'Who we are as a state': Meridian's The MAX celebrates 600 plus Mississippians who made world-famous contributions to the arts

 

The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience (The MAX) in downtown Meridian features a museum honoring more than 600 Mississippians who made world famous contributions to literature, music and other creative arts.

The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience (The MAX) in downtown Meridian features a museum honoring more than 600 Mississippians who made world famous contributions to literature, music and other creative arts. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Jerome Trahan, left, director of marketing at The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience (The MAX) in Meridian, speaks with Rotary Club member Brooks Berry at Lion Hills Center Tuesday. During the club's weekly luncheon, Trahan presented on The MAX, which is an arts center honoring more than 600 Mississippians known around the world for achievements in music, entertainment and literature.

Jerome Trahan, left, director of marketing at The Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience (The MAX) in Meridian, speaks with Rotary Club member Brooks Berry at Lion Hills Center Tuesday. During the club's weekly luncheon, Trahan presented on The MAX, which is an arts center honoring more than 600 Mississippians known around the world for achievements in music, entertainment and literature.
Photo by: Isabelle Altman/Dispatch Staff

 

These rosary beads and a copy of

These rosary beads and a copy of "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams are one of many displays at the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center in Meridian. Williams, who was born in Columbus, gave the beads and play to writer James Grissom and is one of the 660 Mississippi artists honored at the art center.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Isabelle Altman

 

 

Jerome Trahan can still remember when students from Carver Middle School in Meridian visited the new Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience, also known as The MAX, in downtown Meridian.

 

Some of the students had never been in an interactive museum, eaten at a downtown restaurant or even ridden on an elevator, said Trahan, The MAX's director of marketing. The students' teacher later wrote to The MAX describing the visit as "life changing" for many of the kids, who were now taking guitar lessons or art classes because they were inspired by the arts center, which at that time had been open less than a year.

 

But Trahan remembers one particular girl who introduced herself to him and said: "I just want you to know, I'm going to be on that wall one day."

 

 

She was referring to The MAX's Hall of Fame, which features 28 prominent Mississippi artists, musicians, writers and dancers known the world over.

 

"She sees Oprah Winfrey, Charlie Pride and Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Eudora Welty, and she realizes now that she can be a part of that," Trahan told members of Columbus Rotary Club during its weekly meeting at Lion Hills Center Tuesday. "She can be whatever it is she wants to be. And that does my heart good."

 

The MAX opened Aug. 18, 2018. The arts center hosts a museum with immersive exhibitions telling stories of world-famous Mississippians who left a legacy in music, arts, entertainment and even the culinary world. It takes about three-and-a-half hours to walk through the museum, and visitors, including children, can interact with the exhibits.

 

"When you step into the kitchen, it sounds like your grandmother's kitchen," he said. "When you step into the church -- and yes we have a church because that's one of the communities that really impacts Mississippi -- it smells like an old country church. Sight, sound, smells, it's a great experience."

 

The MAX also features an amphitheater that seats up to 1,100, educational centers such as art studios and a new recording studio which country and blues singer Steve Azar recently used to record the song "One Mississippi," which he wrote for the state's bicentennial celebration about a year ago. The center also hosts temporary exhibitions. In answer to a question from a Rotary member, Trahan said as The MAX becomes more well-known throughout Mississippi, he hopes it can partner with local organizations throughout the state such as the Columbus Arts Council for programs and events.

 

The 660 Mississippians honored throughout the center's exhibits include Sam Cooke, Faith Hill, Jim Henson, who created The Muppets, and more, Trahan said.

 

"For all the negative perceptions of our state around the country and the world -- and a lot of that is well-deserved -- this is truly who we are," he said. "We're pioneers. We're media moguls. We're the best musicians in the world. Writers, literary giants ... people that have had impact on our popular culture and our world in a way that nobody else can claim."

 

In particular, Trahan likes the stories of artists who overcame obstacles. One of his favorite stories to tell is about actor and Mississippi native James Earl Jones, arguably most famous for doing the voices of Darth Vader in the "Star Wars" movies and Mufasa in "The Lion King." As a child, Trahan said, Jones had such a prolific stutter and was bullied for it so relentlessly that he was afraid to talk at all in public and allegedly went eight years without speaking.

 

"But now James Earl Jones channeled that, his pain, into being the most recognizable voice on the planet," Trahan said. "OK, maybe I'm fudging there a bit. Think of the other most recognizable voices on the planet: Morgan Freeman, a Mississippian. Oprah Winfrey, a Mississippian. Little guy from Tupelo, Elvis Presley."

 

Something many of the stories emphasize is how some of the artists were born and grew up in Mississippi, left the state and later came back to make a permanent home there, Trahan said to another Rotarian's question.

 

"That message is out there," Trahan said. "We preach that a lot. It is a good thing for you to get educated or get a job and leave our state and see what the rest of the world is like, and those people do come back. So we're actively trying to impress upon young people that this is a cool place. There is something for you here, and you can look at the legacy of all the people we showcase and see being from Mississippi is a great and wonderful thing."

 

He said he hopes The MAX will help fight some of the negative perceptions of the state.

 

"It's our job to break down that wall and show the rest of the world who we really are," he said.

 

For more information on The MAX, go to msarts.org.

 

 

 

 

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