Malcolm White will be keeping the trail warm

Malcolm White will soon leave his post as executive director of the Mississippi Arts Commission to become the director of the Mississippi Development Authority’s tourism division. White will start at the MDA in January.

Malcolm White

Malcolm White

White, who owns of Hal and Mal’s, one of Jackson’s most popular eateries and bars, is a member of “The Culture Club,” a collection of state agency heads who meet regularly to discuss ways to advance Mississippi’s arts heritage. Their latest project is to get off the ground a literary trail connected by places significant to some

of Mississippi’s most notable writers.

The Culture Club — which includes directors from Arts Commission, Library Commission, Department of Archives and History and the Humanities Council — has met once a month since Hurricane Katrina.

Sharman Smith, executive director of the Library Commission, said last week that the group has not met since late summer, but a meeting is on the books for mid-January. The Culture Club is still in the process of formulating a list of literary scholars to serve as a jury that will determine who makes it on to the trail.

Like the Blues Trail, the Country Music Trail and the Freedom Trail, the literary trail would be self-funded, White said. The markers for the three existing trails cost $6,000 each; the literary trail’s markers would be a bit smaller in size and cost, at $4,500 apiece. White said an open book prototype marker has been developed.

The funding model for the literary trail will be similar to the one used for the other cultural trails.

Leading the fundraising efforts, White told the Mississippi Business Journal earlier this year that the Arts Commission would collect half the money needed for a set of markers via foundation grants, donations and sales of specialty license plates. The other half would come from private sources.

The Country Music Trail, Blues Trail and Freedom Trail have more than 100 markers combined, in every region of the state. A literary trail could be just as extensive, and just as popular, Smith said.

White did not respond to a message left at his Arts Commission office last week. He said in a news release announcing his new MDA job that he wanted to grow Mississippi’s creative economy, as part of an initiative the MDA and the Arts Commission started last year in an effort to, among other things, grow the number of visitors to existing cultural trails.

The preliminary planning work on the trail has not included settling on a number of markers. With the state’s volume of celebrated authors, 300 markers is doable, White said last summer.

Realistically, he added, a first phase of 50 markers is more likely.

To get there, the group would need to raise about $250,000.

Smith said in an interview last week that it was her hope that whoever succeeds White at the Arts Commission would be as passionate about a literary trail as White was. His leaving doesn’t mean the project gets put on the back burner, though, she said.

“I think this could actually help move things along,” she said.

“We were going to eventually have to partner with the MDA, once we secured a certain amount of funding, for things like logistics and marketing.

“With his taking the tourism job, we’ll have somebody there who is already intimately familiar with the idea. We won’t have to sell him on it. I think it will work to our advantage.”

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