Petal Arts Council discusses goals, ideas at inaugural meeting

By NIKKI SMITH,

When Peshah Galen moved to the area years ago, she experienced what she called “cultural deprivation.”

Galen, who grew up outside of New York City, moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast before Hurricane Katrina. As someone who grew up dancing in off-Broadway productions and immersing herself in the artistic community that the city had to offer, Galen was at a loss when she looked to get involved in the arts in South Mississippi.

“I was spoiled culturally,” she said. “I would cry every day because there just wasn’t much in the way of the arts.”

Galen joined several other Petal residents at the first meeting of the Petal Arts Council on Tuesday. The group’s goal is to promote the arts in the Friendly City and bring about a vibrant artistic community.

Valerie Wilson, director of the Petal Area Chamber of Commerce, said there was an arts council in Petal for some time and that the members did good work in the community. She said this is why they decided to revive the arts council.

“Petal is so different now, in just those few years,” Wilson said. “There has been an influx of diversity with talents and artistry that we need to embrace and encourage for the sake of our community.”

Plans are in the works for what the group will accomplish. Wilson said the group’s work will depend on the people that take part.

“It will have to be a community effort,” she said. “We can’t just have two or three people accomplish all of this. We need the community to back it.”

Wilson sees the group aiding in downtown revitalization by promoting events, such as pop up art shows or art walks in that area.

“If we could find a place in the middle of town to host something like that, that would be an excellent enhancement,” she said.

Some other ideas for what the art council could accomplish include helping organize or sponsor art exhibits for Mississippi artists or sponsoring scholarships for students pursuing degrees in the arts.

“In Petal, we have excellence in academics, excellence in sports,” said Libby Everett. “So why can’t we have that in the arts?”

Rick Wilemon, curator at the Oddfellows Art Gallery in downtown Hattiesburg, spoke to the 20 to 25 attendees of the inaugural meeting of the arts council.

“Creativity is the measure by which you judge a culture,” he said.

Wilemon told everyone why he believes community support of the arts is important. He said studies show that in those communities test scores increase, businesses flourish and it allows outsiders to see what a community is all about.

“Young people are not meant to be raised in a pop culture and tabloid marketplace,” he said.

The meeting was held in the Petal Civic Center Magnolia Room, where the walls were adorned with paintings and pieces created by Petal School District students and local artists, including Galen.

Galen is a jewelry designer with two online stores. She also designs pieces for approximately 15 nonprofit organizations, which benefit from the sale of her jewelry.

“People’s personhood is tied into the arts,” she said. “If that isn’t tapped into, it’s a huge loss for the community. It’s a huge loss without a vibrant arts community. Creativity is the cornerstone of everything that exists. Everything that is here was someone’s idea first.”

Attendees were also entertained with a performance by the Petal show choir group Pizzaz.

“We are here to help kids like these,” Wilson said after their performance. “To help further their dreams and interests.”

Those who are interested in taking part in this endeavor should make plans to attend the next meeting. At the meeting, those who join will learn ways they can get involved and toss around ideas as to how the group will move forward with its efforts.