Year in review: arts councils see new leadership; events continue, albeit in modified forms



The Golden Triangle has gone through a pandemic, seen the leadership of two major arts organizations and much more in 2021.

It’s hard to point out which specific stories are more important than others. As far as we’re concerned, every story counts for someone.

We have therefore chosen a few coherent themes that highlight 2021: community members help each other; organizations adapt and thrive during a pandemic; and residents sharing their gifts and talents.

Arts councils see leadership shifts

Salem gibson

Over the summer, executive directors Jan Miller and John Bateman resigned from the Columbus Arts Council and the Starkville Area Arts Council, respectively.

In October, Salem Gibson joined CAC as Director of Operations. Shane Kinder continued to work at CAC and was appointed Creative Director.

Marie Switzerland

In November, SAAC hired new Executive Director Mary Switzer. Juliette Reid was hired as the council’s first program coordinator.

In December, SAAC also announced a new partnership with the Starkville Public Library. The library will host the Art Partner program at 4 p.m. on Tuesdays.

Both organizations hope to adapt to the needs of the community and continue to offer top notch exhibits and programming.

Juliette Reid

In other arts-related leadership news, the Magnolia Independent Film Festival has hired Chris Misun as the 2021-2022 festival director. He is a broadcast instructor at the State of Mississippi.

Longtime Lifestyle Editor Jan Swoope dies

Jan Swoope

Jan Swoope, an award-winning journalist as the editor of The Dispatch’s Lifestyles section since 2008, a longtime supporter of the arts, music, horses and people of all walks of life, died on June 30 at the Baptist Memorial Hospital-Golden Triangle after a six-month battle with cancer.

She was 67 years old.

“When you were with Jan, she always made you feel like you were the most important person in the room,” said former Columbus Arts Council director Jan Miller. “It was never, never about her. She was always there, always helping out, but never wanted to be in the spotlight.”

“You always knew it would be an enjoyable experience every time you were with her,” admitted Linda Bobbitt, a longtime friend. “She was always nice, always interested in what you had to say. She never resumed the conversation. She was the kind of person we all wish we could be.

Organizations adapt to the pandemic
Throughout the year, stories highlighted how groups were changing their activities in an effort to continue providing services during the pandemic.

Retirement homes have changed their business planning to help residents stay engaged and get out of their rooms.

On January 17, residents of the Golden Triangle celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day by observing a day of service.

In March, volunteers helped Bedz4Kidz build beds for children who don’t have them as part of the Dream Center Golden Triangle mission. The event took place at the First United Methodist Church in Columbus.

The Columbus-Lowndes Public Library, along with other library systems, offered a wide variety of programs and new activities. Some programs that hadn’t happened in 2020, like the CLPL Festival of Trees, were back and better than ever in 2021.

After a one-year hiatus, the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Women’s Group held their May lunch.

Loaves and Fishes, which serves free meals to those in need, were among the groups in the area that held their annual fundraisers, but modified them to minimize contact between volunteers and donors.

Tennessee Williams celebrated
Columbus celebrated the Tennessee native Williams’ 110th birthday with a weekend celebration in March.

Later in the year, it was announced that Williams’ first house would undergo a restoration and that a new life-size bronze statue of the playwright would be installed at the front.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the Mississippi Hills Heritage Area awarded two grants to the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center.

Grants will go towards repairs and renovations, including plastering the interior and painting the exterior.

Festivals restart after 2020 break

Hundreds of people came to enjoy food and entertainment at the Prairie Arts Festival in downtown West Point in September. Send file photo

The Prairie Arts Festival kicked off the fall festival season in the Golden Triangle.

Like most other festivals, the West Point event took a hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The Market Street Festival in Columbus and the Cotton District Arts Festival in Starkville have changed their dates from late spring to fall. The Columbus Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary.

Also in April, Catfish in the Alley took place.

The University of Mississippi for Women hosted its annual Eudora Welty Writers’ Symposium, which brought together various authors in the Golden Triangle.

Authors’ books with local ties
Two authors with local connections have written books and shared their knowledge with local residents.

Warn Wilson Jr., an engineering alumnus from the state of Mississippi, has written a children’s book on financial literacy called “Brown Money.” He presented some information from his book to the Boys and Girls Club.

Chandria Harris, a graduate of Columbus High School and Mississippi University for Women, wrote “The Not So Buttoned Up Approach,” a guide for first-generation college students. Later that year, she gave a presentation to her alma mater, according to a Facebook post in the district.

National website recognizes dog park
Happydoggo.com named Lowndes County Recreation Soccer Complex Bark Park one of the Top 50 Dog Parks in the United States.

The recognition was a surprise and also an honor, said Roger Short, Lowndes County Recreation Director. He attributed much of the park’s success to dog owners who help keep the park clean by picking up litter and other items left behind by their pets.

The park was originally built closer to Third Street North in 2014, but was moved to its current location in November 2020. The current site spans approximately three-quarters of an acre and is divided into two sections . One side is for small dogs and the other is for large dogs.


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