President and CEO of East Mississippi Business and Development Corporation, Bill Hannah said that “it’s going to transform the look of downtown Meridian.” “The MAX (as it is called) will attract 200,000 people to downtown Meridian in the first year. It will also have a huge impact on Lauderdale County,” said Bill Hannah, president and CEO of the East Mississippi Business and Development Corporation. Mark Tullos (executive director of The MAX), who arrived in the city from Louisiana to oversee the state’s museums, said that “all these sleeping giants” in downtown Meridian are now awake. He said that one of the reasons he was attracted to the job was the incredible inventory of Meridian real estate, including the Three Foot Building. Tullos stated that the MAX’s grand opening will be held on April 27, with a black tie gala. However, “it must be completed before the 27th.” He said that tours are being planned for legislators, media, and front-line convention and visitors bureau staff during the days leading up the gala. The MAX will tell stories about Mississippi’s most famous artists such as Morgan Freeman and Elvis Presley, Jim Henson, Tennessee Williams, B. B. B. Paul Ott Carruth, a country music singer and radio personality, was the inspiration for this idea. The Mississippi Legislature created the Southern Arts and Entertainment Center Inc. in 2001. Later, that name was changed to The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience. The impact of Hurricane Katrina on fundraising and the economic downturn made it difficult to raise funds. Despite these obstacles, the State of Mississippi pledged $29million to the project. Private businesses and individuals have pledged more than $14million. Meridian implemented a 2 percent sales tax on prepared foods and beverages, which is expected to generate $2.5 million per year for the next 10 years. Nearly 70% of Meridian residents voted in favor of the tax. Tullos stated that the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience isn’t a traditional museum. He stated that while we will have artifacts, we are not a collection center. We will instead have interactive displays that teach about Mississippi’s creative and talented citizens. While it will be entertaining, the museum will also have a teaching component. He said that visitors will not only learn about Mississippi’s musicians, actors, writers, and artists, but also about the state and the reasons why so many people are inspired by it. “We will celebrate the immense impact of Mississippi’s creativity legacy, honoring the legends of past and inspiring the future artists, and we will also share our appreciation for the state itself.” Every year, a ceremony is held to induct a Hall of Fame member, a musician, actor, media personality or visual artist. The Hall of Fame space is the heart of The MAX. It will be two stories high and will feature touchscreens, sound, and moving imagery. The Riley Center in downtown Meridian will host the Hall of Fame ceremony for this year. Tullos stated that there will be a family luncheon for all the award recipients. The ceremony will then take place where each award will be presented to the artist, their family, or the foundation members. We hope they will all return to our grand opening,” Tullos said. This year’s inductees include Robert Johnson and B.B. King, Elvis Presley and Leontyne price; writers William Faulkner and John Grisham; Eudora Welty and Richard Wright; actors Morgan Freeman and James Earl Jones; visual artists Walter Anderson, George Ohr; and entertainers Jim Henson, Oprah Winfrey. Ward is a Meridian native and serves as the Honorary Celebrity Committee’s chairwoman, following Faith Hill and Marty Stuart. The committee also includes Price, Price, Tom Lester and Freeman. Partly, building The MAX in Meridian was a matter practicality. Tullos stated that Meridian is in a perfect spot on the interstate. We had enough room. Meridian is the only place where I-20 passes right through. Anyone traveling from Dallas to Atlanta will pass through Meridian. He said that we are also close to Memphis, New Orleans and other cities. We don’t want people to just stop by to grab a quick bite or refuel, but to learn more about Mississippi and plan future trips. We will also be featuring museums and cultural institutions from Mississippi. He said, “This isn’t a Meridian thing; it is a Mississippi thing.” Paula Chance, marketing director and communications director at The MAX, reinforces this promotional element. She stated that while we want to encourage people to visit us, the interactives and stories will also help them connect with other people and places in the state. She explained that a kiosk will allow visitors to make their own tour maps and will tailor trips to suit individual interests and needs. “The tour map can be downloaded to smart phones or printed from the gift shop. Visitors will spend approximately two to three hours at The MAX. The second floor galleries will focus on six Mississippi influences on artists: The Home (the Church, The People), The Community (the Land), and The World (the World). Chance stated that these exhibits are sophisticated and will be a teaching tool for visitors. For The Church exhibit, for example, there will be a chapel inside. Andy Young, of Pearl River Glass, Jackson, made the stained-glass window for the church. The brick exterior and the pews are both from Collinsville. Young stated that the design “tells the story about the Mississippi arts.” This intricate design features images of Lucille, the B.B. guitar. The intricate design features images of “Lucille,” the famous Mississippi guitar B.B. King, and other images that refer to Mississippi music, art, and literature. Visitors to The MAX will also have the opportunity to form a pot using a wheel according to three different Mississippi potters. The kitchen will be able to project onto plates food prepared by Mississippi chefs. Chance stated that there will be “a lot of new technology specifically designed for this museum.” Visitors can use four studios at the MAX downstairs. We will have a painting studio, pottery studio, recording studio, and a broadcast studio. Chance stated that the upstairs classroom space can accommodate 20-30 students to work on projects simultaneously. There will be a large multipurpose space upstairs for events and a large terrace upstairs that can accommodate between 100 and 150 people. Chance stated that the museum will offer many learning and teaching opportunities, as well as places to meet and socialize. To support this important work, you can make a regular donation to the museum today as part of the Spring Member Drive.