Opera Fest organizers sing praises for bill

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 27, 2001

A bill passed by the Legislature Monday to create a $6 million building fund for the Mississippi Arts Commission is good news for Natchez, say organizers of the Natchez Opera Festival.

The Mississippi Cultural Development Act, as the bill is called, provides for the issuance of $6 million in state general obligation bonds, which the arts commission will disperse in the form of grants to nonprofit organizations and local governments to help pay for the costs of repair, upgrading, expansion, renovation or enhancement of existing arts facilities.

To be eligible for grant money, applicants are required to supply a 40 percent match.

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&uot;So many people were interested in this bill,&uot; said Sen. Bob M. Dearing, D-Natchez, who headed up the committee for the bill. &uot;Not just from our area, but from all across the state, because they realize the benefits it will have down the road.&uot;

One of the immediate benefits for Natchez and Adams County could be funding for continued renovation of the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center. The former high school on Homochitto Street serves as headquarters for the annual opera festival and houses the Natchez Ballet Academy.

Local supporters of the opera festival, who have lobbied for the bill intensively since February, say they have been told the Margaret Martin facility is high on the list for funds once they come available.

&uot;We feel like good things are going to happen because of this bill,&uot; said festival director David Blackburn.

&uot;This could be the future of our opera festival.&uot;

State funding for arts programs has been available through the arts commission for years, but the act marks the first time money has been set aside for the facilities themselves.

All of the work performed on the Martin building until now has been accomplished through local efforts, such as contributions and private loans, said Blackburn.

To bring the building up to standard, more than $56,000 was spent on rewiring the building and another $58,000 on installation of a new air conditioning system.

&uot;All that plus paying for the festival itself has been almost more than we could handle,&uot; Blackburn said.

Festival supporter Dr. Don Killelea said the Legislature’s action was good news not only for Natchez, but for arts programs statewide.

&uot;Now we’re going to have to get out and find those matching funds,&uot; he said.

Blackburn said a grant application for the Martin facility has already been sent to the arts commission, and officials are fully aware of Natchez’s needs. He expects to meet with them within the next 30 to 40 days.