Mississippi Museum of Art Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Monique Davis says art fulfills people, presents them with issues and provides respite. People often have a desire to be surrounded by things they find attractive that reflect them or connect to their lives. Art thereby makes life more manageable, she said.
“I don’t know what this world would be like without art,” Davis told the Mississippi Free Press. “Art is all around us. It’s just not two-dimensional art. Human design is based in art concepts. Art is the expression of people’s higher selves, and so I think it’s essential to being a full human being to at least, at the minimum, be exposed to art.”
The Mississippi Museum of Art is making it easier for everyday people to engage with art through “Access for All: Free First Saturdays.” Starting this month, the art museum will offer free admission to exhibitions on the first Saturday of every month through the end of 2026.
This program was made possible through a grant from the Art Bridges Foundation, whose goal is to increase access to museums across the United States and to foster engagement with local artists. The $40-million initiative helps support 65 current Art Bridges museum partners by covering the costs of admission, programming, marketing, outreach and additional efforts to reduce barriers to access, the foundation’s website reads.
“It is the first month of a three-year grant, which we’re really excited about because one of the things we found out as we were block-walking about a year ago is that … a lot of people in my neighborhood don’t know that we have an art museum and where it is,” Davis said. “There’s also barriers. Transportation is a more significant barrier than we had anticipated.”
This all-access program gives the museum funds to better help reach residents in the west and south Jackson area and to help address certain barriers by providing transportation to the museum through bussing, by offering free meals and by supplying more art-making kits and other items to visitors, Davis explained.
Community engagement and outreach is not unfamiliar territory to the museum. In 2022, the art museum embarked on a public-awareness campaign by block-walking, or canvassing, in the west Jackson community. They gifted 70 art-making kits to homes, as well as tickets to the “Great Migration” exhibit.
The museum also hosted a community-advisory council, made of members located in South and west Jackson, and held front-porch conversations with community members to offer suggestions on how the museum could make better decisions.
“We’re asking them what kind of information they would need to make engagement with the work more meaningful,” Davis said. “And so, their contributions were reflected in the development of a visitor guide, which addressed some of the issues that they brought up. They wanted to know more about the artist’s inspiration, where the artist was from, the connection to Mississippi, and their personal ‘Great Migration’ story.”
So far, the museum has connected with groups like Operation Shoestring, Springboard for Opportunities, and the Boys and Girls Club, and is open to working with other interested community groups, the equity and inclusion officer said.
“Stephen Brown, also known as 5th Child, is heading the community-engagement part of this program,” Davis said. “(He’s) making phone calls and going to parent meetings. I believe in the power of a personal invitation, and so he is creating relationships and deepening relationships.”
The access-for-all program is brand new, so results from this program will come in time. However, Davis said she would consider the program a success if it helps people to form relationships with the museum and to see it as a welcoming place relevant to their lives.
“(I hope) that they find that this is a place where they belong, where they see their life reflected in the art on the walls and that this is the beginning of a longer relationship, and that they continue to come back and visit,” she said.
“Picasso Landscapes: Out of Bounds” is the current rotating exhibition on display at the museum through March 3, 2024. A new exhibit, “What Became of Dr. Smith,” featuring works from local artist Noah Saterstrom, will premiere April 20 and run through Sept. 22, 2024. Additionally, Kate Medley’s photo exhibition, “Thank You Please Come Again,” debuts April 6 and will run until June 23, 2024.
“People should remember that the permanent collection that features Mississippi artists and talks about Mississippi is free and open to the public all the time,” Davis said. “You don’t have to be a member—though I encourage membership—to come and enjoy beautiful art about Mississippi by Mississippi artists.”
For more information about the art museum, upcoming exhibitions or First Saturdays, visit msmuseumart.org. Organizations interested in coordinating a free visit may contact Stephen Brown at [email protected]. The Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St., Jackson) is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from noon to 5 p.m. The museum is closed on Mondays.
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