David’s Travel Log – Laurel & Hattiesburg
Hello! Welcome to my travel log. As I travel all around the state and country in relation to my new role at the Mississippi Arts Commission as Executive Director, I want to bring you along. Sketching has been a part of my creative expression since refining it in architectural school, and I love to sketch when I travel. I have been so inspired by all that I have seen and the people I have met. I want to share that with you through this series. I hope you’ll enjoy the journey.
Having only been on the job for less than three weeks, I found myself headed on my way for my first trip in my new role. I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, for the South Arts Board convening. I was excited and unsure of what to expect and didn’t know anyone in the room. My only friend, who was also on the board, was Nina Parikh, who couldn’t make it to Savannah for this trip. It wasn’t until the last day of the convening that I saw a familiar face unexpectedly. During the trip, I learned that South Arts invited the Southern Cultural Treasures recipients to Savannah and had them on a separate initial convening simultaneously. And on the last day, during lunch, I finally got to meet our Southern Cultural Treasures: the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center and Sipp Culture /the Mississippi Center for Cultural Production. Carlton Turner was there with Sipp Culture —my first familiar face. I took a moment to ask Malika, Carlton, Brandy, and Misty to join me for lunch to talk about their outstanding facilities and how MAC can support them. John T. Edge joined me as the other Mississippi representative on the board, and we had a wonderful conversation. At this moment, I realized how inspired I was by this trip and all that I would get to do in this new role. I realized that I could see parts of Mississippi that I hadn’t seen before and hear all about the incredible, creative, and dynamic work being done across our state.
I decided to take the early months of my new role to visit regions of our state in several-day increments. There are many people to see and get to know, and I want them to know that I’m doing everything I can to meet as many people as possible, even if I can’t meet everyone all at once. So, if I have not come to see you yet or didn’t get to see you when I was in town, please let me know so I can make sure to see you next time.
For my first in-state trip, I headed to Laurel and then Hattiesburg. Fresh off connecting with so many wonderful people during Arts Day at the Capitol, I had the opportunity to visit with Adam Trest and George Bassi in Laurel, Mississippi. Now we all know Laurel is doing some fantastic things. But these fantastic things are truly happening more so because of the locals rather than just the TV show on HGTV (which has obviously had a tremendous impact on the community). A group of young creative Laurel citizens has dedicated themselves to revitalizing the city by breathing new, long-lasting, sustainable, vibrant life into their community. Their work is changing the whole game. I was inspired to see Laurel through Adam’s eyes, to see his studio and the Caron Gallery, which his wonderful, brilliant wife Lily runs. We stopped at Grits and Some for breakfast, where I ran into Earl Dismuke, a sculptor in Oxford. We journeyed around the city, ending up at a food truck on the edge of downtown by the Scotsman General Store. I also got to spend quality time with George Bassi, the Director of the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art, and hear about the 100-year celebration they have been holding recently. George was my first Arts Hour interview, and I could not have had a better guest to ease me into my role as a radio show/podcast host. I was able to see firsthand the tremendous impact that their Building Fund for the Arts grant had on the exterior of the building, shoring up their brickwork and cleaning the facade specifically in preparation for this milestone anniversary. The visit to Laurel began to help me understand the clear impact of the work the Mississippi Arts Commission is doing across our state.
From Laurel, I headed into Hattiesburg, where I would stay for the next few nights, and had a delicious dinner – as always – at Ed’s Burger Joint. The milkshake and sweet potato fries with the marshmallow cream sauce never miss.
The following morning, I visited the delightful Hattiesburg Zoo with my wife and daughter. Afterward, I connected with MAC Commissioner Becky Montague and Visit Hattiesburg Executive Director and tourism superhero Marlo Dorsey for a full public art tour throughout the city. The Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art, the City of Hattiesburg, and Visit Hattiesburg have taken the concept of public art and run with it. Mayor Toby Barker even put it in his strategic plan to have 100 murals throughout the city by the year 2025! They have 44 murals up now that have transformed this city in some amazing ways. Hattiesburg is doing everything possible to truly become a city that invests in and supports the arts community.
We visited T-Bones Records & Cafe, which is always a personal favorite place of mine in Hattiesburg. Take me to any record store in any city; I’m a happy guy. And, for that matter, show me excellent Public Art in a great city, and I’m even happier. We walked with the Main Street Director and several others throughout downtown to see the public spaces transformed through investment in public art. One of our stops included the Hattiesburg Pocket Museum and alleyway that is flooded with murals and engaging works of art.
The following day, we met at the Hattiesburg Community Art Center, where we connected with Mayor Toby Barker and Emily Gallaspy to check out the amazing work they are doing at this hub for local arts and artists. The former warehouse is, piece-by-piece, being transformed into a facility that is driven by the needs of the community and the arts. They, too, are a recipient of the Building Fund for the Arts grant and will soon begin their work on transforming an ample space in the building into a black box theater. At the end of my trip, we gathered for lunch with team members of Festival South at Southern Prohibition Brewery. Y’all need to get to this festival at all costs. They are starting the whole festival with an elaborate and blockbuster local production of Beauty and the Beast. Do I need to say more? They have stacked the deck for the festival with an array of spectacular performances.
While I still have lots of wonderful Hattiesburg and Laurel arts players to see and connect with here in the near future, I hope you are able to see a small slice of the robust work being done in the arts in just these two communities. There is so much more to share with you and even more for me to learn about. I hope you’ll follow along and connect with me as I travel. Up next: the Delta.