. 

 The study revealed that nearly 61,000 Mississippians are employed in the creative sector, representing about 3% of the state’s economy. The crossroads of our people, places and products have already made an important mark on our state that is showing us an even bigger opportunity for the future. The snapshot of the creative economy shown in the study is totally organic. Can you imagine the results if we watered, tended and fertilized it? 

This new economy is evergreen, authentic and local. New ideas, not money or machinery, are the source of success today.  Every Mississippi community has a story, and we think it is time we tell those stories, invite the guests to visit, and build civic pride around the process. Creativity and innovation are the new currency in this global economy, and Mississippi has a rich and diverse inventory of assets, entrepreneurs and storytellers. Every day we write the book: through music, literature, architecture, food, the Civil War, Civil Rights, our sacred spaces and the arts. The creative economy is revitalizing manufacturing, service, retailing and entertainment industries.  It is changing where people want to live, work and learn; and where they think, invent and produce. 

To quote John Howkins, “Creativity is not new, and neither is economics, but what is new is the nature and extent of the relationship between them, and how they combine to create extraordinary value and wealth.”  Communities of every size can take part and benefit from nurturing this aspect of economic development. The creative landscape and its abundant opportunities are available to any city, town or crossroad that wishes to tap into its unique character and creativity.

Our creative economy gives us the opportunity to tell our story through our people, places and products. It is ours alone and will never be able to be outsourced. We have allowed others, for far too long, to define who we are; we now have an artful and thoughtful opportunity to set that story straight.  The crossroad is before us, and we can choose to take a bold and innovative direction that will lead us into a new era of creativity and prosperity.

Summer 2011

Mississippi is the most artful, soulful, southern place on earth.  Paradoxically, our people are diverse and democratic, yet fiercely fundamental and conservative.  My good ole friend, Willie Morris, liked to say we are a “strange and beguiling place”.

We are lush and wild, bountiful and rich in voice, place and story; complicated, as my New York friends like to say.  Our history, both human and natural, like our culture, is unparalleled.  We are native to America, we are Appalachian, African, Caribbean, Latin, European and redneck.  We are jazz, up from belly of the blues.  We are dance, southern fiction, food, gospel and ole time music, architecture and the visual arts. I don’t need to name names.  We wrote the book.

Former Governor Bill Waller likes to talk about water, one of our greatest natural resources.  He says we will have water when the rest of the country runs dry.  We are surrounded by rivers, creeks, bayous, slews, marsh, oxbows, lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.  When I was a child growing up in rural south Mississippi, I saw a map that connected my playground of Red Creek to the remarkable Pascagoula River system, which flowed to the Gulf and then out to the world.  It was a “eureka moment” at an early age.  Through a geography lesson, as a visual and experiential learner, I suddenly saw my place in the world and knew that my canoe stashed in the willows along the bank of Red Creek could, theoretically, take me to China.  I later learned that my neighbor and world-renowned artist, Walter Anderson from Ocean Springs, was rowing his skiff to Horn Island and riding his bike to China.

There are many things I love about Mississippi.  One is that we often ponder what we will cook for supper over lunch.  We routinely reference the Civil War and Civil Rights in the same sentence.  We have an abundance of dappled light.  We are urban soul, gulf south, New Orleans and Memphis-centric, hillbilly and delta planter.

We are hunter-gatherers, sports enthusiasts, free thinkers, artists and church-goers.  We are philanthropic and philosophical, open minded and part closed society.

I love the smell of salt air, autumn on the Natchez Trace, sunset over the delta, and any time spent on a porch.  We have an abundance of farmer’s markets, we grow some of the best tomatoes and watermelons on the planet, and we know how to fry chicken and catfish. We continually confront and survive floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes and have fought off invaders and the boll weevil.  We are resilient

rascals, rebels and roustabouts, tenacious and quirky in our loyalty to family, the homeland, and our way of life.  Why be normal? I’m simply crazy about this place; this place called Mississippi, the father of waters and a people of paradox and poetry.

Spring 2011

Mississippi’s artistic heritage has grown strong and vibrant from the culturally rich soil of our great state.  The music genres of the blues, bluegrass, gospel, country and rock and roll were all cultivated right here in Mississippi.   In 2009, Governor Haley Barbour embraced the mantra that our great state is the “Birthplace of America’s Music.”  When visitors cruise into Mississippi from one of our neighboring states, they are greeted by big, green signs denoting the land ahead as the home of magnolias and music. 

The Mississippi Blues Trail, and now the Country Music Trail, are helping put Mississippi on the national map of cultural and heritage tourism, and any visitor, or local for that matter, would be remiss to think that the only art form Mississippi mothers is music. 

She’s also mother to the Rev. H.D. Dennis, who until recent years lived with his wife, Margaret, on Old Highway 61 outside of Vicksburg in a modest home turned “castle,” known to most as Margaret’s Grocery.  Passersby might see him building a tower from cinderblocks and Styrofoam or catch a glimpse of Miss Margaret in her housecoat, painting posts pink and freshening plastic flowers planted in the yard.  If they stopped, they’d be welcomed, “both Jews and gentiles,” into the school bus turned sanctuary, where the overwhelming beauty of Rev. Dennis’ folk art creation, as well as the conviction in his impromptu oration, might move them to visit again. Or in today’s case, provoke them to get involved in the effort to save this one-of-a-kind cultural gem. 

Mississippi is mother to Elayne Goodman, a self-taught folk artist from Columbus who has a passion for pop culture. Her meticulously beaded, painted and quilted creations transform ordinary objects into highly sought after artwork.  Hollywood stars like Nicolas Cage and Julia Roberts are collectors of her work, and if you dig up the November 1990 issue of Rolling Stone, you’ll find Elayne’s “Altar to Elvis” emblazoned in its pages.  While Elayne has an international fan base, she is perfectly, happily at home in Lowndes County where she traverses yard sales and junk stores on the weekends, in search of the next perfect piece to transform.   

Mississippi is mother to kibbie and cornbread, sitting side by side on the same menu at the Resthaven Restaurant in Clarksdale.  The Chamoun family shares recipes, stories, tall tales and history with the customers, family and friends who pass through the doors at this highway side cafe.  In the kitchen, three generations have learned and perfected the art of rolling grape leaves, whipping meringue and seasoning tabouli.  In the front of the house, locals help themselves to coffee while the out-of-towners contemplate whether to order cabbage rolls or catfish. 

There is something in the water and soil here in Mississippi that nourishes the creative spirit of the people.  While we might not always identify our friends and neighbors as artists, I’m certain that we all have someone in our life who cooks the perfect cheese grits, smocks baby clothes for the newborns, carves decoys for the mantle or weaves the bottoms of chairs.  These talents are not taught in school (but perhaps they should be); they are passed on from the generations before and conjured by the sheer need for beauty in our everyday lives. 

Be sure to celebrate the folk and traditional artists in your family or community to ensure that Mississippi remains mother to many native art forms and expressions. 

Fall 2010

As I celebrated my fifth anniversary as Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission recently, collectively we look back on Hurricane Katrina’s rudeness and disruption of the community and serene coastal life we once knew.  While the literal and figurative remnants of the storm still linger five years later, joined by the sting of the recent oil travesty, we can continue to look at the strength and resilience of our creative selves and the enduring determination of our creative communities. As we know, the artist typically lives in a place of transition and change, feast or famine, thus our coastal kin continue to carry on and are a very real source of inspiration as we reflect on these past years of recovery and restoration.  

In my own reflection, I’m reminded that the art, culture, and sense of place in a community are irreplaceable sources of replenishment for the human spirit. Even though the sands were tossed and the waves hurled our possessions, culture’s colorful and deep presence still remains the lifeblood of the coast.  Compassion and caring still have very real meaning to our survival, and hope is still an essential beacon. The oil tragedy ushered in the fifth year anniversary of Katrina with a bold underlining of the significance of our cultural offerings and the importance these offerings bring to this rich region.  A region so rich in arts and culture and producing such world-class visual artists as Walter Anderson, George Ohr, Richmond Barthe’, and Dusti Bonge, must continue to celebrate the unique heritage and traditions indigenous to this area. My constant mantra, “the arts are the hope that cannot be lost or blown away,” still resonates in August of 2010, and I remain committed and dedicated to the reality that the arts and culture are a significant part of a comprehensive recovery. 

The revitalization of arts-based businesses has been a steadfast focus of the Mississippi Arts Commission in these past five years of redevelopment and rebuilding. Their place as viable engines of local and coastal economies is proven, and we will continue to support the notion that the arts give us the communities we want to live in. The creative community, through expression and diversity, has been constantly documented as a key economic indicator of revitalization across the globe. Non-traditional assets are becoming increasingly important in the development of a community. The Mississippi Arts Commission has partnered and collaborated with numerous cultural entities since August of 2005 to assist the creative economy of the coast in remaining a massive and diverse fabric of arts, music, food, festivals and celebration. With the passing of the fifth anniversary of Katrina, we commit once again to a future that passionately validates the respect that the cultural component of this area deserves. Together, and in sober remembrance, let’s hold fast to the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

My best,


Spring 2010

Change is in the air.  Flowering Quince and Japanese Magnolias are radiant and in full bloom.  Mississippi is entering her rites of spring. 

The Legislature is in session pondering our FY2011 budget while we just received our 5th state budget cut for FY2010.  Health care is on everyone’s mind from Washington County to Washington D.C.  The recession has finally made its way to Mississippi and our tender state economy has reported 18 straight months of downward tax collections, manifesting itself today to the tune of $500M in shortfall.  It is a time of great reflection and careful consideration of budgeting and planning.  Five years after Katrina and two years into this weakened state economy, we do have much to be thankful for and much to digest as we move forward. 

We are grateful to have a full staff and anticipated level funding for 2011.  The arts have not taken any cuts beyond what every other agency of state government in Mississippi has taken.  We continue to make great strides toward inclusion in conversations about education, economic development and workforce training THROUGH the arts and in concert with heritage tourism and cultural institutions.  We are rolling out a comprehensive creative economy study in April, in partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority, and are researching a statewide arts education survey to follow that.  We are granting record-high amounts of money to the field and developing multiple private sector underwriters for research and special initiatives from health and wellness to the-arts-mean-business strategies. 

We just selected our new statewide Poetry Out Loud winner, John Uzodinma, a freshman at Rosa Scott High School, and will honor the International Ballet Competition and the life of Thalia Mara as our 2010 American Masterpiece project.  Our 2010-13 Whole School Summer Institutes will be held in Meridian at the MSU Riley Center for the Performing Arts and Education Center, and we have grand plans for those three summers in east Mississippi.  Together with Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, we are progressing with our statewide goal to take LinkUP!, a symphonic arts education outreach program, to all communities and orchestras in Mississippi. 

If the weather wasn't so majestic and the outlook for delivering the arts to our much-deserving, beloved citizens and constituents, one could almost get discouraged….but not us creative types!

Summer 2008

As the summer of 2008 sits upon us like a wet blanket at a barbeque, the Legislature struggles in special session, the nation views presidential politics with keen eyes and the Arts Commission wraps up another historic round of grants and prepares to close the books on the state's Fiscal Year 2008.   

Yesterday I drove the dappled light of the Natchez Trace to attend a picnic and business planning session on the campus of historic Wood College in Mathison.  The setting was inspired by the bucolic outdoor chapel at the center of the handsome campus where a group of local arts supporters, business leaders, state historians and designers gathered to discuss the notion of arts being in the next chapter of the historic Wood College history.  There was time for a brief visit and catch up with Bill Andrews, our statewide coordinator of the third American Masterpieces initiative, Mississippi Gulf Coast Visual Masters, while in the Mississippi State University area.  Returning on the Trace, I had time for a driving tour of French Camp and visited the home of late “outsider” artist L.V. Hull in Kosciusko before arriving back in Jackson.  Finally, I had an early dinner at Basil’s in Belhaven before attending a fine performance of The Fantasticks at New Stage Theatre.  I describe this day to simply point out what rich and diverse arts culture we have here in Mississippi and to share what a day-in-the-life I am so blessed to have as your Director of MAC.

Summer 2007

First let me say thank you for taking the time to explore our website. If you have reached this space, you are one of 1.7 million visitors we proudly welcomed this year to our cyber world. I hope you find what you are looking for and much, much more. Please contact us if we have omitted or overlooked what information or answers you seek.

We are very excited to have this handsome and informative vehicle to further tell our story and help the user "drill" deeper into the Mississippi Arts Commissions mission, guidelines, programs, procedures and philosophy. It is easy to rely solely on this contemporary medium to state one's case and we work very hard to present a quality website for those who enjoy and are comfortable with this experience. However, we are also aware that not all seekers of information find the internet their sole source, and we too often fall prey to expecting all our constituents to be technologically savvy, properly outfitted and well versed in the navigation skills.

Being reminded of this possibility, I encourage the staff to never assume that everyone needing information should automatically be sent to our website. It is our honor to have you call, make an appointment for a visit or consultation, or just drop by our offices on the eleventh floor of the Woolfolk State Office Building in Jackson to say "hello."  I personally find this old fashioned form of fellowship refreshing, sobering and a tangible reminder that we are here to serve the citizens of Mississippi. With that said, while we are very proud of this website, we hope you never stop calling, writing, making an appointment or just stopping by to visit your arts commission.

Picasso said that all children are born artists, and that our problem is how to remain artistic as adults. And while it is not the goal of the Mississippi Arts Commission to return every adult to their artistic childhood, we are interested in creating an environment for presenting the arts to every Mississippian regardless of their age. We seek to offer a wide variety of programs and funding vehicles to reach the maximum number of our citizens. The cost of doing arts business, like the entire service sector, is going up. The number of people we could reach in the year 2000 cost much more today and our budget has dwindled steadily since that time. We need more resources to reach more people, but money isn't the panacea, but rather a facilitator of possibilities. As we approach the 2008 Legislative season, we will seek increased funding for the arts, we will lobby for more arts in education, more public dollars for public art, money to fund Mississippi's creative spirit and we promise transparent, accountable management of those valued funds.

School started this week and this is a good time to remind ourselves of the role of the arts in education. We at the Mississippi Arts Commission believe that teaching through the arts is an effective and lasting learning experience. We invite you to vist our Whole Schools Initiative website or come by personally and explore what we offer in Arts in Education programming and granting opportunities. We are fully focused on training teaching artist in collaboration with the Mississippi Alliance for Art Educators, The Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network and the Mississippi State Department of Education. Learn more about this innovative and exciting trend in teaching and learning.

As we trudge through these 100-106 degree dog days of summer, let's be very mindful of the opportunities before us, knowing that this too shall pass. Cooler days lie ahead and a brighter future through the arts is our goal.

Fall 2006

Time has played its tricks, and once again it is early autumn in Mississippi; somewhere between hot and not, baseball and football, the Whole Schools Summer Institute and the first day of school.  And much more than time has passed since the spring.  We have bobbled between joy and discombobulating over Katrina, cried over the loss of Sam Myers, rejoiced at the grace of the Andy Warhol Foundation, laughed at the sight of puppets dancing across Lee Ann’s desk, seen world class dancers parade across the stage at the IBC and witnessed the rising of the MSU Riley Center and the Grand Opera House.  And yes, we do get a lot of work done somewhere in between.

With our Recovery Staff member, Sallye Killebrew, we have raised and processed a half of million dollars in funds toward recovery and reinvigoration of the arts and cultural communities of the coast.  But more important than the money, we sincerely offer hope and a helping hand to our coast constituency, with the message that someday they will know normalcy once more.  We continue in concert with the U.S. Department of Labor and the Twin Districts in Hattiesburg to set forth the Business Recovery Grant program that is historic in its scope and definition of identifying artists as small businesses. 

Governor Haley Barbour has appointed two new MAC board members this month and we are happy to welcome Donna Kennedy Barksdale and David Trigiani to the MAC family.  Also, Governor Barbour has reappoined Barbara Brunini to a full five year board term.  We are fortunate to have these gifted and committed Mississippians join the ranks of our already stellar board lead very ably by Dianne Walton of Meridian.  We welcome Donna and David as arts advocates and thank them for serving as board members at the Mississippi Arts Commission.  We have much work ahead of us as we prepare for a new five-year strategic plan and begin the process of fully funding our grants programs into the future.

We have logged thousand of miles traveling across the state and have recently seen good work in Greenwood, Winona, Natchez, Starkville, Ocean Springs, Hattiesburg and Booneville, to name but a few.  I hope to see you somewhere along the line and encourage artists and arts patrons to invite us to your town, county or crossroads.  Where there is art and culture, the MAC has hopes to be.  I hope you will join us in celebrating our heritage, our hope and our future.


Spring 2006

Another beautiful Mississippi Spring is upon us and with it comes my 6-month anniversary as the Executive Director of the Mississippi Arts Commission.  I am still constantly inspired by the work done by this agency.  This has been a very rewarding time for me; learning, promoting and embracing something that I am personally so passionate about. 

Now fully staffed, we are busier than ever focusing on the task of promoting the arts and we continue to assist artists from our hurricane ravaged Gulf-Coast.   With assistance from the Department of Labor, we have been able to hire a temporary Arts Recovery Coordinator to focus on the needs of the artists and arts organizations on the Coast.  Sallye Killebrew, a displaced Gulf Coast resident, will be working closely with the Coast arts community to provide enhanced assistance in a variety of areas.   

With the Legislature in session, our annual budgeting process is in full swing.  With over 60% if our annual budget appropriated by the State, it is more important than ever for you to contact your Senator and Representative to encourage them to fully fund this organization and its mission.  Your voice does make a difference! 

With the tremendous success of this year’s Governor’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts held on Friday, February 17th, we are all reminded of the incredible talent that comes from our State.   Mississippian’s should be proud of the rich heritage our state possesses in the arts and the Governor’s Awards highlight this, “embarrassment of riches” to quote the extremely humorous, Bill Dunlap, a very gifted artist and Master of Ceremonies for the awards since 1992.  I would like to extend a special thanks to everyone who worked hard to make this event a tremendous success.  If you missed the ceremony, you can watch it on Mississippi Public Broadcasting on April 14th at 7:00p.m. 

March 1st was the grant submission deadline for fiscal year 2007.  In mid April, panels are scheduled to review the submitted grants.  This is a very important time for us because it is our mission to support as many individual artists and arts organizations as possible.

Thank you for your support and encouragement during my first few months.  I am delighted to be here and please know it is my mission to spread the word about Mississippi’s most enduring, cultural contributions….the ARTS!!

Winter 2006

Greetings and good tidings from your new Director. I am very happy to say that the business of promoting and funding the arts in Mississippi is alive, robust and inspired. While Katrina has taken her toll on our arts community in south Mississippi and especially along our beloved coast, the support continues to pour in from near and far. Our message should be simple and succinct in the renewal and rebuilding process: the arts are not something extra, they are essential! All programs, plans and models of rebuilding should include arts participation on the front end; as landmark, not as an afterthought or "lagniappe" as our cousins in Louisiana are fond of saying. This message should be spoken by all the arts community to anyone who will listen, and especially to those who are not accustomed to the sound of our voice. Like a great choir, let our voices rise up as one and deliver this critical message.

Much work has gone on in the brief time I have been at MAC. It has been my great pleasure to engage and interact with the talented, enthusiastic staff and be a part of the richness of the MAC scope of work. We have devoted much time and energy to Katrina relief and support, conducted a retreat for the Whole Schools Initiative, participated in the public dialogue regarding the aftermath of Katrina, conducted our Mini Grants process, overseen the selection of the 2006 Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts, completed our NEA grant application, hosted our annual board retreat, managed to reshuffle the office space AND hired two new staffers who will be coming on board the first of the year. We will highlight and profile those individuals in the next EBLAST and welcome them to the MAC family. Be sure to mark your calendars for February 16 & 17, 2006 for the Governor's Awards to be held here in Jackson.

I sincerely look forward to serving as your Director and welcome your input, observations, phone calls, emails and visits. Also, I encourage you to invite us to your neighborhood for a visit. I have enjoyed visiting Greenville, Grenada, Gulfport, Oxford, Cleveland, Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Ocean Springs, Laurel, Hattiesburg, Taylor, Tippo, Bolton, Vicksburg, Pass Christian, Wiggins, Canton and White's Crossing in the past 5 weeks.

Photo of Malcolm courtesy of The Clarion-Ledger