By Alyssa Schnugg
When looking to create new partnerships in the arts community, Oxford and the University of Mississippi were on the top of Coleman Warner’s list.
Warner, the director of development of the Mississippi’s Arts + Entertainment Experience – or commonly known as The MAX – stopped by Oxford this week to meet with members of the art community at UM’s Center of Southern Culture during a small, private reception.
The visit was one of several planned to various spots around Mississippi for Warner and The MAX to build new relationships and strengthen existing ones.
“Oxford and the university is the center of culture and arts activity in Mississippi and we’d be remiss to not invest time here and strengthen relationships,” Warner said.
The MAX was first dreamed up in 2001 when the Mississippi State Legislature enacted Senate Bill 2666, providing for “an educational, entertaining and interactive facility” in Meridian to celebrate Mississippians’ contributions to arts in entertainment.
It took almost 18 years and $14 million; however, The MAX opened in April 2018 and in January 2019, the museum hosted its first major traveling exhibition, “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited.”
The MAX, housed in a contemporary, two-level structure contains more than 60,000-square feet of space.
The exhibits are organized around six themes: Land, Community, Home, Church, People + Places, and Global Community. Within these six themes, there are 15 total permanent galleries of exhibits and two spaces for changing exhibits. Other elements include the MAX Hall of Fame, museum store, recording studio, both a 2D and a 3D art studio, multi-purpose gallery and outdoor amphitheater.
There are 301 total artists featured in The MAX. The museum has held 710 total adult and youth classes and 87,000 visitors since its opening.
In January 2017, the inaugural class of 18 inductees to the Mississippi Hall of Fame was announced at the Mississippi Capitol Rotunda.
It consisted of William Faulkner, Morgan Freeman, John Grisham, Jim Henson, Robert Johnson, James Earl Jones, B.B. King, George Or, Elvis Presley, Leontyne Price, Jimmie Rodgers, Sela Ward, Muddy Waters, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Wright.
In August 2018, five more Mississippi artists were added to The MAX Hall of Fame: Jimmy Buffett, William Eggleston, Willie Morris, Charley Pride, and Howlin’ Wolf. Joining them in June 2019 were Margaret Walker Alexander, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Tammy Wynette.
After the arrival of COVID-19, The MAX, like most public gathering places, visits to the museum stopped. Even a year later, Warner said people are still hesitant to go out and about to public places.
“But we are soldiering on and trying to press on with our mission,” he said. “As these conditions taper off, people are starting to become more comfortable. We’ll really be able to dial up a lot of things we’re trying to accomplish and that includes cultivating and strengthening relationships with entities and individuals in Oxford.”
By building more relationships with those connected to the arts, Warner hopes those connections will result in the word being spread about The MAX and all it has to offer.
“We are planting seeds, and hopefully prompting more people to travel to Meridian and see for themselves, how this unique resource can be beneficial for entities across the state,” Warner said.
The MAX is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. Admission is $14 for adults (18-64); $12 for students, seniors and active military; and $8 for children 6-17. Children under 5 are free.