At one point, she admits, MAC Grants Director Diane Williams may have made more money as a MAC Roster Artist than she did from her state government salary. In her 16 years at the Mississippi Arts Commission, Diane Williams made much more than money: the friends, experiences and connections made through her service with MAC will provide her with happy memories for years to come as she embarks on her next adventure: retirement.
Friday, June 28, 2019, will mark Diane’s last day at MAC. Melody Moody Thortis, MAC’s current arts-based community development director, will then take the reins as grants director. A new arts-based community development director will begin working at MAC after July 1.
Diane is looking forward to retirement. She will move into a new apartment complex exclusively for senior citizens and has plans to reinvigorate her work as a visual artist, writer and teaching artist.
“I don’t want to be on anyone’s board,” said Diane with a laugh when discussing her vision for retirement. “I want to do what I want to do, and I will still be the person pointing people to the Mississippi Arts Commission.”
Diane’s relationship with MAC started when she became a MAC Roster Artist in 1995. She was a storyteller, teaching artist, as well as a fiber artist.
“I always understood that the government doesn’t fund the arts for arts’ sake,” said Diane. “I knew right away that we had to impact learning and to do that, we had to find out what students were learning. Art impacts a lot of our lives, and we can use it to make a difference.”
Diane has always been passionate about education and how the arts and creative teaching methods enhance students’ learning. Through her career, she has been involved with Whole Schools, published two teacher resource books as well as a book of Mississippi stories, articles for national publications and poetry.
Former MAC executive director Tim Hedgepeth hired Diane as Arts Industry Director in 2003. Right away, she was tasked with coordinating a statewide accessibility conference, which challenged her to think about abilities in a new way. Another fond memory of her early days with MAC was working on a project with the Mississippi State Hospital and Gateway Rescue Mission to make art with vulnerable populations such as the homeless, mentally ill and women newly released from prison. The group published a book about their art and poetry titled Images from the Edge.
Her work with MAC changed in 2005 in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. With so many artists displaced from the storm, MAC focused its efforts on helping these artists return to work.
When she was promoted to Grants Director in 2014, Diane worked hard to make sure that artists were aware of opportunities at MAC.
“I’ve always enjoyed the celebration of announcing fellowship recipients and keeping up with them to watch what they produce,” said Diane. “For the applicants who do not receive a grant, I always tell them to look at feedback as an opportunity to further develop their skills. I love watching artists reach high levels of professionalism, and I’ll continue to do that.”
As she embarks on her next adventure, Diane plans to stay involved with MAC and the arts community in Mississippi. A New Jersey native, she says she intends to remain in Mississippi.
“Back home, a night on the town meant seeing a Broadway play and enjoying fine dining, but we have all of that here,” she says of Jackson’s offerings.
She is comforted knowing that she is leaving the agency with the grants director position in the capable hands of Melody Moody Thortis and the leadership of Malcolm White.
“I feel like we have a strong focus for the agency,” said Diane. “I can’t wait to apply for a MAC grant as an artist!”
Diane Williams will certainly be missed.