CITY OF HATTIESBURG, PA
Mayor J. Ed Morgan

Unity Through The Arts

Unity Through the Arts, a community arts program that was begun in 1988 by the City of Hattiesburg, in partnership with the Hattiesburg Arts Council, continues to expand as it gains recognition in the State . This program was recently awarded a 10th consecutive Arts and Humanities Award from the Mississippi Recreation and Parks Association for the youth program. More than 80% of participants are deemed to be "at-risk youth". Program expansion now includes two and three dimensional art classes as well as literary programs held twice weekly at the Youth Detention Center. Arts opportunities for those housed at the South Mississippi Children's Shelter and concerts for those attending the Civilian Camp for Retarded Citizens were implemented three years ago.

Neighborhood Centers are home to the arts programs planned by a team that includes artists, teachers, parents, city management and the Arts Council director who serves as program director. Neighborhood centers for programs assure better participation and the opportunity to involve parents and grand-parents. Quality artistic instruction is assured by the artist selection process. Not only must those chosen have sound artistic skills, strong teaching abilities and flexibility, but must also demonstrate a caring and effective communication capacity. Many of the participants can be quite challenging until the artistic and creative expression takes over. The participant performance is then a joy to watch develop as more self assured youth gains the benefits of increased confidence, self-esteem, enhanced critical thinking skills and the benefits of team building.

Program design and creative content include instruction in the disciplines of music, drams, visual arts (including a favorite, clay sculpting) and African dance. Themes for programs are reviewed and carefully studied by the selected artists and other committee members. Opportunities are taken to address social needs and community concerns through quality artistic programming. One component of the program that is felt to be most important is making some of the artistic programs available to parents and grandparents. Quite often the young students live with a grandmother who also needs encouragement and enhanced skills to deal with family situations. The arts open many doors for dialogue. Cultural diversity and minority artists are stressed and are always a key component of the program.

Creative approach includes neighborhood programming as the challenge of transportation is easier. Working with the South Mississippi Youth Shelter, Pine Belt Boys and Girls Club, National Youth Sports Program, and most recently, the Youth Detention Center, has expanded outreach opportunities. Public Housing is also included in sites for programs. Support services and prevention strategies are met by carefully selected themes for various projects that have included: Drug education (including tobacco use), anger management, self esteem ( series of I AM Proud TO BE ME), and every fourth year, a patriotic theme. The arts are a great tool for dealing with sensitive issues and cultural diversity. The visual and literary arts, along with drama, certainly give creative outlet to expressions that may often deal with anger, disappointment and rejection, expressed in an acceptable manner that can be the beginning of life-learning skills.

Positive impact is evaluated by repeat participants as well as pre and post class behavior, the number of incidents needing referral past the classroom artist and then the warm memories of seeing the arts really make a difference. Case 1: A young African-American boy , living with elderly grandparents became involved in community art programs, excelled, and discovered a great talent in music. Today, he is on a full music scholarship at a recognized University, has been invited to be a guest conductor at European locations and is truly being recognized for his great ability in voice and the field of conducting. It is projected that this young man will be a major music personality that will grace a prestigious hall with his presence in the near future. Was this all due to a local program? Perhaps not, but the awareness of his enormous talent and the community support that has been so instrumental in the future development of this talent started at this local level when he was but a young boy.

Case 2: Patty Hall, program director shares the following memory. Several years ago three teen-age girls, wards of the Court and current residents of the Youth Shelter had a very strong impact on continued commitment to the City Arts Program. Deborah Ferguson, widely recognized African-American story-teller, dancer, vocalist and drummer, was holding dance and drumming classes following the evening meal at the Shelter.

After a week, Ms Ferguson requested permission from the Shelter administration to make available an opportunity for these three girls to participate in a public performance to be held at a local church. Permission was granted, rules were followed and three young girls, costumed in formal African dress, played back-up with Deborah Ferguson. They were simply introduced as Ms Ferguson's associates and flashed smiles that gave no sign of pain or suffering and for a few hours, there was none. Audience members thought they were professionals as they signed autographs following a performance.

The opportunity to watch three girls enjoy their brief moment in Camelot, feeling that they were somebody and appreciated was all made possible through a community arts program. The Mayor is very supportive of the arts program as is the City Council. Community support is increasing through the Arts Council, University of Southern Mississippi, volunteers as artists even though most are paid and those who are former participants.

Funding comes from the City of Hattiesburg, Hattiesburg Arts Council and the Mississippi Arts Commission, a State Agency. Nominal income is generated by a small fee for those who can pay. However, 80% are fee waived into the program.


 
 


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