Celebrities praise new arts school

Published 5:00 am Monday, April 8, 2002

Mississippi School of the Arts efforts won rave reviews Saturdayfrom two state celebrities who visited the Whitworth Collegecampus.

From brochures promoting the school to tree-lined city streets,Mary Ann Mobley and her husband Gary Collins had high praise forthe arts school project. The couple, along with Mobley’s motherVerner Holmes and family friend Donna Dye, visited in LamptonAuditorium with MSA Director Dr. Vicki Bodenhamer, Director ofDevelopment Jennifer Jackson and Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett.

“I couldn’t think of a more beautiful setting,” said Mobley, aformer Miss Mississippi and Miss America. “It’s gorgeous.”

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Collins, an Emmy Award-winning actor, said the college campusfeatures some classic structures and the arts school has a chanceto be a “real jewel for the state of Mississippi.”

“I’m so impressed,” Collins said.

Collins said it was “staggering” to think that the Whitworthbuildings could have disappeared from the landscape in few yearswithout the effort to save them. He applauded the vision to combinethe architecture of the past century with the vision for artseducation in the future.

“It’s a wonderful marriage,” Collins said.

Bodenhamer discussed ongoing building construction and plans forthe school, which is scheduled to open in 2003. Mobley saw theschool playing an important role in developing and encouragingtalented students.

“If we don’t have outlets for expressions of art and expressionsof the soul, it sort of dries up inside us,” Mobley said.

Dye, a former director of the state Department of Archives andHistory, praised the Whitworth building restoration effort.

“You have a wonderful opportunity, and I’m so glad it’shappening,” Dye said.

From Elvis to Morgan Freeman to Faith Hill, the group discussedthe long list of Mississippians who have excelled in the world ofmusic, writing and other forms of entertainment.

Collins speculated on the impact the arts school could have hadon earlier generations of talented Mississippians. He said having aschool for young and talented students will expose them to variousaspects of the arts and help them further their education inpreparation for a career in the arts.

“Most of us learned the rudiments of our craft in high school,”Collins said, indicating the importance of early education.

Barnett said the school will be open to state students of allraces and backgrounds. Recalling conversations with some of hiscolleagues about the number of well-known African-Americansartisans from the state and the potential for more because of theschool, he said black lawmakers have been very supportive of thearts school.

“We have a good relationship with them,” Barnett said.

Arts school officials and supporters hope Mobley and Collins canbe instrumental in promoting the school with fellow members of theentertainment industry. Collins said the school is a “wonderfulopportunity” and he and Mobley were looking forward to helping thecause.

“We have to expose this to people in our industry and get themon board in terms of support,” Collins said. “All of this is verynear and dear to our hearts.”