Arts in Mississippi

Legislators in both houses are currently considering a bill that would abolish the Mississippi Arts Commission and transfer its responsibilities to the Mississippi Development Authority. Sponsors of the bill see it as a way to streamline the relationship between Mississippi’s arts scene and its tourism industry. It’s true that small-town museums and festivals across the state compete for visitors and resources, and that there are probably ways for them to work together more efficiently. It’s also true that the MDA could promote relationships between arts and businesses that are mutually beneficial.

However, there’s a cynical way to view this bill. First, the budget for the Arts Commission is only $1.7 million, which suggests that the urge to save money by consolidating agencies is, in this case, an over-reach. It also seems apparent that success in the arts and success in developing businesses involve fairly different standards. Good art does not necessarily have anything to do with efficiency or business elan. Finally, a goodly number of artists lean to the left politically; in Mississippi, many of those artists are women and people of color. Could legislation like this be a way for our conservative leaders to exercise greater control over the political content or art, or an effort to tamp down “liberal” influences in favor of those that involve business?

Update: This bill died.

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21 Responses to Arts in Mississippi

  1. Darby Meadows says:

    Mississippi art is a huge contribution to tourism and the culture of our state. It is sad that so many people don’t value it and would want to cut it. I’m from Oxford and I grew up seeing how much art and literature helps a town. Form tourism to the culture, art makes Oxford the town I love. The arts and education don’t get enough funding in Mississippi. End of story.

  2. Mariana Strawn says:

    Mississippi is perhaps a State best known for its artistic forms. There are regions, such as the Delta, known for their Blues music–others such as the Gulf Coast are known for sculptures and painters. I grew up in Ocean Springs, MS, near Biloxi. There, we learned about Walter Anderson (the famous Walter Anderson festival) and the “Mad Potter of Biloxi”. Art is an incredible form of identity. Knowing that the budget is only $1.7 million it doesn’t seem that the savings would be incredibly high–and any money going toward the arts is greatly necessary. In terms of structure, Ocean Springs in particular thrives off of the tourism that it receives from the arts.

  3. Mariat Thankachan says:

    Clarksdale, “The Home of the Blues”, is a significant part of the Delta. Thousands of tourists from all over the world attend our Delta Jubilee and Blues Fest each year. I admit this is a great way to bring in money, but our art exhibits and music performances are part of tradition, elements of a culture that the native folks hold close to their hearts. Each song and canvas painting portrays history and expressions of deep emotions. I am not sure if there are political ties to our festivals or if it is all about the money, but it is evident that this culture has been on-going for generations and people prepare for it all year, aspiring to show off their talents to the world.

  4. Sabrina Solomon says:

    For one, I know that my home town, Meridian, is building a brand new art museum just to bring in tourism. Its not just about the art though; its about a new place to hold conferences, events, and weddings. I would love to see more of the arts and have it become a place where people go often. However, this is unrealistic. Our state does indeed ignore the arts until it actually brings in money. Mississippi needs to up their art game by focusing on what art can do in our lives not by what money it brings in.

  5. Mary Owings says:

    It is completely irrational to think that one could correlate business with art frequently and successfully. Primarily, the money that goes to the arts is an extremely minor percent of the budget. Trying to combine it with something else for this small amount of money is cowardly. The arts access several people who think with the creative side of their brain and should fuel their future careers and influences. Attempting to diminish this small amount of money would negatively affect many more people over any possible outcome of attempting to combine art with business.

  6. Samuel Patterson III says:

    While I believe that Mississippi politicians have many issues, I don’t believe that they want to impose their conservative political will on the liberal artist. This state is strapped for cash and they are looking for any way to save money. They should keep the arts commission, especially for a state where America’s music is sworn to be birthed. Maybe one day Mississippi lawmakers will realize that raising taxes and using the government to spur economic growth will make everyone’s life better.

  7. Stephanie Dauber says:

    I can understand how possible they would like to integrate them to include more art into architecture or building development, but quite frankly, they’re two separate departments. As seen with the health care and education cuts, it does just seem like they are trying to combine two committees to save money. Unlike others, fine art does not come to mind when I think of Mississippi and I believe that keeping it alive as long as possible without submerging its mission underneath another more powerful one would cause it to lose its entire purpose.

  8. Liam McDougal says:

    Destroying Mississippi’s arts programs would be destroying one of the things, besides food, that we’re actually good at. People travel from across the country and world to see the Mississippi music and art scene, and if these programs were underfunded or destroyed, there would hardly be any redeeming factors left in this state. We have given rise to some of the most influential artists the world has ever seen, and taking away the funding to do what has worked time and time again would just be naive.

  9. Sarah Swiderski says:

    Mississippi’s greatest contribution hast arguably been in the arts, as evidenced by artists like Elvis Presley and Eudora Welty.
    Further, it is the art programs that often act as beacons of worth at schools that rank second to last in education nation-wide. The performing arts at my old school were one of the only things I actually enjoyed.
    My point is, decreasing art funding could be disastrous. A trade-off, however, could be beneficial. If more money went to education than, say, football or, as much as it pains me, the arts, fourth graders may have a more diverse pool to choose from for their famous Mississippians projects.
    Not that this is what this bill was proposing.

  10. Yousef Abu-Salah says:

    Our state possesses one of the richest writing scenes in the entirety of America, with countless writers originating from a humble state including the likes of you Dr. Easterling (;)). Diversity is the greatest strength of art, and this diversity would be in trouble if this bill had gone through. The shackles that they possess on art will not disappear for as long as art continues to not be a steady form of monetary value, and this will never happen. To be frank, the only great thing that has come out of our state in modern times are legendary artists, but it seems that our state possesses no resepct for such figures. We would rather fund the football programs all across our state rather than our artists, and this is truly a shame. Our state is already continually losing its culture with each artist that leaves us, so this could cause our state to entirely lose the creativity and brilliance that made it Mississippi.

  11. Kendall Wells says:

    Coming from a town (Ocean Springs) where art is a large influence of tourism, and seeing that the budget for the MAC is only $1.7 million, I don’t see a point in cutting it. Thankfully this bill died, because what makes the art industry so popular is the diversity of the artists. It brings more artists and tourists into the state and therefore, more money. If conservative leaders had large control over art, our artists would leave and no tourists would visit, leaving the state’s art industry barren.

  12. Kayla says:

    Education should be focused on but I think that also include fine arts, in many cases it is an outlets for students to express themselves when they have no other outlet. Taking that away from them would affect how they want to express themselves otherwise. In Mississippi especially, I do not see how they would want to cut the arts, when many famous artist call Mississippi their home.

  13. Aurelia Caine says:

    Once again looks like we are making arts not important in Mississippi. Considering the fact that we are the origin of many artists and genres, this doesn’t make much sense. The state has to stop caring about the money as much as they do. They are missing the true value of the arts worrying about the financial side of it. Mississippi doesn’t have a surplus of things. If we take away arts which is apart of the culture, then what’s left?…

  14. Landry Filce says:

    I believe that the consolidation of the Arts department with any other department compromises the integrity of art. Art is unlike anything else, and it certainly should not be combined with any other program in the political sector. In particular, art and tourism should not be merged. The point of art is not to advertise, nor should it be dictated to present our state in any particular way. Art is the sole property and expression of the artist, it is meant to tell the stories of life and soul, and, while it can have political themes, those themes should not be mandatory, but rather the choice of the artist.

  15. Kennedy LaPorte says:

    I’m extensively liberal however this proposed bill does not bother me that much. Bureaucracy is notoriously messy as everything takes many steps and everything goes through many people. Perhaps streamlining this process isn’t such a bad thing, and as you said the government really does not get that much money from cutting out the Arts Commission. This makes me think that the purpose of this bill really is just make things easier for everyone, which I am completely in support of. I think this bill could build a bridge between business and art and allow them to connect, bettering both because they don’t have to be apart and in opposition of each other. Also I don’t agree with the notion that this bill could hurt the art industry. Artists have always created art through difficult situations, and if they stop creating simply because business and art are a little more connected then they weren’t very good artists anyway.

    Even though the bill didn’t pass, I still think it’s an interesting concept that could be built on and implemented in some other way.

  16. Vera L. Taire says:

    I am heavily involved with the Mississippi art community. Robin Whitfield, an accomplished painter from my area, took several art students under her wing. From time spent with her in the studio and in the field, I have observed that you cannot streamline process. You cannot stifle creativity by molding into a fiscally responsible, bland business, and you shouldn’t try.

    It is a relief that this particular bill died. I do think there were merits to attempting to open communication between art, tourism, and business. However, there are ways to facilitate a conversation without melding them together.

  17. Kamal Bhalla says:

    Thankfully this bill died, because while process in Mississippi is very rare, it would have became a written proof on how backwards we actually are. While it makes sense that this would have helped with the money problems, it does not make sense onto why they would want to stop the progress of arts. Even though Mississippi is not popular as other states, it is known for the artists that came out of here. And if we take that away, then what would we have left? Racist southern people and only some “southern hospitality”?

  18. Brianna Ladnier says:

    Mississippi is a place that has been home to many famous artists, and we are continuing to create them. However, if there isn’t an obvious monetary value that politicians and such can see, it is automatically labeled as lesser than. Although I believe that art is a huge draw in tourism, they would prefer to shackle creative freedom even more.

  19. Harlynn Robinson says:

    This seems to be a typical case of our legislature dismissing anything it doesn’t fully understand. The value of art and education cannot be measured in monetary value. Monetary value seems to be all the state cares about. Not placing higher values on free thinking is leading to a dreadful circle of close minded people raising close minded people who dismiss their liberal peers. We can’t go anywhere as a state without an educated group of people making decisions for future groups of people based off of more than strict monetary value.

  20. Devon M says:

    I think that the arts and just education in general need to be focused on more in government. I mean HELLO, this is the FUTURE of AMERICA here, well, most of us anyways. I mean, yeah, there are going to be those who do not try to do well in school, but, even if they turn out to be plumbers or fry cookers, they are still betterment to our society. I think education is a huge priority and it should be focused on more often than other things. The future of America needs the funding of education and the arts, because, without it, society will go on the decline…. major time.

  21. Jackson Sparkman says:

    Continuing the tradition in our state of ignoring the arts, to pursue a more “fiscally responsible” path. The bill gives full responsibility of calling meetings at the beck and call of the Director of the MDA. I honestly think its just another way of making arts not a priority in state that has birthed the most influential artists in modern history.

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