Taking it to The MAX

By Julia Miller | Photography Credits: The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience

Another new museum is set to open and will celebrate Mississippi’s rich artistic and cultural talents in an ultimate entertainment experience.
Showcasing all the extraordinary talents that have come from the Magnolia State, the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience is set to open in Meridian on April 27. While the new Museum of Mississippi History and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson explore the state’s complicated history, The MAX celebrates the rich fertility of all creative genres that seem to emanate from the geography. In fact, The MAX strives to connect the impact of the artists’ past to the fruits of their labor.
“Here at The MAX we like to say ‘it’s in the water,’” MAX Marketing Director Paula Chance says. “Close relationships to the land, community, home, church, people and places are some of the cultural influences artists with ties to Mississippi have experienced.”
The exhibits at The MAX are divided into six groups: The Home, The People, The Community, The Land, The Church and The World. Each of the exhibits will feature a variety of writers, visual artists, musicians, actors and entertainment legends. Some of the biggest names include William Faulkner, Walter Inglis Anderson, Morgan Freeman, John Grisham, Jim Henson, Robert Johnson, James Earl Jones, Leontyne Price, Oprah Winfrey, Elvis Presley and B.B. King.
“The MAX was always conceived as a place to recognize and celebrate Mississippians across all artistic genres,” Chance says. “There have been so many significant artists with Mississippi roots, it made sense to tell all their stories in one place.”
By having a variety of art disciplines under one roof, it gives the visitor the opportunity to learn about the lives of the most influential Mississippi artists throughout the years.
“The MAX will strive to guide visitors to other towns and museums across Mississippi that offer more in-depth looks at many of the artists represented in the museum,” Chance says. “By showcasing a variety of artists, we hope to appeal to visitors with a wide range of interests and to inspire them through our exhibitions, live performances, classes and lectures, and other special events.”
The MAX is a light-filled airy 60,000 sq. ft. building with a modern silhouette and large glass windows. The first floor includes a courtyard where The MAX will welcome dance and musical performances, readings, and plays by visiting students, homegrown artists and church choirs. There will also be studio space for creative workshops and education events. The Hall of Fame Gallery on the main floor is the museum’s showpiece. The Hall of Fame includes 18 artists chosen by a panel of experts and by popular vote that will be highlighted in the gallery. Each year, four or five artists will be added. The MAX is complete with an intimate rooftop terrace that provides spectacular views of the courtyard and nearby railway and Union Station.

Unlike traditional museums, The MAX offers visitors many state-of-the-art interactives as well as artifacts. For example, in the Home exhibit, visitors explore where many Mississippi artists found their earliest sources of inspiration by gathering around the dinner table or sitting by the hearth. The Church exhibit allows visitors to sit in a quiet pew and take in stained glass windows. The World exhibit creates an interactive space that will inspire visitors to make connections, start dialogues, encourage relationships and showcase the breadth of Mississippi’s creative power.
The MAX also features a Hollywood-Style Walk of Fame that leads from Mississippi State University’s Riley Center to the museum. The Walk was unveiled in 2009, and a total of 15 stars are installed on the sidewalks. In 2017, stars were unveiled for John Grisham, Jim Henson, Robert Johnson, Leontyne Price, Muddy Waters, and Richard Wright.
The long journey to the museum’s opening day began in 2001 when the state legislature enacted a bill to establish the Southern Arts and Entertainment Center, Inc., which eventually was renamed The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, The MAX for short. For nearly 15 years, those dedicated to The MAX worked diligently to raise money despite financial obstacles from Hurricane Katrina and an economic recession. The groundbreaking of The MAX took place on Oct. 3, 2015.
Since 2001, the State of Mississippi has pledged $29 million to the project, and private businesses and individuals pledged an additional $14 million. Once open, the museum is expected to attract 150,000 guests per year and generate millions of dollars annually for Mississippi’s economy. On top of that, the museum’s vision includes steering visitors to other museums around the state, which will benefit all Mississippi regions and their legacies, such as Tupelo’s Elvis Presley, Pascagoula’s Jimmy Buffett or Jackson’s Eudora Welty.
Despite the long journey, The MAX is poised for success because of dedication from the museum’s leaders. Chance says her passion for the museum comes from her own roots.
“I grew up in Mississippi, earned a degree in art from Mississippi University for Women in Columbus,” she says. “The opportunity to share the best of Mississippi to the rest of the world — artists like Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, George Ohr — is what inspires me most about The MAX.”
By the end of next month, The MAX will be the perfect cornerstone to all those interested in Mississippi’s artistic endeavors, both past and present. To learn more, visit msarts.org.

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