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New SAAC director wants to bolster communication, awareness


John Bateman, the new Starkville Area Arts Council director, speaks to Starkville Rotarians during their meeting Monday at the Country Club.

John Bateman, the new Starkville Area Arts Council director, speaks to Starkville Rotarians during their meeting Monday at the Country Club. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff


Alex Holloway



Starkville Area Arts Council Executive Director John Bateman is placing an early focus on improving the organization's communication and outreach efforts. 


Bateman, who was named the council's first executive director in July, spoke to the Starkville Rotary Club on Monday at Starkville Country Club. During his talk, he reviewed the organization's mission and laid out some of his goals. 


Bateman said he's working to improve SAAC's communication through things such as restarting the council's blog. Other efforts, such as an undertaking to create an arts calendar to list all of the arts-focused activities happening in Starkville, aim to help keep the public aware of what's going on in the area. 


Bateman, who is Starkville native and attended the University of Mississippi, said communication, is important. The point was emphasized when a Rotarian asked him why Oxford a stronger arts reputation than Starkville and how Starkville can overcome that. 


"We have tremendous talent here," he said. "Tremendous talent. My goal is to show that, and I see it as a communication problem and a branding problem. ... We are our own pool of talent and opportunity here, and that's why one of my objectives has been to restart the blog, improve communications and improve the way we communicate and the way we tell our story. Opportunities like this help me." 


He said it's important to find ways to highlight Starkville's arts strength, because it can benefit the city. As an example, he said the Cotton District Arts Festival attracted 40,000 this year, and the event generated nearly $12,900 in sales tax in one day, with $184,148 in gross sales at the festival. 


Mississippi attracted 23 million visitors last year, with an economic impact of $6.2 billion, Bateman said. He said those numbers, provided by the Mississippi Department of Tourism, weren't broken down into arts and non-arts tourism but still provided a glimpse of how bolstering local attractions can help benefit the city. 


"It gives you an idea of if we can give something to do, how we can bring that to Starkville, as opposed to sharing it with other towns," Bateman said. 


Bateman also reviewed events the arts council hosts, such as the Cotton Districts Arts Festival, Forks and Corks and its annual gala, along with SAAC's outreach and programs like Art in the Park, giving community and art education grants, and summer and college scholarships. 


During his talk, Bateman said he wants to diversity SAAC's offerings. 


Bateman said it won't be an easy fix, but he wants SAAC to represent the entire Oktibbeha County community. One of his early steps to that end is planning an exhibit for artists who are under 40 years old. He said he's currently targeting that for January or February. 


"We have a diversity problem," he said. "That's not something that anybody is trying to shy away from. We have a perception, whether it's fair or not, that we are a bunch of old white people. So we have a race and an age problem."




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