Photos courtesy of Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience
There is a rather unique and enviable quality in a Southern state that can lay claim to opera divas, bluesy Delta wizards, grand writers, eccentric artists, performers from across the musical spectrum—and the Easy Reader, Kermit the Frog, Darth Vader, and the Queen of All Media. It is an amazing melting pot of talent.
Mississippi has long worn an artistic hodgepodge as a proud emblem. Our state is rich with remarkable characters and cultural flair that give its roughly 48,430-square-mile area energy that many other states can’t duplicate.
To formally showcase the diversity of the creative arts and the legends who have put the Magnolia State on the map, the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience (The MAX) opened its doors to the public on April 28 in downtown Meridian. The MAX is a world-class, multisensory museum that celebrates writers, musicians, actors, painters, sculptors, potters, culinarians, and more who trace their roots to Mississippi.
“All of us at The MAX had been eagerly anticipating the grand opening of this one-of-a-kind facility ever since we first envisioned it so many years ago,” says Mark Tullos, president and CEO of The MAX. “Now that our doors are open, we are just as excited to see it come to life as our guests will be. It’s a truly awe-inspiring, living, breathing place, and we invite everyone to visit us for an experience that will have a meaningful impact on their imaginations and lifelong creative aspirations.”
The centerpiece of The MAX is an immersive, 360-degree, two-story-tall Hall of Fame exhibit situated in its main rotunda, just inside the front doors. Museum guests are encouraged to explore the stories of the 18 creative Mississippians—Walter Inglis Anderson, William Faulkner, Morgan Freeman, John Grisham, Jim Henson, Robert Johnson, James Earl Jones, B.B. King, George Ohr, Elvis Presley, Leontyne Price, Jimmie Rodgers, Muddy Waters, Sela Ward, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Wright—comprising the 2017 inaugural Hall of Fame class via interactive touch-screens, sound, and moving imagery. Five new honorees will be added annually, starting with the 2018 class to be inducted later this year.
In addition to the Hall of Fame, the museum features interactive, themed galleries built upon the foundations of the Land, the Home, the Community, the Church, and the People and Places that have inspired the creative icons who have hailed from humble beginnings yet have gone on to enthrall fans worldwide. The galleries include architecture and multimedia presentations that bring each of the themes to vivid, tactile life.
The MAX is not just a place in which to learn about the icons who have come before. It is also an active hub for today’s generation of budding artists of all ages to discover the genius within themselves. An eye-popping schedule of workshops and robust educational programming encompasses music, dance, drama, writing, visual arts, and more.
“We have used the arts to explore the human condition since the dawn of time,” says Tiffany McGehee, The MAX museum educator. “[The MAX’s] educational programs only enhance the experience and offer current Mississippi artists the opportunity to grow while inviting the rest of the world to witness and explore with us.”
Mini Maestros, for example, is a program for toddlers and their caregivers to register for classes featuring stories, arts and crafts, games, and music.
“Exposure to the arts at the earliest stages of development nurtures an individual’s motor skills, social-emotional learning, and cultural awareness,” says McGehee. “By offering a free, weekly enrichment program to the youngest artists, we are helping to form creative members of our community.”
Upcoming programming will include the science- and art-integrated MAX Lab, designed for grade-school-age children and scheduled to launch in fall 2018. Any Given Child—from pre-K through eighth-grade students in Meridian—will be in a multi-year arts collaboration among The MAX, the Kennedy Center, the MSU Riley Center in Meridian, community members, and local educators.
In summer 2019, high-school juniors and seniors recommended by their teachers may enroll in Picturing Success or Sounds of Success—two-week, intensive visual arts and music programs where they will learn from professional artists, build their artistic portfolios in music or visual art, and gain the confidence to pursue their art forms.
Other educational offerings will include guided tours; hands-on workshops; lectures and demonstrations by scholars and artists; and MAX Mavens, diverse arts programs for senior citizens.
The MAX’s design incorporates two art studios for use by museum programmers and educators. It also features a fully functional recording studio in which students and up-and-coming musicians may create professional-quality demos or albums. The museum has multiple indoor and outdoor spaces for schools, civic clubs, professionals, and families to rent for hosting special programs and events. An open rooftop terrace invites visitors to relax, visit with friends, and take in the view of Meridian’s downtown skyline.
Rotating art-gallery exhibits inside the museum and film screenings and live musical performances in the outdoor courtyard add to the fun.