Artistically Afire in Old Town
by Ellis Anderson
- This month - It would appear that we’re artistically afire here in Bay St. Louis again, a happy conflagration that feeds creativity – and our economy.
Just around the corner on Second Street, Antique Maison, Social Chair, Bay Emporium, and the Mockingbird Café are longtime venues for local artists. The new Smith & Lens Gallery has stellar aspirations and is cometing toward region-wide recognition in the few months it's been open.
Toward the beach, on the first block of Main Street, Twin Light Creations, Maggie May’s, Jean Anne’s Fashion Express and the new Bay Life all feature work by superb local artists. By all means, one can’t forget the iconic Jim Bonner at the Bonner Collection on Beach Blvd (in French Settlement).
Back in the pre-Katrina salad days, Bay St. Louis residents always bragged about being included in Art Villani’s book, The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America. The city disappeared out of later editions after the storm.
Yet the art flame never burned out in Bay St. Louis. Only two weeks after Katrina pulverized the town,a small group met in the ruins of Old Town to celebrate the Second Saturday Artwalk, just to keep the flame alive. It was a small gesture with big symbolism. The artists in this town were going to help it rebuild. And they did.
By October, Jenise McCardell and husband Mark Currier had cleaned up one of the only viable commercial buildings left in Old Town and hosted a real Second Saturday Artwalk. The tattered remains of the community rejoiced at the fellowship and the determination evident that night. For many months, Second Saturday was held every Saturday and became a community life raft.
Gallery 220 evolved out of those times and for almost a decade, has served as one of Old Town’s artistic anchors. Twenty-two artists show work in the front gallery, while Jenise and Mark’s Clay Creations studio and shop are located in the back part of the large art deco building.
But between the oil spill and the economic downturn, somehow the artists started disappearing. The galleries that opened after Katrina faltered. Some closed.
Now, it would appear that we’re artistically afire here in Bay St. Louis again, a happy conflagration that feeds creativity – and our economy. Although sales of art comprise a relatively small portion of retail sales overall and have a minor effect on the apparent economic health of Hancock County, there’s the Social Capital factor. These factors accountants can’t push into columns have enormous impact on our economic and cultural well-being.
For instance, let’s imagine several big corporate entities checking out facilities at Port Bienville or Stennis Airport. While the Port and Harbor Commission might be able to offer everything these businesses need as far as infrastructure and location, the corporations will be bringing along people. Lots of them.
These people will want to live in interesting, vital communities. Places with historic buildings and great restaurants and natural beauty. They will want to live in places where walking and bicycling are common forms of transportation. They will seek out cities that treasure their artists and encourage creativity in the community. They will want to live in places that authentically feel alive and exciting and fun.
Even the real estate market recognizes the importance of creative people clustering together. The phenomenon actually has a name – the “Artistic Dividend.”
That would be us.
Bay St. Louis is going to grow, whether we want it to or not. That’s a fact. It would seem the best thing to do if we want to grow in a healthy manner is to attract new businesses and residents who will treasure and cherish our heritage, our history and our environment. We need people who will help nurture our artists and foster our collective creative spirit, because those things feed our souls. The economic boost is a fortunate lagniappe.
We have a lot of things to celebrate this year in Bay St. Louis and foremost among them is our creative community. It doesn’t really matter if we make it into the next edition of The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America.
We already know we’re one. Perhaps what matters most is keeping it that way.