Friday, October 19, 2018

TO THE “MAX”

Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience (MAX)

We stopped for an overnight in Meridian, Mississippi, Land of Red Dirt and a city near the place of my Grandfather Greenlaw’s birth in Brandon Mississippi. We were en route from Sewanee, Tennessee to New Iberia, Louisiana, and yesterday we had a mission: to see the world class MAX (Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience) newly opened in April this year. At a cost of $45 million, this center showcases the talents, past and present, of Mississippi artists in the fields of music, dance, visual arts, literature and storytelling, theatre, pottery, and other work in arts and entertainment. The MAX features innovative and interactive exhibits of notables like Willie Morris, Charley Pride, Oprah Winfrey, William Faulkner, Walter Anderson, Eudora Welty, Muddy Waters, Marty Stuart, Craig Claiborne, and many other artists and craftsmen, chefs, writers, and musicians, as well as consummate storytellers born and raised in this rich southern culture. 

As we drove into the parking lot at the MAX, I noticed an old hotel up the street that appeared to be in the stages of reconstruction and wondered if it was the Hotel Meridian where my grandfather had stayed while doing business in the automobile industry during the early 1900’s. At the desk, I asked a docent about the location of the old Hotel Meridian. “You’re standing on it,” she said. “It was demolished and this museum was built on the site.”

Manny and Melanie Mitchell of Meridian had donated the Meridian Hotel to the MAX project, and a board of directors approved the purchase of the Montana building next door to be included in the 58,000 square ft. exhibit space. The Mississippi Arts & Entertainment Experience contains a broadcast studio, art studio, multi-purpose area, gift shop, and an outdoor performance area and courtyard. 

The 20-yr. MAX project, from conception to completion, began with the Mississippi legislature providing seed money for an ambitious arts museum and gained momentum with major donations from the Phil Hardin Foundation and the Riley Foundation. In 2011, LPK Architects of Meridian, Canizaro Cawthon Davis of Jackson, Mississippi, and the internationally-recognized museum planning and design firm of Gallagher & Associates of Washington, D.C. formed the team that would create the remarkable museum. Other specialists who could add content from their communities in Mississippi became involved. 



The MAX is an inspiring project that has already begun to attract young people from elementary and secondary schools where they may be seen swaying to a juke joint band in an exhibit, or standing transfixed before the screen showing Horn Island and a simulated rowboat in which the artist Walter Anderson (my favorite) rowed out to the island to discover the subjects for his wildlife paintings. In 2019, the Jim Henson Exhibition entitled “Imagination Unlimited” will explore native Mississippian Henson’s work for film and television, including The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and other shows that have delighted young people.

The exhibit of Shearwater Pottery, established by Walter Anderson’s brother, Peter, in business since the 1920’s, features pottery crafted from two clay bodies: a white-bodied clay obtained from Tennessee, and a buff-bodied clay made from local Mississippi and Alabama sources. The pottery is decorated or glazed from one of Shearwater’s distinct glazes. I’ve visited this store, as well as the Walter Anderson Museum numerous times, and my birthday and Christmas gifts have included prints from the Anderson museum.















Meridian, Mississippi may not have been on a tourist’s radar prior to the construction of the MAX, but it’s worth a stopover of two or three hours browsing in this inspiring museum. Tommy Delaney, Board Chair of the MAX, has written that he feels the MAX will become the catalyst for economic growth for Meridian and Lauderdale County, Mississippi, and Meridian is now poised for serious consideration by businesses looking for quality locations.



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