Creative economy: ‘Telling our story’
The story of Mississippi is a microcosm of humanity – conflict and resolution, nature and man, defeat and triumph, lamentation and celebration.
“Mississippi’s greatest asset is story; the story we have to tell through our culture is unparalleled,” Malcolm White, Mississippi Development Authority’s director of tourism, told the Rotary Club of Oxford on Tuesday. “Mississippi has really contributed an awful lot to the American story, and it’s something we’ve never taken full advantage of.”
White addressed the value of the “creative economy” – that based on arts, literature, music, food, history and other elements of culture – as a major part of both visitor attraction and quality of life for current residents.
The Blues Trail, nearing 200 markers about people and places important to the musical genre, attracts a steady stream of visitors, as do similar trails for country music
White noted that Gov. Phil Bryant has declared 2014 “The Year of the Creative Economy.” With it go both print and video ads featuring Mississippi icons offering memorable lines: musician Marty Stuart bidding, “No RSVP required – it’s going to be Saturday night all year long”; chef Robert St. John inviting, “We’ve been planning this dinner party for generations”; singer Cassandra Wilson enticing, “There are no strangers here. Every place tells a story. Write your own chapter”; and singer Bobby Rush suggesting, “If it moves you … bring it on home.”
White credited Oxford with putting a bright spotlight on its music and other performing arts, literature, visual arts and even culinary arts.
“Oxford … is one of the leading creative economies,” he said. “Most places in the state have Oxford envy. What you have is a story that you’ve all agreed upon.” White noted the crowds that visit from around the state, the nation and the world for conferences, education, sports, history, culture and simply a taste of small-town charm.
“You are leading the pack when it comes to tourism,” he said. “You’ve attracted and developed a tremendous creative class here … people that can change the way other people feel about their community.” He pointed to the 1980s, when the Hoka Theatre, the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Square Books all opened, giving critical mass for the transition from “sleepy county seat” to cultural mecca.
Oxford’s creative class eventually overflowed to Taylor, which remains largely an arts colony, and Water Valley’s recent openings of a brewery, galleries and restaurants show the cultural influence is spreading, even if the process stems from lower costs of living in other towns.
“ You’re an incubator for creative economies,” White said. “The creative class, they move around, but where they go they create vibrancy and opportunities.”