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Today is July 16, 2018

Taking Mississippi arts to The MAX

By Debbie Stringer

Taking Mississippi arts to The MAX

The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience, known as The MAX, opens this month in downtown Meridian. The 59,000-square-foot facility includes an amphitheater for concerts and other outdoor events. Image courtesy of Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience.

One more reason to vacation in Mississippi opens this month in Meridian.

The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience, known as The MAX, is a $50 million facility that celebrates the state’s incredible arts legacy: namely, the world-famous performing, visual and literary artists whose creativity stems from their Mississippi roots.

Multi-media exhibits give MAX visitors insight into the lives of the artists, as well as the unique geographic, community and cultural influences that shaped their development.

“This is a non-traditional museum. There are interactives throughout, and that’s how the name Experience came along,” said Paula Chance, MAX spokesperson. “It’s about seeing some artifacts but also experiencing some of the things that influenced the artists.”

The MAX also houses the state-sanctioned Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Hall of Fame. The 18 artists and performers selected for the 2017 inaugural induction—from Elvis to Oprah—are depicted in multi-media displays lining a two-story rotunda gallery. Each year new inductees will be selected by a panel of experts. This year’s inductees will be announced in May. (The public can help nominate artists by voting at www.MSArts.org.)

The MAX started out in 2001 as the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, as established by the state legislature. Funding to build and operate the center would come from private donations, grants and state government.

But construction of the complex, originally slated to begin in fall 2004 at Meridian’s Bonita Lakes Park, was postponed as the state struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina and the Great Recession. It would be another 11 years before The MAX would break ground at its new location on Front Street in downtown Meridian.

In a way, the delay turned out to be a good thing. New technologies emerged during those years that would elevate the museum into a unique arts “experience” for visitors. MAX visitors can create virtual paintings, for example, in the style of Walter Anderson and other Mississippi artists represented in the museum, and throw virtual pottery in the style of three different Mississippi potters, such as George Ohr.

Serving as an arts education resource for individuals and educators has been a goal of the museum since its inception. Workshops, seminars, changing art exhibits, artist demonstrations and programs for all ages will be offered throughout the year.

“Statistics show the importance of arts in education, and that is absolutely one of our goals, to educate people about the importance of art,” Chance said.

Some of the programs in development at the museum will target aspiring artists and performers.

“I think one of the programs that is especially good is the mentoring program. Our plans are to have students selected that are interested in, for example, putting together an art portfolio or a recording for college. We would assign a mentor to learn not just about their art but how to be an artist [and] all the things you need to promote yourself.”

For its first year of operation, The MAX has set an attendance goal of 150,000 visitors—including travelers on Interstate 20, which slices through Meridian a few blocks from the museum.

“We see this museum as a gateway to other museums in the state,” Chance said. “For example, probably of those first 18 [artists] in the Hall of Fame, 10 or 12 have museums in Mississippi, like Faulkner’s Rowan Oak and the B.B. King Museum.”

The MAX is expected to help spur business development in downtown Meridian as it joins a list of attractions that includes the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum and the MSU Riley Center, a performing arts venue.

The MAX opens to the public April 29 with a slate of special events and presentations, following a grand opening black-tie gala April 27 and member preview day April 28. The full schedule and future event listings are posted on the museum’s website.

“It’s really exciting and different. There’s not anything else like this,” Chance said.

The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience is located at 2155 Front St. in downtown Meridian. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday. Tickets may be purchased at the museum or online. Contact the museum at 601-581-1550 or MSArts.org.

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