Blues museum organizers want to display small exhibit

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 18, 2002

[10/18/02]A group seeking to establish a blues museum in Vicksburg says it is about halfway to the $250,000 it needs for the project and wants to put a small exhibit here now to help generate more interest.

Gregg Wilcox, director of the former Farish Street Blues Museum in Jackson and the owner of several pieces that were in the museum, met with Vicksburg officials and Vicksburg Convention Center management Thursday to work out a plan to set up a small display in the center.

Wilcox said he wants to bring some of his collection to Vicksburg while renovations are under way at the former Clay Street YMCA building where he plans to establish the Vicksburg Blues Museum. One album in Wilcox’s collection of more than 6,000 pre-War World II recordings is worth about $20,000, he said.

Larry Gawronski, director of the convention center, said Wilcox could display some of his collection, which also includes pictures and musical instruments, in the hallways at the facility. Gawronski said he would like to have displays at the convention center after the blues museum opens, rotating other exhibits, including Civil War relics or other items that reflect Vicksburg.

“It will dress up our walls,” he said. “Right now they’re just empty.”

Wilcox and others first approached the city administration about establishing a blues museum in Vicksburg this summer. The city set aside $125,000 in matching grant funds for the project.

“This whole blues initiative has taken off pretty well,” said Mayor Laurence Leyens.

On Monday, the city dedicated a street to Vicksburg native and blues legend Willie Dixon following a celebration concert at the convention center Sunday. According to the organizer of the event, the Dixon family has expressed interested in donating Dixon memorabilia to the Vicksburg museum.

Leyens, who has supported making the blues another tourist draw to the city, raised concerns about the lack of success of the previous museum on Farish Street.

“What happened in Jackson that made it fail?” Leyens asked.

The museum was established in 1999, but closed last September after only two years. Wilcox said one reason was the location on Farish Street in an area he described as “dangerous.”

“It was hard to get people to take that chance,” Wilcox said.

They are seeking a grant through the National Endowment for the Arts to help fund the museum. Renovations at the former YMCA are expected to begin in the next two weeks and should take about two months, Wilcox said.

Plans are for the museum to be on the first floor of the building initially and grow to take in part of the second floor in phase II of the development.

Phase I of the project is expected to cost about $300,000. The rest of the four-story structure is expected to be converted into one- and two-bedroom apartments.

The building at 821 Clay St. had been the home of the downtown YMCA for 79 years. The health center closed in August when the Y’s new facility opened off Clay Street near Beechwood.