Mississippi arts advocates plead for continued funding

By Emily Wagster

The Associated Press

JACKSON - The Rev. Louis Johnson of Stonewall says he has seen art lessons turn troubled teen-agers into creative, purposeful young adults.

"It helps them find something positive in their lives," said Johnson, a United Methodist minister. As an organist and pianist, Johnson volunteers in a program that helps at-risk teen-agers learn about arts in Jasper County. He was among the arts advocates who congregated at the state Capitol Wednesday to plead with legislators for financial support of the state Arts Commission and the programs it sponsors.

Money is tight this year, and most state agencies will feel a financial pinch. Legislative leaders have recommended a second consecutive year of budget cuts for the Arts Commission.

"I hope there's some miraculous way we can find to keep them afloat," said Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood. "In the lean years like we're in now, it doesn't look too promising."

The Arts Commission's current budget is about $2.9 million. That's down from $3 million from last year. Legislative budget leaders have recommended a $2.4 million arts budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

One of the first programs to suffer could be a "whole schools" program that incorporates arts into other academic courses, said Arts Commission executive director Betsy Bradley.

Melanie Musgrove, wife of Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, said she was impressed by elementary students in Madison a couple of months ago as they demonstrated how art helped them learn in science class. She said the children memorized names of human bones by singing them to the tune of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game"

"I understand the budget crunch, but I would hate to see this one area cut so dramatically," said Melanie Musgrove, who taught elementary-school reading in Batesville before her husband became governor.

Arts supporters from around the state lined the Capitol's driveway, standing with a rainbow of signs bearing the names of Mississippi arts programs and institutions. Inside the building, they showed off quilts and paintings and gave musical demonstrations.

The Rev. Marvin Myles of Lyon, his wife Olivia Myles and several of their children sang a cappella gospel tunes for the Mississippi House.

Actor David Dallas presented 15 minutes of a one-man play, "A Gentleman From Mississippi," based on his memories of working as a personal assistant for former U.S. Sen. John C. Stennis, who died in 1995 at age 93.

Speaking in Stennis' slow drawl, Dallas had legislators watching in rapt silence. He recalled how Stennis told him of the last phone call he ever received from President Kennedy.

"He said, 'Sen. Stennis, we're going to the moon,"' Dallas said in the senator's cadence. "I said, 'have a good trip."'

Later, Rep. Clayton Henderson, D-Tunica, said the performance was fascinating, with its mixture of serious and humorous memories."I kind of had some tears in my eyes," Henderson said.

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