First Lady Pat Fordice’s interest in exposing Mississippians to the arts and her desire to bring positive attention to the state have been instrumental in bringing both the Palaces of St. Petersburg and the Splendors of Versailles to Jackson.
Splendors, set to run April 1-Aug. 31 at the Mississippi Arts Pavilion, is the foundation for a year-long celebration of the arts in the Capital City.
In this interview with the Mississippi Business Journal, Pat Fordice discusses what these major exhibits mean to the state in terms of quality of life and economic impact.
Mississippi Business Journal: What will the projected economic payoff be for Jackson and Mississippi?
Pat Fordice: We can not be sure what the impact of the Splendors will be, but judging from the impact of the Palaces, it will be great. From the Palaces exhibit, $4 million went back into our tax coffers as sales tax and there was a $16 million economic impact overall. Businesses from all over the state benefited from the last exhibit. People don’t just fly in and fly right back out, they come and do other things.
MBJ: How did you become involved in bringing exhibits such as the Palaces of St. Petersburg and the Splendors of Versailles to Jackson?
PF: Even while we were still preparing for the Palaces exhibit, Jack Kyle, director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange, went to Versailles and invited people from there to come to see the Palaces of St. Petersburg exhibit because he wanted them to see that we could be trusted with their priceless objects. After seeing the Palaces, they knew how well we
would handle their objets d’art and they agreed to the exhibit.
Trips were made to Versailles and it was decided which objects would be loaned to us for the exhibit. All of the objects have appeared at Versailles at some time in history; some were currently housed in Versailles and some have been borrowed from museums in the United States.
The bed that is being exhibited is the actual bed of Louis XIV, it dates back even farther than the one that is currently in the chateau. The replica of Bernini’s “Equestrian Statue of Louis XIV,” the piece which the exhibit is literally built around, is the last copy that will ever be made. There will be one statue in the Louvre, one at Versailles and one in Mississippi.
MBJ: What impact do you feel exhibits such as this have had on Mississippi’s national image?
PF: Obviously, they have had as much of a positive effect as anything done recently. Jack has worked very hard to invite the print and television media to tour with him to see what would be going on. He had a luncheon with heads of the major networks inviting them to the exhibit and also spoke with major magazine editors.
Articles have already appeared in many major magazines concerning the exhibit. Both Jack and I have been interviewed by USA Today and we have already completed a taped interview with the NBC’s Today Show. All of the attention being received is all positive and it is not by accident.
MBJ: What efforts are being made to include the general population in the exhibit?
PF: Forty thousand teacher’s guides were printed to be put in the hands of every teacher in the state. Every student, kindergarten through college, is receiving a booklet about the exhibit and each school receives a video to prepare students for what they are going to see.
The goal is to allow children as well as adults in Mississippi to learn more about France — its culture, language and music. There will be musical events going on throughout the exhibit with the Paris Sorbonne Orchestra touring around the state giving free matinees for students and paid concerts at night. The St. Petersburg Orchestra will be returning to give a week-long series of concerts on May 11-14.
The International Baroque Music Festival will take place at the Old Capitol Museum April 2 through May 1 and is sponsored by the Splendors of Versailles exhibit. During the festival, the famous French flautist, Jean-Pierre Rampal, will perform as well as many other artists.
MBJ: What is the future of exhibits such as these? Do you plan to be involved even after you are no longer First Lady?
PF: A great deal of hard work on the part of many people goes into the exhibits, but my part has been very enjoyable. I hope to continue to be involved in the exhibits and we are already looking toward the next exhibit which will be in the year 2000.
The effects of these exhibits reinforce what we already know about Mississippi, that it is a wonderful place to live and to visit. We just need to let the world know how wonderful our state truly is.
MBJ: What has been your favorite part of being involved with the exhibits?
PF: I would have to say the travel to Versailles and St. Petersburg. I have made three trips to Versailles on business and each time we went on days when the chateau was closed. We saw places and things that tourists have never seen. I have seen places and things that I would never have been able to see otherwise and I am so thankful for the opportunity.
MBJ: In conjunction with the Splendors of Versailles, there is also the Splendors of Mississippi project. What is the purpose of the project?
PF: The eyes of the nation are going to be on Jackson this spring and summer because of all that is going on. My office created the Splendors of Mississippi clean-up campaign. We are asking that people do what they would do if they had company coming at home clean up and be proud of our state. We want people to be impressed with the beauty of our state, not overwhelmed by the trash.
I am asking everyone to plant yellow, white, and gold flowers in honor of the Sun King, Louis XIV. The Department of Transportation has already planted yellow coreopsis, which is the state’s wildflower, at 17 entrances to the state.
According to recently released data from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, Mississippi’s total personal income grew slower than that of the nation and the southeastern region between the third quarter of 1996 and the third quarter of 1997.
The Mississippi growth rate of 5% fell behind the 5.6% observed nationally. The southeastern region was closer to the national average with a growth rate of 5.5%. The regional performance was helped by fast growth in North Carolina, 6.3%; Georgia, 6.2%; and Florida, 5.7%. Of the 12 southeastern states, Mississippi outperformed Arkansas, 4.7%; Alabama, 4.4%; and West Virginia, 3.6%.
Mississippi has shown strong income growth relative to the nation and the Southeast during the 1990s. In the early ‘90s, the state was aided by a relatively strong performance of its manufacturing sectors. In more recent years, growth in the manufacturing sectors has fallen off but the service sectors have done well.
The peak in 1994 was driven largely but not exclusively by the growth of the gaming industry. Mississippi’s health and business services have also done well during the decade.
Consumer confidence hits record high
A recent survey by the Center for Public Policy Research and Planning indicates that consumer confidence in Mississippi reached an all-time high during the fourth quarter of 1997. The confidence index was first computed in May 1994. The fourth quarter index of 170 was an 18.1% increase from the index of 144 recorded in the third quarter.
Relative to the third quarter survey, consumers were more confident regarding their personal finances and buying conditions for large household goods and less optimistic regarding both short and long-term business conditions.
Possible trends affecting the high confidence level include higher incomes, demonstrated by higher weekly earnings during the fourth quarter. Also, unemployment rema