Locals put their city on the map with Mississippi Museum of Art project

Published 11:22 am Friday, December 30, 2016

Artists, business leaders, musicians and residents rubbed familiar elbows back in May and told their stories to the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Those bits of video history are on the MMA’s website now for all the world to see.

The one-day project was part of the museum’s Mapping a Modern Mississippi campaign, which was a statewide grassroots storytelling and community building initiative that highlighted the best and brightest across all sectors of Mississippi life.

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We might be a little biased, but the Brookhavenites featured may be the best on the site. Those featured include:

• Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce program director Katie Nations

• Restaurant owner Matt Fitzimmons

• Entrepreneur Terry Pappas

• Artist and physician Kim Sessums

• Businessman John Lynch

• Lincoln County Historical Society member Tammie Brewer

• Brookstock coordinator Don Jacobs

• Brookstock coordinator and Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame Executive Director Shaw Furlow

“Brookhaven is one example of a unique and modern Mississippi place,” Julian Rankin, the director of marketing and communication for the museum, said in May. “We were inspired when learning about all of the artists who dared to be different in the past, that we wanted to find the people who dare to differ in Mississippi, including those in Brookhaven.”

Each short video features someone extolling the virtues of Brookhaven. Nations talks about creating a network for the community — whether a corporation, small business or citizen — to communicate and interact.

“I think what we’re trying to do now is to create a couple of grassroot type events…It’s very small, little things that we’re hoping will become large events and festivals,” she said.

Fitzimmons was drawn back to his hometown, where he opened Betty’s Eat Shop downtown. Named after his grandmother, the eatery features a mix of fine dining and familiar, Southern dishes. He wants to give people a place to come together in the community to have a unique experience.

“I am taking a chance. I could’ve come back and done something sweet and simple and cook food that I like to eat and be safe. And be successful. With this, I hope it’ll be successful… I’m hoping to change people’s opinions and to open them up to different options of food,” he said.

Pappas’ visionary desire to expand Brookhaven’s historical district and to renovate the downtown area drives his work. He tries to save historical aspects of each building he remodels instead of starting from scratch, he said.

“There’s a couple of things we probably didn’t have to save, but to me, that’s the history. So we try to save it all and mix the modern with the historical… After I’m dead and gone, generations will be able to experience this building for a long time,” he said.

In much the same way as Pappas, Lynch feels an inexplicable desire to repurpose spaces in downtown Brookhaven. From this desire, the Inn on Whitworth, a bed and breakfast in Brookhaven, was born. Sessums, a doctor and artist, was commissioned to decorate the space, and together, they have created a place where people like to be.

“Once we got the place done and people began to come in and visit, what we found out was — and I tell Johnny this all the time — if you make the space good, people may not know why they like to be in it, but they like to be in it. And that’s what happens here. People come in, probably different from anything they had known before… And they liked the art,” Sessums said.

“We get international travelers doing the Blue’s Trail. They’re going to New Orleans for various reasons. And so they come in and go ‘I cannot believe that this is in Brookhaven. This is just so different,’” Lynch said.

Rankin said they want to use the energy of these people to keep pushing Mississippi forward.

“We want to push people to keep thinking creatively, to keep innovating and to keep making our state a better place to live. It’s always a work in progress and Mississippi certainly has a complicated history, but through this, we’re recognizing that complicated nature and embracing the good side of complication, which is uniqueness,” he said.

To see all the videos, go to www.msmuseumart.org, click on “Stories” at the top of the website and choose “Mapping a Modern Mississippi.”