Mississippi is no stranger to disparagement; deservedly for outrageous racial injustice and indefensibly when human nature seeks scapegoats.
Natives exist who cannot conceive of life beyond “the Magnolia Curtain” alongside natives who like the state less than any disapproving Yankee.
Life is not binary. The Mississippi Arts Commission’s second State Arts Conference at the Capitol on October 25, offered opportunity to appreciate the state’s better aspects. Reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,”
“I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow”
The arts are uniquely meaningful in Mississippi. Watercolorist Wyatt Waters, the keynote speaker, allows that arts provide balance: “Self-expression is not eclipsed by consumerism in places where deprivation exists. Art offers important magic and mystery.”
Wyatt said that painting does not reward hesitation. “It is response as are all arts.” Anyone asserting that arts and culture are effete and elitist would forget that Wyatt’s father was a football coach in Florence.
Late Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare John Gardner famously stated: “The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.”
Similarly, society requires artistic aptitude and athletic achievement. Appropriate amounts of compassion and contentment, mind and body, cannot exist otherwise.
Malcolm White, executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, also enjoyed a football coach father. Anyone failing to appreciate that one can be enthusiastic about sports and attend arts and cultural events needs interaction with Wyatt and Malcolm: Neither views his vocation as refutation of one’s father.
W.D. Mounger, former chair of Jackson’s International Ballet Competition, and former football player, allows that he attended the 1948 film “The Red Shoes,” while a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point after which he admired that athleticism in ballet exceeds anything on the gridiron.
Michael Beattie, executive director of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, echoes Mr. Mounger. Michael thinks a personal connection to arts and culture is essential foundation for participation and support.
Malcolm White elaborates: “The arts coalesce collaboration between communities, creative individuals and organizations. Connection to the arts occurs through personal experience — a symbiosis flowing from one’s own frame of reference.”
Malcolm says that operating his venerable Hal & Mal’s music venue and restaurant prepared him to promote the creative economy at a governmental level. Malcolm understands the best practices catalyzing the creative economy: Emphasizing cultural entrepreneurship increases the quality of life in cities and towns. Malcolm’s formative years in rural Mississippi — in Perkinston and Booneville — provides recognition that opportunities to explore big ideas are a royal road to advancement.
Eleanor Wright, executive director of the Greenville Arts Council, augmented my belief that Jeff Bezos and the Walton Family don’t need another dime; that buying online or from national chain stores headquartered elsewhere hastens the downward spiral undermining many polities. I suggest that buying holiday gifts at the Chimneyville Arts Festival — December 6 through 8, 2019 — or the Bill Waller Crafts Center — the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi Headquarters — and giving Ballet Mississippi, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Mississippi Opera or New Stage Theatre tickets might offer greater gratification than giving things of which people have more than they need. Eleanor says that: “Buying art allows connection to memory, fondness and color. Such presents are a gift to another which are a gift for another.
“People ought to purchase from local crafts people and merchants, often as possible. There are a plethora of artists, authors, craftsmen and ladies in the Delta happy to assist holiday shoppers. Memberships to arts organizations, musical events, theatre presentations, zoos and museums are also appreciated by recipients.”
Pearl River Glass craftsman Andy Young suggests that the symbolism integral in art feeds imagination and, absent ideas, societies lose creativity: “Provoking thought is essential to elevating society. Ordering online stifles communities’ output at a time that collaboration and insight are needed to address pressing problems. Societies have engaged in the creative process for thousands of years. What remains absent it is a thin, brown soup.
“Unlike patronizing businesses elsewhere, money spent locally is an economic multiplier, flowing to rent, groceries, restaurants and countless other local businesses.
“Money paid to Amazon is GONE. It’s never coming back.”
Andy employs 12 people. “Every penny paid is spent locally, save for glass and lead that cannot be acquired here, which is a small percentage of what we spend.”
Consumers need to consider whether they save anything when patronizing vendors elsewhere. Lord Darlington noted, in Oscar Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan,” that the “man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing” is cynical. Arts are indispensable to economic success. Encouraging artistic output is as essential for economic excellence as oxygen for human life.
Jay Wiener is a Northsider.