MAC director touts Haven work during grant ceremony

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The head of the Mississippi Arts Commission Tuesday touted thearts’ role in economic development activities and praisedBrookhaven Little Theatre’s efforts toward restoring the HavenTheater.

MAC Executive Director Malcolm White met with BLT’s board ofdirectors Tuesday to present a custom brick commemorating arecently awarded $60,000 grant, which will be used to help restorethe front entrance to the theater, and take a quick tour of thehistoric facility. Afterward, he pointed out how the board’smulti-phase restoration plan and financial support system made theHaven a prime competitor for one of the commission’s 14 grants thisyear.

“The fact that they have a friends group (Save the Havencampaign) shows they’re way ahead of the game,” White said aboutBLT. “They have history, a mission and achievable goals – a goodsolid plan.”

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White praised the board’s organization and understanding of thegrant process. He said BLT met certain criteria and managed to landone of his organization’s grants in a highly competitive,low-budget year.

“You have to be non-profit, own your own building and you haveto have a plan,” White said. “A lot of people come to us and have abuilding but no plan – these people have spent a lot of timeorganizing their thoughts.”

The board also knows how to push the right buttons. A letter ofsupport from actor Morgan Freeman, who was in some childhoodperformances at Alexander High School, was attached to the originalgrant application.

“You can tell from going in the theater, the people are engaged,they have a vision and they’re not afraid to work,” White said.”Most importantly, they understand how to involve the city andpolicy makers.”

White pointed out that the theater’s largely original conditionalso played a role in achieving the grant. He said manyorganizations apply for MAC grants with buildings that have beenworked and reworked and bear little resemblance to their historicorigins.

“Here we have a good architectural inventory to start with,” hesaid. “We have a historic building with original parts.”

White also took time to marvel at the condition of Brookhaven’sdowntown area, especially the number of residences there.

White attributed the downtown progress to the Haven project. Hesaid that all downtowns eventually are revitalized, but it takes astrong centerpiece like the Haven to get the process started.

“People see the theater being revitalized and they think, ‘Whydon’t we do the old department store, some of the old shops,'”White said. “We call this creative development. Most of the time,it’s an arts facility that starts the revitalization. Where thearts go, the money follows – people may not be thinking like that,but they’re living it out.”

BLT board president JoAnna Sproles did not want to let thetheater take credit for beginning the renovations on and aroundCherokee Street. She said the building would be refurbishedregardless of its surroundings.

“I think it’s the responsibility of everyone, no matter wherethey are, to look at their own property and see how it fits intothe bigger picture,” she said. “We knew we had a responsibility asan organization to renovate the space we were using, and we wouldbe renovating even if the rest of the block was not.”

Sproles was hopeful, however, that the rest of downtown wouldfollow suit as the Haven is reborn.

“My hope is that the rest of the buildings downtown will startto kind of take a look at what their buildings look like on theinside and out and join this wave of rejuvenation that is takingplace,” she said.

The restoration of the Haven’s front entrance is scheduled tobegin this summer and be completed by September, when the theater’snew season begins.

Sproles will rotate off as board president this July to lead theSave the Haven committee, and will be looking for new membership.Anyone interested in serving on the committee may contact Sprolesat 833-2591.