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Officials: MSA boosts area economy

The Mississippi School of the Arts means more to Brookhaven thanoffering a unique educational opportunity for the state’s best andbrightest, area leaders say, and should not suffer cuts because ofthe state’s budget crisis.

The state Legislature, trying to determine how to resolve anearly $1 billion budget deficit, is considering cutting funding toMSA and the Mississippi School of Mathematics and Science inColumbus. MSA and MSMS are seeking $7.6 million combined nextfiscal year.

“In too many instances, the state of Mississippi has been lastin national rankings,” said Clifton Brumfield, executive vicepresident of the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce. “Inrecent years, we have shown progress and placed at the top of someof those lists, particularly in the arts. Having this prestigiousschool in Brookhaven speaks volumes for the state’s commitment tothe arts. We need to continue to support our youth in their pursuitof their dreams, talents and abilities.”

At the local level, however, the school impacts more areas thana quality education in music, drama, dance, painting, writing andcrafts, he said.

Brookhaven Mayor Bob Massengill agreed.

“We need to view the arts school not only for its educationalaspect but also as an industry,” said Mayor Bob Massengill. “We’vegot to realize that their faculty, staff and students are allcontributing to our economy. They wouldn’t be here if not for theschool. To lose it would be equivalent to losing an industry. Itwill take a combined effort from all of us not only to keep itgoing, but also to help it flourish.”

MSA is also a major influence on businesses looking for a newhome and often helps Brookhaven make inroads with potentialindustries, he said.

“We’re on the verge of some really big things happening, and wedon’t need a negative, such as closing or cutting back the artsschool, to set us back,” Massengill said.

In addition to its educational and direct economic impact, theschool of arts lends a prestigious ambience to Brookhaven, hesaid.

“It’s put Brookhaven on the map for many people and helps setour community apart,” Massengill said. “There are towns all overthe state that would love to have a facility like this.”

Brumfield said the school has introduced a large number ofpeople to Brookhaven, and some of them have come to call Brookhavenhome partly because of the school’s location here.

“The state needs to look at not only the economic impact of fuelcells and the hotel and restaurant income, but also the tremendousvalue that the school provides in introducing others to theBrookhaven community,” Brumfield said.

Brumfield, who began his position with the chamber Jan. 3, saidhis own arrival here could be attributed indirectly to the artsschool. A friend of his, Andy Montgomery, moved here approximatelyeight months ago after spending more than a year searching for theideal location to settle with his family.

“They spent more than a year scouring the United States, fromthe east coast to the west coast, and visiting those locations theythought they might like before deciding to live in Brookhaven. Theyhad the means and the income to locate anywhere, and they chosehere. The prestige of the arts school and the support of thecommunity for the arts in general was a big part of that decision,”Brumfield said. “I thought about that more than once beforeaccepting this position.”

MSA is only beginning its second year, and its first class willgraduate this year.

“It’s just now coming into its own, and to reverse that positivetrend of promoting the arts would be a tragedy not only for theschool, but also for the state,” Brumfield said.

Instead of considering whether to cut the school or its budget,legislators should be considering how to increase the MSA budget,Massengill said.

“This is only the second year of its operations, and we can seeit growing, but to continue to grow it needs the funding to notonly continue its operations but also to expand its programs,”Massengill said.