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In Mississippi, Art = Community

Greg Gandy develops cultural infrastructure on a national scale to foster long term growth for creative professionals.

Greg Gandy

As part of 50 States of Art, Creators is inviting artists to contribute first person accounts of what it is like to live and create in their communities. Greg Gandy is a studio painter and creative entrepreneur from Jackson, MS. With a focus on cultural cross-fertilization, Gandy has traveled the southeast connecting artists and communities to businesses and organizations through lectures, creative consultation, publications, festivals, art exhibitions, and film.

I have had long talks over tallboys with musicians in the Delta. I have worked with artists on the Gulf Coast to paint buildings lost to Katrina. In Jackson, I have cleaned abandoned warehouse after warehouse alongside other artists to make way for studios. For years I have seen committed educators, museum staff, and art supporters working to communicate the value of art to young minds. From my experience, I can say with complete conviction that the dominant form of art in Mississippi is the art of community building. Yes, we may be at the bottom end of every national list, but we are traveling, reading, and learning. We are experiencing the successes of other communities around the country and sharing them with our own. We are creating, growing, and laying the foundation for future creation.

Photo by Drew Harris

For artists, resources in Mississippi are limited (there is 1 gallery for every 30,866 residents). However, the void is not an Almighty Oppressor of creative energy. It is an invitation for the strong willed and large hearted to dig deep and lift others up while also blazing their own unique creative path. A blank canvas coupled with a low cost of living provides a rare chance to organically build a creative revolution from the ground up without the strain of fighting against a pre-existing creative monarchy. The openness of the void has led to unique collaborations between artists, community leaders, government agencies, and businesses to create paths for creative development.

Photo by Drew Harris

Included among the many that have answered the call to action are William Rogers, Kristen Ley, Scott Allen, and Julia Reyes. In the Delta, Rogers has helped develop a creative community through recurring cultural festivals and continues to embolden young creatives through his organization Keep Cleveland Boring. In Jackson, Ley is empowering young female artists through her letterpress business, Thimblepress, and is casting light on local creatives through her thoughtful writing. Allen not only creates murals and studio paintings in the Fondren Arts District, but he also employees artists and trains them to produce hand painted signs through his company A Plus Signs & Creative. On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, artist Reyes runs Almost Circle Gallery to showcase contemporary works by local creatives and works by former residents.

Mississippi Modern hosting an exhibit of paintings by contemporary artist Jon Nowell at the Mississippi Museum of Art - Photo by Emil Cole

Personally, my creative process shifts constantly between social problem solving and visual problem solving — a consistent back and forth between enabling others and isolated self reflection. In the studio, my work takes the form of small watercolors on paper and large oil paintings on canvas, both dominated by contrasting hues and the human figure. In my community I replace the human figure with human interaction — enabling and promoting other creatives through publications, exhibitions of contemporary work, social events, films, and festivals. My tendency is to create order out of chaos. In paint the focus becomes finding harmony between contrasting colors, variations of line, and developing holistic visual patterns. With social projects, my focus transforms into connecting geographically separated communities through events, distributing the work of Mississippi artists to isolated areas with publications, and taking inventory of creative resources.

Although it is usually unseen and unreported on the national stage, the story of art in Mississippi is the story of individuals working together to build a better path forward.

Mississippi Modern Micro Fest partnered with the Mississippi Development Authority to bring regional fashion, music, art, and craft beer to the streets of Starkville, MS - Photo by Austin Grove

Learn more on Mississippi Modern.

All year, we're highlighting 50 States of Art projects around the United States. To learn more, click here.