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Summit promotes goal of ‘creative economy’

The arts can be the engine of aneconomically successful community, not just a byproduct.

    That was the message of a short conference held Wednesday morningat the Mississippi School of the Arts.

    Representatives from the Mississippi Arts Commission and theMississippi Development Authority discussed the “creative economy”- what it is and how communities can foster it to build localeconomic strength. The presentations held Wednesday were anextension of a study undertaken by the MAC and the MDA and asubsequent summit held in August in Jackson.

    “So many people look at the arts as a luxury item,” said SuzanneHirsch, MSA executive director. “What they have done is show youthe business side of (art) and show it does make an impact.”

    MAC Executive Director Malcolm White began the Wednesdaypresentations, describing creative economies as diverse butcentered around creative arts or services.

    White pointed to the art galleries that drive the Fondren communityin Jackson, or the way Oxford transformed itself from a smallcollege town into a center for the literary arts and scholarship inthe South.

    “We’ve got to talk about how the arts work in economicdevelopment,” White said.

    Brookhaven alderman Shirley Estes was in attendance, and she seesmuch potential in the city for a creative economy. She said it onlyawaits proper utilization.

    “We’ve got so much creativity if we were cohesive in presenting itand exposing it,” Estes said.

    That MSA should be central to any such creative economy inBrookhaven seemed a consensus.

    Christopher C. Ray, CEO of the Ramey Agency, a marketing firm inJackson, spoke at the conference. Afterwards, Ray, originally fromMcComb, commented on the significance of MSA’s presence inBrookhaven.

    “With the school of the arts, Brookhaven has a tremendous abilityto say Brookhaven means arts,” Ray said.

    Only Brookhaven has such a school in the state, Ray emphasized.

    Hirsch agreed as to the school’s importance for local development.She said the school has already done community-minded projects.

    “We’ve done a lot of projects internally, like the water colorexhibit of the architecture in town,” Hirsch said.

    Hirsch would like to see further integration between the work ofher students and the local community.

    “What happens if some of that work goes out on loan to some of thewindows downtown? What happens if our literary students go out andbecome journalists for a day and capture some oral stories?” Hirschsaid.

    Hirsch isn’t only interested in seeing student works succeed in thecommunity. She said her prior work in New Orleans relied onpartnership, and she wants to see all local artists workingtogether.

    “I think the downtown windows that aren’t occupied could be waysfor local artists to display art,” she said.

    Hirsch also hopes that further awareness of the arts role in localeconomies will help shield MSA in the legislature.

    “As we fight our political battles, it is good to have some factsto point to, to say we are good for Mississippi and Brookhaven,”Hirsch said.

    This was a point echoed by White in his presentation.

    “This is a great source of pride and a great institution,” Whitesaid, before chiding past legislative attacks on the school. “Everyyear the legislature tries to take the funding away. What is thatabout?”

    In describing the success of MSA and arts-oriented economies aroundthe state, White emphasized those examples have been organic.

    “The arts and creative jobs that exist just are,” White said. “Theyaren’t lured by tax breaks or incentives.”

    White then suggested communities consider pursuing creativeeconomies rather than waiting for the organic successes the studyhighlighted.

    White said any town, city, or community could do this. Summitssimilar to the one held in Brookhaven Wednesday will be held inDecember at Meridian, Cleveland and Belden.

    “You don’t have to be a wealthy community to be well endowed in thecreative economy,” he said.