Music Festival wants Youth Build out

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 9, 2009

NATCHEZ — A childish fire extinguisher fight at Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center has organizers of the Natchez Festival of Music calling for change.

Two members of the Youth Build program — an initiative designed to educate and train high school dropouts — were involved in the incident Monday.

The Youth Build program is using the basement of the building as its classroom for the next 10 to 12 months. The main floor of the building houses events during the May Festival of Music.

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The fight involved spraying fire extinguisher fluid in the auditorium, covering the seats with a fire-retardant dust, Music Guild President Rena Jean Schmieg said.

“The seats were white; the floors were white,” she said. “It was just an incredible sea of white that was everywhere.”

With the Festival of Music only weeks away, Schmieg said having the dust everywhere proposes a problem. And Schmieg now wants the Youth Build program out of the building.

Natchez Community Development Director Darlene Jones, who oversees Youth Build for the city, said the entire 20-something member class cleaned up the mess.

“It’s all been cleaned up,” she said. “They’ve made their amends. We’ve apologized to the festival.”

Jones said the students have also volunteered to clean the courtyards for the festival.

But still, Schmieg said there are remnants of fire extinguisher dust remaining that need to be cleaned before any performers for the festival arrive.

“We have artists coming from all over the nation and the world, and they cannot come and sing with the dust permeating everything,” she said. “It really has to be professionally cleaned all over the building.”

Ron McGowan, chairman of the festival of music board, said he believes the city will absorb the cost of the professional cleaners.

Schmieg and McGowan both said the festival board will petition the mayor and board of aldermen to have the Youth Build Program removed from the building.

Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis, who chairs the city’s public properties, said she wants the two groups to coexist.

“Hopefully we can all get along,” she said.

Jones attributed the incident to actions common among youth.

“It was just a little youthful thing that was done,” she said. “I believe (this) is something that was totally blown out of proportion.”

Mathis said she has suggested Jones hire a security guard, something she said is common practice at area schools.

She also said the basement should be barricaded off from the rest of the building, and the students could use the door that leads to the basement and not enter through the front.

“I’m just in hopes the community will support what we’re doing to get these young people off the street,” Mathis said.

No criminal charges have been pressed, and the two involved in the incident have been expelled from the program, Mathis said.

“You don’t punish the world for the action of two people,” she said.

The building is a city-owned property and is leased by the Natchez Festival of Music for $1 a year.