Arts ‘not extra,’ state chief says|[11/17/05]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 17, 2005

Artists and the arts were central to Gulf Coast life before Katrina, a fact that shouldn’t be lost during rebuilding, the state arts commission’s director said here Wednesday.

&#8220It is my opinion that the arts belong at the table sitting next to the people who build the highways, the bridges and the infrastructure,” said Malcolm White, who began work at the Mississippi Arts Commission five weeks ago.

White, a founder of Hal and Mal’s restaurant in Jackson and an experienced promoter of arts-related events, was the guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation, which operates the former St. Francis convent and school complex in Vicksburg as the Southern Cultural Heritage Center.

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White said the MAC budget, which had been more than $2 million four years ago, has dropped to about $750,00 as federal and state governments shift their interests.

&#8220Arts are not extra,” White said. &#8220Arts are not lagniappe. Arts are essential.” He praised the Vicksburg group for its efforts to bring increasing arts and humanities programming here, some of which has been accomplished with MAC grants totaling $36,500 over several years.

White said his initial work has been along the coast where artists, wiped out, are being recruited to move away. &#8220Artist retention is our No. 1 problem,” White said. &#8220If it takes three years to build the coast back, will there be any artists? I don’t know.”

People should remember that support for the arts leads to economic as well as personal enrichment, calling &#8220cultural tourism” the nation’s leading growth industry.

&#8220Mississippi already has more to promote than three or four states combined,” White said, naming blues music, the civil rights movement and the Civil War as themes that attract visitors.