Mississippi Arts Commission

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Metallic building under construction

The Ohr-O'KeefeMuseum in Biloxi under construction, one week before Hurricane Katrina arrived. The museum plans to rebuild the Frank Gehry-designed campus damaged during the storm. Photo by Bob Brooks.

Mississippi's thriving arts and culture tradition has produced luminaries such as Eudora Welty, B.B. King, Richard Wright, and Walter Anderson, to name just a few. According to a 2006 survey by Americans for the Arts, the state's Gulf Coast is home to 754 arts-related businesses, employing nearly 3,500 people. "Culture with its colorful and deep presence is the lifeblood of the coast," says Mississippi Arts Commission Executive Director Malcolm White. "Cultural tourism is the past and the future."

Hurricane Katrina decimated not only the physical repositories of the coast culture -- galleries, museums, personal artwork -- but also the means of continuing those traditions. "Livelihoods and supplemental vocations are gone," says White. "But artists, in their normal response to change, have grieved and are moving forward."

The Mississippi Arts Commission has instigated that forward momentum with its passionate commitment to rebuilding the Gulf Coast's arts community. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the agency provided financial and emotional support to more than 200 individual fine and traditional artists and 40 arts organizations, devoting 25 percent of its budget to redevelopment efforts.

To support these efforts, the NEA awarded the arts commission an emergency grant of $50,200, one of eight hurricane-relief grants to Mississippi cultural organizations. Using the NEA funds, the arts commission organized grant workshops at three sites to help artists and arts organizations effectively seek funding for recovery efforts. The commission also formed an alliance with three of the state's cultural agencies -- the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the Mississippi Library Commission, and the Mississippi Humanities Council -- to plan The Cultural Charette: Conversations on Coast Community Life. This two-day forum for community and cultural leaders will encourage and facilitate collaboration among local arts organizations on recovery efforts. In partnership with the Ohr-O'Keefe Museum of Art, theWalter Anderson Museum, and the Dusti Bonge Foundation, the arts commission also has planned a statewide program of performances, exhibitions, tours, and education programs -- modeled after the NEA's American Masterpieces program -- designed to familiarize Mississippians with their artistic and cultural heritage.

White says that the arts commission's leadership role in recovery efforts will illustrate that "the arts must have a seat at the table, not simply hang on the wall or stand in the corner, because the arts are critical to economic development and the regrowth of the area." He adds that the arts are a significant part of the state's recovery efforts, as they are "the hope that cannot be lost or blown away. Reweaving the massive fabric of arts, music, food, and celebration that constitutes the heart and soul of our coastal area is an overwhelming project, but must not be allowed to erode or be excluded from the redevelopment and rebuilding because the traditions and customs of several lifetimes will be washed away as well."