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Jumpin’ catfish! Downtown landscape brightened by art project

JACKSON — Sponsors of the largest public art display in the state of Mississippi are angling for a bigger catch — of catfish, that is.

The Mississippi Catfish on Parade project presently has 50 sponsors for catfish sculptures and organizers hope to secure another 26 sponsorships for $2,000 apiece before the end of its run Sept. 30. By the time the display period is over, the program has the potential to raise $250,000, said Jack Kyle, executive director of the Mississippi Commission for International Cultural Exchange Inc. (MCICE), lead sponsor of the exhibit.

“Additionally, the MCICE will derive some financial benefits from the program if all of the 76 catfish sculptures receive sponsorship, possibly generating about $60,000 to the MCICE to support our ongoing efforts to present these international exhibition projects to the people of Mississippi and the surrounding region,” said Kyle.

Before launching Mississippi Catfish on Parade, Kyle researched similar projects in Chicago, Cincinnati, Zurich and New Orleans and estimated that several million people would view the display, with a significant percentage of visitors traveling from out-of-state. The projected economic impact for the project, co-sponsored by Catfish Farmers of America and Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce, is $5 million, he said.

“Jackson is only following the lead of similar projects like this in cities such as New York and Chicago who did cows several years ago to great notice and appeal with visitors to those cities coming away pleasantly intrigued by such highly visible and creative public displays of art,” said Kyle. “The list is long, but I know that Kansas City did Cows on Parade, New Orleans did Festival of Fins, Miami has done or is currently doing Flamingoes on the Beach, Pensacola is about to launch pelicans as their sculptural image, the Junior League in Little Rock sponsored a project that displayed 59 pigs including one called ‘Andy Warhog,’ Tampa did turtles, New Mexico did horses.”

Corporate citizens, individuals, small business owners and civic organizations benefit from the collective good the project achieves, said Kyle.

“For example, many of the sponsors have business interests downtown and

projects such as Mississippi Catfish on Parade reinforce the viability of the downtown as the focal point for government, corporate, cultural and visitor affairs,” he said.

John Lawrence, president of Downtown Jackson Partners (DJP), said the event has provided the downtown area with an opportunity to highlight assets, businesses and amenities while fostering community spirit.

“Downtown is the one place in the community that belongs to everyone, no matter where in the state you are from or what neighborhood you grew up in,” he said. “Downtown is our community’s central meeting place and this event highlights that.”

Each fiberglass catfish measures approximately seven-by-three feet, weighs 45 pounds and is anchored to the ground with metal bolts. Local artist Miriam Weems painted and decorated three of the catfish sculptures, including “The King of Kingfish,” that is, Elvis, for Union Planters National Bank, “CleoCATra, Queen of the Pearl,” for Kane Ditto, and “Bloomin’ Catfish” for Duckworth Properties.

“It was great fun,” said Weems. “I worked with wonderful people and just loved doing it. I’ve had very positive feedback, with tons of people saying how much it has brightened downtown Jackson and brought smiles to their faces.”

Ted Duckworth of Duckworth Properties called the project “a huge success with a lot of good participation.”

“It’s been a great opportunity for downtown to show off and another chance for business to promote a good cause,” he said.

The DJP-sponsored catfish, “ofFISHially Business,” located at the corner of Lamar and Capital streets, is covered with business cards from downtown companies.

“We placed a fishbowl in front of him asking people to leave their cards and started seeing cards from, literally, around the world,” said Lawrence.

Even though downtown Jackson has Thalia Mara Hall, several museums, the planetarium and a wealth of historic sites, a special event like Mississippi Catfish on Parade ties them all together, he said.

“During the day, a buzz gets going when people discover a new catfish that they haven’t seen before,” he said. “But at night and on the weekends, it is so exciting to see fresh new visitors to downtown exploring their capital city.”

Mississippi Agriculture Commis-sioner Lester Spell said the Catfish Parade has been a tremendous showcase for both a Mississippi product and the state’s artistic talent.

“Our state leads the nation in catfish production and processing, and with international competition increasing over recent years, the timing is right on promoting the industry in such a public and attractive way,” he said. “In early June, we hosted a conference here in Jackson consisting of other states’ Departments of Agriculture — state commissioners and their staffs. We drove 80 people from 15 states through downtown Jackson and past the parade. They were very complimentary of the display and were amused with many of the clever names the catfish were given. I believe it demonstrated culture and character for Mississippi and loyalty to our resources.”

Hugh Warren, executive vice president of Catfish Farmers of America, said he is pleased with the results — and the nod to the catfish industry.

“Having the catfish image chosen as sculptures should raise awareness and recognition for one of Mississippi’s primary agriculture crops,” he said.

Even though several catfish were vandalized in May, they have been recovered and repaired, said Kyle.

“If any other organizations would like to sponsor a fish of their own, we strongly encourage it,” said Lawrence. “It has been a great way to build community spirit, promote your company, and support ‘The Glory of Baroque Dresden’ exhibit, which is right around the corner.”

At the end of the display period, the catfish will be offered to sponsors for $500 each or auctioned. For additional information, visit www.mscatfishonparade.com.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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