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Lawmakers like arts school work, hearty welcome

Mississippi lawmakers got a glimpse of the future Thursday whenthey saw firsthand progress that has been made on the MississippiSchool of the Arts.

Approximately 40 legislators came to Brookhaven for a visit tothe Whitworth College campus and a progress report on theMississippi School of the Arts. Overall, more than 150 lawmakers,state and local officials attended the Mardi Gras-themed event.

“Without the support of each of you, bringing this school tolife would not have been possible,” said MSA Executive Director Dr.Vicki Bodenhamer in welcoming dignitaries to the school.

Lawmakers were impressed from the moment they hit the Brookhavencity limits.

“I like that,” said Rep. Roger Ishee, of Harrison County, aspolice escorted the Co-Lin bus carrying lawmakers down BrookwayBoulevard to the Whitworth campus.

Lawmakers were intrigued at the sight of the under-constructionStudent Life Center. The eight-story building is expected to be thetallest between Jackson and New Orleans.

“This is the first time I’ve seen something like that,” saidDist. 30 Rep. Robert E. Huddleston as the bus passed theconstruction area.

Perhaps the kicker, though, was a welcoming committee of BoyScouts with a red carpet, and elementary school students displayingbanners thanking lawmakers for their support of the school.

“I think that’s sweet. They know how to get you,” Isheesaid.

Once on the campus, architecture and plans for the arts schooltook center stage.

“This campus is a beautiful campus to begin with,” Sen. RobSmith, chairman of the Senate Corrections Committee. “I think y’allhave done extremely well with the money that’s been funded to thiscommunity.”

When budget cuts are possible, Smith said funding for the artsis always a concern and they are always in jeopardy. However, hementioned several of his efforts to further arts education andexpressed his support for the school.

“Not to support arts is a travesty,” Smith said.

Huddleston mentioned pursuit of grants and other fundingassistance as a way to help talented students meet goals andexpectations.

“The more money you can put in there to help students meetexpectations, the better it is,” Huddleston said.

Richard Thompson, state Superintendent of Education, was on handThursday to lend his support for the arts school.

“To see what has already been done is very impressive,” Thompsonsaid, while also discussing the need for arts school supporters topursue additional private money and public funding from thelegislature. “We’re going to work hard and hope for the best.”

Bodenhamer’s presentation included a historical review of thecampus building and plans for their use with the arts school.Admissions requirements and the school’s curriculum were alsodiscussed.

Pending operational budget funding, the school is scheduled toopen in the fall of 2003 with 60 residential students and up to 30commuter students. When fully operational, the school will serve300 residential students and approximately 60 commuterstudents.

“This is one way we can be wise investors of the state’s moneyand try to serve as many students as possible,” Bodenhamer saidabout serving commuter students.

Later, Bodenhamer cited great Mississippians in literature,theatre, music and other areas. She said the state’s top resourceis not the soybean, cotton or catfish.

“Our single greatest resource is, and always has been, thecreative mind,” Bodenhamer said before presenting a patriotic andmoving message about the role the arts played in the writing of theNational Anthem and in the wake of the Sept. 11 terroristattacks.

Following the presentation in Lampton Auditorium, lawmakers andofficials paraded to Belle Rosen for a reception featuringjambalaya and jazz music.

The music was provided the Jackson Public School District’sAcademy of Performing Arts Complex’s Jazz Ensemble. APAC providesadvanced arts educational opportunities for district students ingrades four through 12.

Ty Maisel, jazz ensemble director, said he sees benefits inhaving an advance arts education program on a statewide basis.

“APAC is the jewel of Jackson. They’re frequently out in thecommunity representing the JPS district,” Maisel said. “If you canhave something like that for the state, it’s wonderful.”

Maisel said music and art are very prominent in a well-roundededucation. Throughout history, he said, they have also played a bigrole in quality of life issues for citizens.

“It’s a win-win situation in terms of creativity and the stateimage,” Maisel said about helping students achieve and statepromotional efforts.

Lincoln County and area lawmakers said arts school officialsmade a great impression with Thursday’s activities. The onlydrawback was that more lawmakers could not attend.

“We had more conflicts than you can imagine,” said Dist. 92 Rep.Dr. Jim Barnett.

Rep. Tom Weathersby, of Copiah County, said a bond bill to helpfurther renovations to campus buildings was expected to come upnext week. He was hopeful that it would succeed.

“It’s one of those projects you can’t leave until it’scompleted,” Weathersby said about arts school. “You’ve got to tryto finish it. I think it’s going to be a real treasure for thestate of Mississippi.”