Hirsch aiming to take MSA to higher levels

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Mississippi School of the Arts has seen its share oftriumphs and tribulations, and its new executive director SuzanneHirsch is no stranger to adversity.

Hirsch, 33, began her tenure at MSA on Tuesday, after leavingthe New Orleans Ballet Association.

Hirsch said she learned a lot about keeping the arts alive whileshe was in Louisiana. She said Hurricane Katrina decimated NOBA andadministrators faced truly challenging circumstances.

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“Every site we had was flooded,” she said. “It was a fight forsurvival.”

And to add to the turmoil, Hirsch was on maternity leave withher son Zachary during that time. She said her boss at NOBA calledher and said, “I need a plan.”

So Hirsch ended up taking Zachary in to work with her while shehelped with rebuilding the association.

While she loved being at NOBA because of her background in dance- she said her father used to drive her almost 30 minutes one wayfor lessons when she was a child in Neshoba County – she said theopportunity at MSA was one she couldn’t pass up. So she and Zacharyand her husband Darrin made the move north.

“I’m very excited about Brookhaven,” she said. “It’s not ashectic, and I’ll be able to be with my family more.”

Hirsch follows in the footsteps of Dr. Vicki Lambert. She isoften credited with getting the school through its formative yearsand fighting with the woes of opening a school, as well as alegislature that begrudgingly allowed its existence and then triedto move it to Columbus.

“I know that I’m coming into a legacy here. Dr. Lambert gave herheart and soul to this,” she said. “While I can’t fill those shoes,I think I can put my stamp on it.

It’s not just about keeping the school running, Hirsch said, butthe challenge lies in taking it to the next level.

“This is a great opportunity, because I’m inheriting an amazingfaculty, and I’m excited not to have to rebuild that,” she said.”But I’m also looking at, ‘How do we take this secret and make itknown nationally?'”

Hirsch said one way she wants to see the school move forward isto bring in more guest artists, and to create many opportunitiesfor the students on a limited budget.

“Plus, I want to educate the state, all those who don’tunderstand about the arts and what the value of the arts is,” shesaid. “I want to get us to a place where they hear ‘MSA’ and theyknow exactly where that is.”

The state’s rich arts environment is not only the cornerstone ofthe school, but will continue to supply the building blocks thatwill put MSA and Brookhaven on the map, Hirsch said.

“We need to build bridges here,” she said. “People don’t realizehow rich the arts environment is here, and as long as I have thebuy-in from my faculty and from the community, we can take thisschool to a higher level, and we can take this image and educatethe state with it.”

And as far as the hurdles the school has overcome and willundoubtedly face in the future, Hirsch said she’s seen the storm -literally – and MSA will stand against the winds.

“This place will be a very special place in the state,” shesaid. “My message is not only will MSA stay here, we will show youwhy we should be here.”