The two-story, 60,000-square foot Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, or The MAX as it is known, was recently revealed by planners in Meridian. This project, which will aim to attract motorists to Interstate 20 and to inspire young artists to follow the footsteps of state heroes like Oprah Winfrey, Elvis Presley, B.B. King and many other people. Mark Tullos (CEO/President of The MAX) stated that the entire team, staff, and board have reached a point where they are ready to share the information now. Percy Bland, Meridian Mayor, will conduct the ribbon-cutting ceremony at The MAX at 9 AM. This will kick off a series lectures, workshops, and demonstrations that will continue over the next week. The Jimmie Rodgers Music Festival will take place May 3-5. It will feature performances by artists like Paul Thorn and Old Crow Medicine Show. According to the Mississippi Tourism Association (Mississippi Tourism Association), tourism is the fourth-largest private sector employer. Tullos stresses the importance of business savvy in bringing in outside-state dollars. He said that this was seen by politicians as an investment in cultural tourist. It was a smart investment. For every dollar that you invest in tourism you receive $14 back, sometimes as high as $18. You can’t get that amount in the stock exchange, it’s impossible.” “A Georgian visitor may spend $400 on meals, hotels, attractions, or even a new tire. This is new money in our bank accounts. He said that this is the best kind of business to work in. The museum’s board of director ordered a study in 2014 that showed approximately 13 million people travel within a mile of the museum on Interstate 20 every year. Owens Economics, LLC completed the study. It also predicted that the museum could eventually have an annual economic impact of over $100 million. These projections convinced The MAX to be a worthwhile investment, as the state Legislature has already allocated $29 million. The center was designed to be an experience. Nearly every exhibit includes an interactive activity. You can learn pottery skills, paint, or build a band of Mississippi legends using combining instruments. The goal is to stimulate creativity. Visitors are taken through exhibits, which take them to different places, such as the kitchen, church, and front porch. This allows viewers to experience the environment in the same way Mississippi’s artistic heroes did. Visitors can see how Elvis felt out of place in school and found a way to escape through music. Gallagher & Associates’ Sarah van Haastert said, “This museum is unlike any other.” She also helped design exhibits at The MAX and the GRAMMY Museum Mississippi, Cleveland, and others around the globe. It’s not only a museum about art but also about the process of creating art. We wanted this museum to inspire the next generation of artists. The MAX has studios for recording, broadcasting, and painting, as well as classroom space for young artists. The last exhibit shows the direct influence Mississippi artists had on their future. For example, Jimmie Rodgers incited Bob Dylan, Muddy waters inspired The Doors, Tammy Wynette inspired Dolly Parton and many more. Mississippi booms to The MAX in Meridian Many believe that Jim Buck Ross, former Agriculture Commissioner, created The MAX to celebrate the legacy of country music. Jimmie Rodgers is known as the Father in Country Music. Ross’ idea became the Southern Arts and Entertainment Center which was approved by the Mississippi Legislature to be built in Meridian in 2001. Marty Gamblin, Marty Gamblin’s co-director, convinced the board that the museum would contain more content than just Mississippi’s art history. The planning continued for several years and even received celebrity endorsements. Sela Ward, a Meridian native, presented a master plan for a museum in 2005. Faith Hill, a Star native, convinced the Legislature to allocate $4 million to the fund that year. Nearly 70 percent of Meridian residents voted for a referendum in 2016 to raise food and beverage taxes to supplement the state’s funding. From Ross’s idea to the grand opening of this week, there were many challenges. These included generating support from the state and overcoming the economic losses from Hurricane Katrina in 2008 and the 2008 recession. Gamblin, who is a veteran of the music business and currently directs The MAX Hall of Fame & Walk of Fame, said that “It was difficult to get people away from Meridian to get excited to be on the board.” We spoke to people in the Delta and they were very supportive of the B.B. Gamblin stated that they talked to people in the Delta about the King Museum and their dreams of the GRAMMY Museum. The Coast also had their own plans and were pursuing their own projects. Gamblin added, “We’ve heard about this project so many times, but I don’t believe it’s ever going be realized.” “We stopped fundraising after Katrina because it was impossible to ask people to build museums if they don’t have shelter.” The planning continued with the support of Paul Ott Carruth, a Summit native and radio host, and Tommy Dulaney (philanthropist and former chair of the Mississippi Economic Council), who stepped in as a philanthropist. Dulaney was instrumental in negotiating the purchase of Front Street property. The MAX found its new home in 2009. Although fundraising was slow, multi-million-dollar donations from the Phil Hardin Foundation as well as the Riley Foundation helped to kick-start a campaign that raised $19,000,000 in private funds by 2015. Gamblin said that the referendum to increase taxes in Meridian was the turning point. He said that if we had 61% of voters, I would have been thrilled to death. But to get (70%), it made us all feel good about this project because we felt maybe people are seeing the light at end of the tunnel and seeing what the future holds. For 10 years, the tax will provide $2.5 million in annual revenue. The MAX was built in December 2016. The governor inaugurated it the next March. Phil Bryant announced that the museum’s Hall of Fame inductees were William Faulkner and Morgan Freeman. The complete list can be found here. Malcolm White, director of Mississippi Arts Commission, was once a member of the board for the project. He said that he had concerns about The MAX’s ambitious goal. White stated that he felt it was redundant and didn’t serve a clear purpose for a long time. I felt like wearing a Miss America gown (next) to a Eudora Welty novel and trying to tell the Mississippi cultural story was too simplistic. There are already places that tell the Jim Henson story. They already tell the Leontyne price story in places. This was why I was asked to resign from the board. I tried to argue that we are setting ourselves up to fail if we believe we can be everything for everyone. He said it was impossible. White had also disagreed with the board over whether this project should be combined with the Jimmie Rodgers Museum. According to its website, it is moving to a new address down the street from The MAX. White stated, “I have always maintained that they should include the Jimmie Rodgers part in their project. And so I was at odds about that as well.” “I still feel that that’s a missed chance.” The Jimmie Rodgers Foundation began talks with The MAX’s Board about merging the museums. Gamblin claims that Rodgers’ family has a contract that stipulates that the museum must have its own building. This ended up being a major deal-breaker for both sides. White was happy with the final outcome and believes that it is an important part Mississippi’s storytelling landscape. He said, “I believe what they’ve finally arrived at is a very thoughtful and useful cultural amenity which fills in many of the gaps for the Mississippi story.” “This will mark the first attempt to tell the entire Mississippi creative story under one roof. If they succeed, people will go out (to other museums).” An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Paul Ott Carruth.