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JACK WEATHERLY — ‘Cultural ambassador’ seeks his next big Mississippi gig

JACK WEATHERLY

JACK WEATHERLY

Driving south on Highway 49, Mal White was headed from Jackson to Bay St. Louis and a Thanksgiving gathering with his family.

White is one of those names and faces you know if you keep up with what’s going on in cultural circles in Mississippi.

He was let go earlier this month by the new man in charge of the Mississippi Development Authority, Glenn McCullough.

The departure of another department head, Marlo Dorsey, chief marketing officer, was announced the next day.

Like a new head football coach, McCullough simply wants to have assistant coaches who share his vision.

The announcement of White’s departure as director of Visit Mississippi, the state’s tourism agency, was accompanied by a news release from MDA that exuded sweetness and light.

“Visit Mississippi is stronger today due to Malcolm’s leadership, and the state has made a clear pathway for continued growth and success in sharing its tourism assets for the world,” McCullough said.

And . . . ?

“I’m fine with it,” White said as he approached Hattiesburg on Interstate 59 on his way for a family get-together at his Creole cottage and a book signing at tiny bookstore in Bay St. Louis, Smith and Lens — an appropriate place for his book issued in August, “Little Stories,” which grew out of Instagram images and his imagination in collaboration with Mississippi filmmaker Chandler Griffin.

He gets the big picture. Will and pleasure of the boss and all that.

White says McCullough is more of a metrics and numbers guy, performance based.

White, well, he’s a concepts guy. He sold the MDA and governor on The Year of the Creative Economy for 2014.

It’s not that White doesn’t have anything to do with himself.

For starters, he owns and runs Hal and Mal’s — a downtown Jackson landmark restaurant, nightclub and watering hole for the hip and literate.

He’s considering buying the place where his night spot has been located for all of its 30 years, the old GM&O Depot.

It’s part of the state’s failed Old Capitol Green development. A law was passed and became official July 1 of this year in which White has first option to buy.

The Hinds County Tax Assessor’s office says White owes $155,000 in back property taxes, even though White only leases the property, a matter of which White is dismissive as preposterous.

Before that, there was the parting of the ways several years ago with the Sweet Potato Queens – the brain spawn of Jill Conner Browne, author of best-selling books with that theme.

Her outrageously artificial buxom queens in tight green sequined dresses and bright-red big hair had been a major part of White’s St. Paddy’s Day Parade.

Coming together and falling away are two sides of the entrepreneurial coin. Such is risk.

“I am still interested in continuing in some sort of public service,” said White, 64.

Before he was hired in 2012 by then MDA Executive Director Brent Christensen, he had served for seven years as director of the Mississippi Arts Commission, a position he  took because he wanted to make Mississippi’s recovery from Hurricane Katrina “holistic” by including arts and culture.

At any rate, now he would serve in some capacity in the private or public sector, he said, noting that he will be on the state payroll till Jan. 4.

“I am the unofficial cultural ambassador for this state,” he said.

A hint perhaps, but he observes that in slightly more than a year, Mississippi will reach its 200th year of statehood.

» Contact Mississippi Business Journal staff writer Jack Weatherly at jack.weatherly@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1016.

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