Monday, October 10, 2011

MAC goes YouTube

Thanks to our in-house, multi-media genius, Susan Dobbs, the MAC now has a YouTube Channel. Check out our channel and stay in tune with all the fun video projects taking place at the MAC.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Susan goes to Film School

MAC PR Director Susan Dobbs is wrapping up her final week as a student in the Barefoot Workshops documentary film course held bi-annually at Clarksdale's Shack Up Inn. Susan is working with photographer (and now filmmaker) David Rae Morris on a film about legendary Mississippi rocker and artist Duff Dorrough. Check out the film's debut this Friday night at the Shack Up Inn!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Boys of Summer

I ran into this group of young men on a Saturday walk in the Fondren neighborhood of Jackson. Each and every one of the guys could do flips and back handsprings. It was a beautiful sight to see!

Meeting these young men reminded me of my own childhood and the ways my brothers and I filled our long summer Saturdays. I was a mud pie gal, myself. My brothers, on the other hand, had machetes and would carve trails through the dense cane thickets near our rural home. It makes me think a bit about the way we "play" here in Mississippi. What are some of the folk traditions in our state that serve as ways to play? Would we consider games like "Red Rover" a folk tradition? Surely mud pies fall into the folk! What about clover necklaces and catching lightening bugs? Do you have any to add?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Creative Economy Summit

The MAC has been in partnership with the Mississippi Development Authority for quite some time on a very big project: an all encompassing study of the creative economy in Mississippi. Such a study is quite an undertaking and it took lots of brain power and research to explore the vast creative jobs and industries based here in the Magnolia State. Last week, we unveiled the study and its revealing results to a knock-out crowd at the Jackson Convention Center. We heard about the importance of creative jobs in the information age from Governor Barbour and our hopes for new, creative industries were increased by the words of Mary Peavey. MAC directory Malcolm White mapped out the creative nooks and crannies of our landscape and helped us all to better understand the true creative goldmine that is Mississippi.

The attendees were engaged, excited and diverse: The Creative Economy Summit was not a place for a free boxed lunch and a day away from the computer. It was truly a moment of enlightenment, of hope and inspiration. Attendees experienced an intense "speed dating" session of varied creative economy topics, in-depth break-out sessions and an all encompassing panel discussion on best practices for growing the creative economy in your community.

At the end of the day, everyone in attendance was asking for more. The presenters, the attendees, the staff and the artists... everyone wanted more of the enrichment that only a creative economy can bring: One that nourishes the soul and pads the pocket book.

Go here to listen to Governor Barbour talk about the "creative assets" of our state.

Go here to download the full Creative Economy study.

In the meantime, a few facts:

  • In Mississippi the relative concentration of people employed in all creative enterprises was 32 percent higher than Alabama, 15 percent higher than Kentucky, 14 percent higher than South Dakota and 54 percent higher than west Virginia.

  • 60,704 people are employed in Mississippi's creative economy, including both employees of creative companies (ie: Viking Range) and employees of other companies who work in creative occupations (ie: graphic designers).

  • Mississippi's creative enterprises (ie: McCarty Pottery) are responsible for the employment of 40,284 people in just under 3,000 establishments with almost one in three of these people 9,580-- working in a creative occupation.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Arts Service at its Best

Congratulations to MAC staffers Lee Powell and Shirley Smith on their dedicated service to the arts. In July 2011, Lee marked 10 years at the MAC and Shirley marked 25 years at the MAC. The day-to-day operations of this agency rely on the experience and expertise of these two bright women and we are very proud to call them our own. Congratulations, Lee and Shirley, and thank you for all you do for the arts in Mississippi.

Malcolm presents Lee with her award certificate from Governor Barbour.
Malcolm and Shirley stop for a smile in the MAC conference room. Thanks for 25 years, Shirley!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Folk Arts Apprenticeship Site Visit

I decided to take the heat to another level this morning during a site visit to the blacksmith shop at the Mississippi Agricultural & Forrestry Museum. Master blacksmith Bill Pevey and his apprentice Butch Hand were wrapping up a few final lessons to complete the year-long MAC Folk Arts Apprenticeship program. The coal fire was blazing upon my arrival, and Butch was forging steel as Bill was laying out several of the tools that the two crafted during the apprenticeship. To see the full collection of their work from the apprenticeship, make sure to visit us here at the MAC offices on Thursday, August 4 from 2-4 p.m. for the Folk Arts Apprenticeship Gallery Reception. We'll have metal arts and quilts on display in the gallery. We'll also experience a peformance by the Irish dance apprenticeship, featuring master artist Catherine Sherer Bishop and apprentice Tavia Ethredge.

Butch and Bill at their stations in the blacksmith shop.

The nucleus: coal.

Butch heats the steel until it is hot enough to be shaped.

Butch begins the lengthening process by hammering the hot steel.

Bill steps in to supervise.

A few of the finished products from the Folk Arts Apprenticeship program include: hammers, knives, forks, spoons and various blacksmithing tools.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Mississippi Cultural Crossroads

The 2011 Summer Interns from Mississippi Cultural Crossroads in Port Gibson visited the MAC offices on July 11 during a field trip to Jackson. The students came to learn more about the arts in state government, and to see the work of fellow Port Gibson resident, quilter Tammy McGrew. Pictured from Left to Right: Mississippi Cultural Crossroads Director Tara Wren, Brianna S. Wren, Jarrius Brandon, Jarvis Sims, Dabreona Monroe, Wally Curry and Tamara Bell. We wish these students the best of luck and a bright future in the arts as they enter the upcoming fall semester!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Grassroots Blues Festival

The 9th Annual Grassroots Blues Festival in Duck Hill got started around noon this past Saturday, July 9. I traveled north on Highway 55 and took the Duck Hill exit, immediately sighing a breath of releif to be cruising up and down rural Highway 404through the lush, green hills of Montgomery County. Upon arrival, I met the most friendly folks. The people working the gates were happy to see me and knew I was coming to see all the good things taking place in their small community of 750 folks. The MAC's own Larry Morrisey was backing up bluesman Louis Arzo "Gearshifter" Youngblood on drums, where they wrapped the set with a soulful "Happy Birthday" for festival organizer Al White. Al is the director of Action Communication and Education Reform, an arts and social activism organization he spearheaded in the early 1990s. (Learn more about Al and his organization by downloading my Mississippi Arts Hour interview on podcast.)

Excellent music continued throughout the day, including a set from duo Alphonso Sanders and Bill "Howlin' Madd" Perry, both artists on the MAC's Artist Roster. I was especially excited to see that Bill's daughter has joined the band and was jiving on keys.

The unexpected favorite for me, however, was a group out of Baton Rouge: Leroy Conish and Band featuring Nicole Jackson. This group offered a smooth, soul blues sound and Nickee was on fire: This lady was built to perform. No two ways about it!

Last, but certainly not least, there was good food everywhere. Lots of the festival-goers brought their own grills, but vendors were there providing foodways for folks like me who left the grill at home. I bought a gallon zip-lock bag of freshly made pork skins and MAC PR director, Susan Dobbs, opted for the fried catfish plate.

In my opinion, the only way to beat the heat in Mississippi in July, is to lather on the blues and soak up the fried food!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

MS Follklife and Folk Artist Directory: UPDATES!

The Mississippi Folklife and Folk Artist Directory is the brainchild of my predecessor here at the MAC, Larry Morrisey. When Larry launched this site, he provided folk artists and traditions an online venue to be documented, celebrated and explored. Many researchers and enthusiasts look to the directory as a way to learn more about folklife in Mississippi, and we are very proud of the growing list of entries.

Fans of the Folklife Directory have a lot to look forward to this summer. We'll be adding nearly 30 new entries to the Directory covering a range of topics including blues, old-time string music, Celtic flute, Choctaw storytelling, folk art painting and luthiers. You'll get bio information, images and in some cases, audio and video, to help you better understand folklife in the Magnolia State. Documentary research was conducted by blues historian Scott Barretta, ethnomusicologist Chris Goertzen and writer Melanie Young.

Stay tuned and check back often for updates to Mississippi Folklife and Folk Artist Directory!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Arts Advocacy at Our Nation's Capitol

While in Washington DC to perform at the Homegrown Concert Series at the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center, Ben Payton and the Thundering Harps stopped in for a visit with Senator Roger Wicker. Pictured from left to right are Ben Payton, MAC's Mary Margaret Miller, Sen. Roger Wicker, Kendrick Hart, Cyndi Clark and Steve Chester.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sirius in DC

As a part of our adventure to DC, blues musician Ben Wiley Payton recorded a few songs in the SiriusXM Satellite Radio studios. I traveled with Ben and served as liaison and folklorist for his performances at the Library of Congress and the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage as part of the American Folklife Center's Homegrown Concert Series. I'll post soon with all of the wonderful details.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Cultural Heritage in Belzoni

Highway 49 is one of my favorite routes out of the Capitol City. Growing up in Greenwood, we always too Highway 55 south to Jackson. We hardly ever traveled 49 to the "City with Soul." Once I moved to Jackson and found myself living in the heart of the city, I started using 49 as my main thoroughfare to the Delta for work trips, and for pleasure.

I've been obsessed with the Flood of 2011, and rightfully so. My friends and brethren in the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas, as well as Memphis and eastern Lousiana, are having a tough time watching the waters rise as they pack everything they own into trailers and haul it all to higher ground. Facebook, particularly this page, has been very helpful in keeping up with the developments surrounding the flood. I've also enjoyed following the photograghs posted by blogger Kallie Dreher on her site, Hello Delta.

I got to see some high water for myself yesterday, as I once again took 49 out of Jackson and headed northeast to Belzoni, Catfish Capitol of the World. My destination was the Hooper Community Center on Silver City Road, where I'd be meeting with Helen Sims, a lady who wears many hats. Today she was convening a meeting of the Culture-Heritage Consortium, a grassroots organization that works to promote heritage tourism in Belzoni and Humphreys County. Sims has started an entrepreneural training program for unemployed, underemployed and part-time workers. The program brings in guest speakers to share information about various avenues to economic development. I was a guest speaker for Thursday's meeting, and shared some ideas about heritage tourism in Mississippi, and the great potential to build a creative economy in Humphrey's County. I presented alongside Marvin Haire, director of the Delta Research and Cultural Institute at Mississippi Valley State University.

It was inspiring to see so many young faces in the crowd. While I realize these individuals were present because they are unemployed, underemployed or part-time, the ideas circulating through the room and the greater sense of pride in place was remarkable. One girl shared her love for designing and tayloring clothes, as well as a special barbeque marinade that she hopes to bottle and mass market to tourists. After the meeting we all gathered in the cafe at Hooper Community Center and shared an amazing meal of southern soul food. Truly, I tell you, the BEST butterbeans I've ever had. Hands down. Next time you are traveling 49, make sure to stop in the Hooper Community Center Cafe and get a good meal. They are open Monday-Friday for lunch. You'll thank me later!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Delta Blues Museum's Debut Album

Our friends over in Clarksdale at the Delta Blues Museum have a lot to celebrate. They broke ground in March on the Muddy Waters Addition, a long anticipated bricks and mortar project which expands the museum by 7,000 feet. The Muddy Waters Addition will be home to the remains of Muddy Waters' cabin and other interpretive materials surrounding the life and creative work of the famed Mississippi bluesman. "The Muddy Waters Addition represents the museum's ongoing commitment to our mission, honoring the history and heritage of Delta Blues music, musicians and their important influence," said DBM board president William Gresham in a press release issued by the museum.

And while honoring the history and heritage of the blues is a big part of what happens at the DBM, you'd be remiss to overlook the energy and youth that is also central the the museum's mission. The Arts and Education Program has grown tremendously under the guidance of museum director Shelley Ritter and her staff of dedicated blues musicians. The purpose of the DBM's Arts and Education Program is to continue the great musical tradition born in the Mississippi Delta: the Delta blues. Students are taught to play the blues on the instrument or instruments of their choice.

The MAC invited the DBM Band to perform during our 2009 Day at the Capitol advocacy campaign, and they knocked the socks off our state senators and representatives. We even had people dancing on the Capitol floor! Over the past two years I've seen the DBM band perform at festivals around the Delta and they keep getting better and better.

Hence, the release of their first studio album, From Clarksdale to Kansas City, Vol. 1. This 12-track CD covers a range of classic Delta blues tunes such as Muddy Water's Catfish Blues and Memphis Slim's Everyday I Have the Blues. More contemporary R&B hits like Bill Withers No Sunshine show off the band's groovability, and special guests Charlie Musselwhite and Bill Abel help to nicely tie the ecletic mix together.

Album artwork was created by the students themselves, and liner notes by Robin Rushing make it clear that the blues is alive and well in the Mississippi Delta. Rushing writes,

"One of the grittiest andmost natural forms of musical expression, the blues borrows a lot from nature. and nature teaches us that simply because a plant is not in full bloom that doesn't mean it's dead; it simply means it's preparing for the next season. As the seasons turn, something that once seemed withered suddenly bursts forth in a luscious green, bearing flowers, fruit, bounty. Bearing beauty. The same applies to the blues, and the DBM's Arts & Education classes are simply nutrients that supplement the natural progression of this important, everlasting musical form."

All proceeds from the sale of the album benefit the Arts and Education program, a worthy way to update your music collection and help the greater good of arts, music and culture in the Mississippi Delta!

For more information about the CD, the Delta Museum Band or any of the museum's programs, please call (662) 627-6820, or visit the Museum web site at (Note: the website is a great resource for blues news, educational materials and site-seeing.)

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Farewell Gwen Magee

(photo courtesy Roy A. Adkins,

We got word at the MAC offices this morning that textile artist Gwen Magee has died. Gwen, known for her strong spirit and her powerful narrative quilts, was honored with the Artistic Excellence award at the 2011 Governor's Awards for Excellence in the Arts. Gwen's work often depicts the harsh realities of African-American life in the American South. Her work can be found in the Smithsonian, the Missississippi Arts Center and the Mississippi Museum of Art's "Mississippi Story" exhibition. She was recently interviewed by GĂ©raldine Chouard and Anne Cremieux, two French documentary filmmakers, who are working on a feature about Gwen and her work. (See their short film on quilter Riche Richardson here.) She was 67.

Read today's Clarion-Ledger story on Gwen's legacy.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Spring Scenes

A tiny water lily bloom in my parent's pond. Decor for the frogs.

Honeysuckle vine growing near my parking space at work. Smells so sweet.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Attala County Naturalist

I spent the afternoon with self-taught painter and naturalist James Sanders last fall. James started out paining landscapes on canavas. He now uses craft paint to intricately decorate ceramics and pottery he finds at second-hand stores. James is inspired by ancient Chinese painting and the natural wonders of his surroundings outside of Kosciusko in Attala County.

James inspects one of the many of the tumbled stones that he has painted and made part of his home collection.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Why I Love Martha Foose

There are many reasons I love Martha Foose. First off, one of my early feature stories for Delta Magazine was a profile on Martha and her then restaurant and bakery, Mockingbird, in Greenwood. At the time she had a baby boy named Joe (who's now grown into a young man of 8 years) and was getting her initial taste for managing professional life with motherhood. She served me a pimento cheese with unsweet tea on Donald's (her husband) perfected sourdough bread and shared with me that it was his bread, not his charm, that first won her heart during their courtship in Oxford, Mississippi.

Donald would soon become a dear friend of my father (who is well 30 years Donald's senior) and the two became somewhat staple figures of the local farmer's market. I'd call home from Nashville and find that Daddy and Donald had been drinking Scotch on the patio at the Alluvian, or that he and my brother Preston had killed a hog the weekend before. After my parents moved to Jackson, I think they missed the Foose/Bender family more than neighbors they'd known for years.

Martha is a character. She can tell you a backroad dirty joke with one hand and feed you French cuisine from fine china with the other. She loves a good band and a good party. She could choose to live in NYC or LA and be the toast of the town, but she cherishes her Mississippi roots and elects to stay here in her native land. These are reasons why I love Martha Foose. These are reasons based on a short friendship I had with her in the Delta, and one that has continued to grow through our interviews for the Arts Hour radio show.

But there are other reasons I love Martha Foose. Reasons that I most likely share with anyone who ever thumbed through, or cooked from, her first cookbook, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. She is a storyteller. She captures the places, personalities and peculiar ways of the Delta in a conversational style that makes you feel like you are listening to an old friend. But then, man oh man, she pairs those stories with recipes and ingredients that get even the most seasoned cook excited to bring down the cast-iron skillet or light the grill. (I am no baker, but I can only imagine what her desserts do for the sweets and treats type.)

Martha is running the road ragged touring her new book, A Southerly Course: Recipes and Stories from Close to Home, and the party is following close behind. And I don't mean to say that Martha has an entourage of rockers sipping Budweiser at the back of the bookstore (or does she?). What I mean to say is that as soon as you pick up A Southerly Course there is going to be a party quickly to follow: at your house, in your backyard, with family, with friends, with neighbors and strangers who follow their noses into your kitchen and into your life.

So thank you, Martha. I'm your biggest fan in Fondren. Maybe in all of Jackson.

And your Peanut Chicken recipe won me some strong praise at my deck party last night. Just another reason I love Martha Foose.

Tune to MPB Radio Sunday, May 8 at 3 p.m. to hear Martha and I jive about food, music, family and all things Mississippi.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rev. Dennis' Day at the Capitol

Y'all have heard me talk about Margaret's Grocery more than once by now. While my first visit to this techni-color folk architectural dreamspace was only a little over two years ago, I've been passionate about seeing it saved from the elements of time and decay ever since.

Historic preservation is uncharted territory for the Mississippi Arts Commission. We once had a line item from the state legislature to offer a grant called the "Building Fund for the Arts." This grant helped arts organizations revitalize historic spaces for use as auditoriums, arts co-ops, theatres, etc. My cousin Zeb and his wife Haley had one hell of a wedding shin-dig at the E.E. Bass School Auditorium in Greenville, Miss., one of the many brick and mortar projects the Building Fund for the Arts helped fund. But, alas, the days of government subsidizing the preservation of historic spaces is long gone, and my efforts to help save Margaret's Grocery have been slow and relatively unfunded.

And, yes, although Miss Margaret is gone now and Rev. Dennis spends his days preaching the gospel to his colleagues at the convalescent home in Vicksburg, I'd be remiss to say that there isn't any energy swelling around the movement to save Margaret's Grocery. Two individuals in particular have worked hard to start a 501c3 non-profit and to see that Preacher is in good hands. My hat goes off to photographer Suzi Altman and attorney/filmmaker Robbie Fisher for their help in keeping the momentum high. If it wasn't for Suzi and Robbie, and some good governmental karma, we would have never gotten the recognition we did on March 22 from Gov. Haley Barbour and the Mississippi House of Representatives and State Senate.

As part of the MAC's annual advocacy initiative, Day at the Capitol, Rev. Dennis and Margaret's Grocery was recognized by Gov. Barbour with a proclamation naming March 20-26 "Rev. Herman D. Dennis and Margaret's Grocery Appreciation and Awareness Week." (See this story on the blog Deep Fried Kudzu.) A joint Senate-House resolution was also put in place, and Senator Briggs Hopson and Representative George Flaggs made speeches, kind remarks, and promises to help save Margaret's Grocery.

It was a great day for folk arts in Mississippi. I think Rev. Dennis was pretty pleased as well.

(All photos by James Patterson)