Unified vision needed for building plans

Published 12:05 am Friday, February 6, 2015

When people come together with a unified vision, even the impossible is possible.

For many people, the old Margaret Martin High School on Homochitto Street is a lost cause. Before a grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History helped repair part of the old school’s roof, rain poured into the second floor. Plaster cracked, paint peeled and pigeons roosted in the rafters. Over time, the building has been allowed to slowly deteriorate.

The Natchez Festival of Music and many of the school’s alumni have big dreams but few funds to turn their vision into reality.

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Representatives of both groups have turned to their local legislators to seek $6 million from the state.

Meanwhile, Mayor Butch Brown has requested the building be placed on the city’s surplus property list — a move that would make it eligible to be sold. The mayor pointed out that being placed on the list doesn’t mean the building will be sold.

At the same time, Brown pointed out that the building isn’t producing the city any income and is very expensive to maintain.

Instead of unity, there is division when it comes to the fate of the old school.

So what would a unified vision look like?

Regular natchezdemocrat.com  commentor burnleyc offered his vision of a center devoted to the arts.

“With suitable investments, here are some ideas. A permanent home for the music festival. A place for the literary festival with breakaway rooms and a lecture hall. A performance venue for Musical Arts,” he wrote. “A performance venue for touring artists. A central hub for piano teachers, art teachers, tutors for after school. Dance studios. Photography? Community band? Community choir? Writing classes? Acting classes? A new and decent theatre? The possibilities are endless.”

Like the Natchez Festival of Music, many local art groups could benefit from such a facility. Imagine gallery spaces for ArtsNatchez, the Natchez Arts Association, Natchez Clay and other art organizations. The Natchez Ballet Academy, Middleton School of Dance, the Alcorn State University Jazz Band, local choirs  and other performance groups could perform in an auditorium outfitted with state-of-the-art audio equipment and lighting that a city arts center could provide.

The Natchez Little Theatre could also take advantage of such an auditorium.

Art teachers, piano teachers and programs like the Children’s Prep Music Studio could use a city arts center to teach everything from music to fine art to drama.

Instead of a building that is vacant most of the year, imagine an arts center teeming with creative energy most of the day and into the night and on weekends. Envision a place for artists of all ages.

Of course, not any one of the individual arts groups I have mentioned has the resources or the energy to turn Margaret Martin into an art center and maintain.

But what would happen if they all worked together with a unified vision and a common goal? What would happen if local artists from every corner of the city lobbied the city and the state to save one of the city’s biggest landmarks?

As burnleyc wrote, “The arts are a reflection of society; it enriches the public’s social life and spirit. Music is proven to increase people’s brain power. It would be awesome if it served as a place for kids to go — after school — in which they would do their homework, have tutoring if needed, and have access to their dance studio, piano lessons, band, voice, theatre, whatever. Then by 5 or 6 they would be ready to be picked up by parents. If such programs work in other cities, why the dickens can’t it work here? It takes vision.”

It takes unified vision.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.