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Arts group adopts new name, look, enhanced agenda

JACKSON — After 27 years of operation, the Greater Jackson Arts Alliance has a new name — Greater Jackson Arts Council — a new look and logo and an enhanced agenda. The new name, face and agenda were unveiled last November.

“This area boasts a high degree of professionalism in the arts,” said Janet Scott, executive director of the Greater Jackson Arts Council, a position she has held for nearly a decade now. “The new name, look and focus is an effort on our part to better tell the story of arts in our community, and to include everyone in telling that story. Our slogan says it all — ‘Be a Part of the Story.’”

Protector of the arts

The Arts Council, the official funding arm for both City of Jackson and tourism dollars, traces its roots back to the late 1970s. It was established in 1979, and was originally called City Spirit before changing its name to the Greater Jackson Arts Alliance.

While the name has changed twice, the mission has remained constant — nurturing the area’s arts community. While the Arts Council utilizes a multi-prong strategy to meet this mission, its flagship program is its community grants, which are awarded twice annually in April and October. There are four categories — major cultural programs, arts education/arts therapy, neighborhood arts and S.O.S. funding (emergency dollars). Award sizes range from $500 to $5,000.

The Arts Council annually awards approximately 100 grants, and has now distributed more than $3.5 million over its history. (A panel from various walks of life are charged with choosing the recipients as well as deciding the award amounts.) These recipients run the gamut from large arts groups such as the Mississippi Museum of Art and International Ballet Competition to the Poindexter Family Fun Day and Beautiful View Block Club.

The Arts Council offers more support than just grants. It partners with groups, and offers assistance such as providing storytellers or funding entertainment for neighborhood arts events.

It is also active in cultivating arts education and training in area schools. In addition to awarding education grants, the Arts Council has established a number of supporting arts programs. Perhaps the most successful and popular is its “Express Yourself” Afterschool Arts Program. It was launched as a pilot program at Whitten Middle School in Jackson where hundreds of students participate in hands-on, professionally-led instruction in the areas of photography, creative writing, dance, jewelry making and traditional African instrumentation. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the program has since expanded to a Hinds County school.

“It gives kids something positive, a way to keep them off the streets,” Scott said. “They have fun and learn something at the same time.” Scott added that education extends beyond the arts as a liberal dose of science and math is also included in the curriculum.

When asked where the Arts Council funding comes from, Scott quipped, ‘Wherever I can find it.” She said the City of Jackson has been a longtime, generous supporter. Hinds County provides some funding, while other support comes from such groups as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Gertrude C. Ford Foundation.

Corporate sponsorship remains an important funding source, and Scott said the Mississippi business community continues to find the Arts Council a rewarding charitable effort, as well as good for the bottom line.

“Arts mean business,” Scott said. “When companies are looking at sites for businesses, one of the top things they consider is the cultural offerings of a community.”

New day

Members are also an important funding source, and the Arts Council, which employs a staff of four full- and part-time workers (92¢ of every dollar donated goes to supporting the arts), anticipates growth of its current base of 300 members. In fact, growth is one of the major goals of the new look and name.

“We wanted to make it clear that we weren’t a competitor of our arts community,” Scott said. “When we would say we were the Arts Alliance, often we would get a blank stare. They didn’t understand what we were about. But, they understand Arts Council.”

With increased membership, the Arts Council expects to grow its grants program, offering more grants to a wider range of individuals and groups. And, it has a major push on to expand the “Express Yourself” program to more schools.

Scott said the Arts Council has a number of other projects that she was not able to elaborate on at press time, but she was excited about the future. It is especially gratifying to Scott to see all this growth. A graduate of Mississippi State University, Scott had retired from the banking and finance industry when she was approached about running the Arts Council. Unsure if it was right for her, she was allowed to come in part time to see if she liked it. That was more than nine years ago now.

“It’s a great organization,” Scott said. “We have a tremendous staff that has a passion for the arts like I do. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun, and it’s extremely rewarding. It’s great to see things happening.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

About Wally Northway

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