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The Power of Mississippi’s Arts: An Initiative for Change

Mississippi has consistently been among the poorest states in the nation. This is compounded as homegrown talent leaves the state due to a perceived lack of economic opportunity.

Arts and culture present an attainable chance to reverse this trend.

According to the newest Americans for the Arts economic impact study, Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 (AEP6), the nonprofit arts and culture sector represents a $151.7 billion industry that provides 2.6 million jobs nationwide.

For the Gulf Coast, the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Arts Center in Ocean Springs has fostered regional growth through an interdisciplinary set of programs and a space for the arts. The center includes a theater for live performances and meetings and open public rooms for art galleries and workshops.

Ocean Springs has embraced the center by implementing a culture and arts sector as an official
department. This integration allows the cultural center to work directly with the resources of the
other departments, such as public works, city officials, and economic development. Under the
leadership of the Arts and Culture Coordinator for the past three years, Sarah Qalqish has seen
the center grow to have 50 partners and 30 local creatives that put on events and programs for the

“With every partnership, whether they’re teaching a class or doing something great like putting
on a festival every year, there’s some sort of trade in it that is not always about, thankfully, the
building profiting. It’s about the community profiting,” Qalqish said.

Community is the driving force behind the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Arts Center. The arts center’s collaboration with the town’s leadership establishes a direct connection with the public.

“It’s this whole connect the dot thing. When you see an opportunity, and it’s the right time when
there’s not a bigger issue in the way of it, you can find moments to guide that point. That is
happening on so many levels on different topics,” Qalqish said.

To stimulate a similar impact for the north Mississippi region, the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council
received a leadership grant to create a community center, the Humanities Hub. This initiative
aims to remove significant barriers of entry for artists, such as high rental rates for studios
present in Oxford, limited access to equipment, and the need for high-speed internet.

As a result, artists of all varieties can cultivate their ideas, make connections throughout the region and build a network.

“We have explored other communities that have launched successful projects that reimagined
spaces as both cultural centers and magnets for community development,” said Wayne
Andrews, director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council in Oxford. “We have seen how creating a
network of support draws creative-based businesses from artists to tech companies to
communities. The Humanities Hub will provide that for north Mississippi.”

The Arts & Economic Prosperity 6 study reveals the impact the arts and culture sector
already has on the state, representing a $2.3 billion industry that yields 23,117 jobs.

Specifically in Lafayette County, the arts generate $2.7 million in economic activity annually and $6.9
million in related spending, serving as a vital Chamber of Commerce for creatives.

This study serves as a reminder that the arts play a vital role in providing a better future for
opportunity and creativity to thrive.

Staff report

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