Scrolling on social media and seeing the debut of the lights in both Ocean Springs and Gulfport over the Thanksgiving holidays brought me back to the wonderful time I had along the Mississippi Gulf Coast back in May.
I arrived on a Wednesday with just enough time to check into my room at the beautiful boutique hotel, The Hemingway, located on the second floor of an old bank right as you pull into downtown Ocean Springs off Washington Avenue. I dropped my things and walked over to the Walter Anderson Museum of Art, where the Museum’s Director, Julian Rankin, had graciously organized a gathering of locals to meet me and see the vision for The Traveler. The Traveler project will reimagine the next door house and bring new programming to the Museum. It is part of their large campus work, and they received a Building Fund for the Arts grant in 2022.
Julian walked me through the project before the reception began. I enjoyed meeting so many wonderful people at the reception, including the Mayor, several WAMA Board Members, John Anderson, a few architects, and some devoted WAMA volunteers. WAMA did a fantastic job of casting a vision for the house using easels with material boards and lighting to transform the dusty home into a color dream of what will soon come. After the reception, I had the pleasure of joining Julian, WAMA Board Chair Julie Cwikla, her husband, and Jessica and Joe Cloyd for dinner at James Beard-nominated Vestige. WOW! The culinary arts were on full display here, and it was one of the best meals I had ever consumed. We chatted a bit with Chef Alex Perry and heard from him about his restaurant.
The following day began with a tasty trip to The TatoNut Shop before heading into Biloxi. I connected with MAC Arts Industry Director Kristen Brandt in Biloxi at the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. We heard from Darryl O’Donnell and toured the ceramic studio, where they hold many classes and even weekly open studio sessions. Afterward, OOMA Director David Houston showed us around the Museum, which internationally acclaimed architect Frank Gehry designed.
Following the visit at OOMA, we ventured over to Center-Stage Biloxi, a local community theatre that was about to break ground on their Building Fund for the Arts project shortly after our visit. Sherri Lipscomb, David Delk, Nicole Bradley, and John Stolarski walked us through the facility and gave us a look at the plans for the renovation of the front of the house. We even found a few funny and fun props along the way from past performances.
I finished the day with a visit to the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center, which is managed and operated by the City of Ocean Springs. Arts and Culture Coordinator Sarah Qarqish showed me around the remarkable facility that boasts an impressive array of creative programming available to the public – from podcast studios to a history museum to a theatre for performing. Sarah has done an excellent job of bringing many established and new groups and citizens into the fold of the center’s work.
In the evening, I made a quick stop in downtown Pascagoula to see the sculpture projects done by WAMA and their Public Art Enterprise initiative, which activates public art as a method to incorporate STEM principles in communities. Students collaborate to design and fabricate the works, often with established artists like Earl Dismuke and others.
The following day, I met up with MAC Commissioner Scott Naugle, who kicked off our day with an uplifting meeting at Pass Books in Gulfport with members of the Gulfport Arts Center – Jeri Pilgrim, Mark Kelso, and Laurie Toups. We were also joined by Sean Pittman, who is a dancer, artist, business owner, and coffee aficionado (honestly, what can’t Sean do!). Following our morning gathering, Scott and I stopped by the Gulfport Arts Center to take a look around. The former Carnegie Library is beautifully situated in downtown Gulfport and recently received a Building Fund for the Arts grant in our most recent round.
Next, Scott and I joined the prolific author and joyful Margaret McMullin and accomplished filmmaker Patrick O’Connor on their front porch for breezy ocean air conversation and introduction. Afterward, we headed to Roberts Place Cafe – a newly opened diner in downtown Pass Christian. Owner Dorothy Roberts met us to show us around the restaurant, which is a love letter to her parents and family. Dorothy also took us through her next-door artisan shop, Robin’s Nest, named after her sister, Robin Roberts.
Scott and I walked around downtown Pass Christian, stopping in an art gallery and a family-owned olive oil store. We landed at Scott and Sean’s own Pass Books – the original location of their bookstore and coffee shop concept that is taking over the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The food and beverages here are incredible. Y’all, I ate at these establishments four times on this trip alone! It was THAT good. The sweetened hibiscus berry tea is my favorite.
Scott and I were joined for lunch by Betty Sparkman, an Alderperson who leads the Art in the Pass event. We discussed ways to bring public art into Pass Christian and all sorts of creative ideas. Next, we stopped by the JW Randolph Center and walked around the outside before heading to the Pass Christian Public Library. The library is beautifully situated with other core civic buildings and features a wave sculpture that was partially funded by a grant from MAC post-Katrina. We met Wendy Allard, a Librarian there, and she told me about their ticket check-out program that allows families to “check out” tickets to area cultural facilities to visit them for free!
Our final stop was at 100 Men Hall – a place I had never been to nor heard of. Rachel Dangermond is the owner and self-titled custodian of this historic music venue that was part of the Chitlin Circuit. Board member, artist, and photographer Ann Madden also met us there. I was so moved and inspired by Rachel’s story and the story of the Hall. The history, the legends who played there, and their impact on the community are outstanding.
The Mississippi Gulf Coast is so much more than 62 miles of scenic coastline – which is so beautiful in and of itself. The coastal towns are bursting with vibrant arts and culture just waiting to be discovered and engaged. If you haven’t spent time there, I highly recommend a 3-4 day trip to press your feet in the sand, experience these remarkable facilities, and more. I’ve already made an additional visit down to the coast during my time, and I found a whole new array of beautiful things about the MS Gulf Coast.