Blue Magnolia Films, in partnership with Robert St. John, Hattiesburg Arts Council, Visit Hattiesburg, Downtown Hattiesburg and The City of Hattiesburg, facilitated a workshop in October to gather and produce digital stories that shared the importance of Hattiesburg’s community development and cultural vitality in Mississippi. The photo story series and the newly installed photo galleries downtown create a Bicentennial portfolio for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Each participant captured the “spirit” of Hattiesburg uniquely through their own lens, paying homage to themes that have defined the city historically, while helping to cast a vision for the future. Several portions of the Hattiesburg gallery will be on display in Jackson in December as part of the state’s official commemoration of the Bicentennial, including the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and the Museum of Mississippi History.
“The Bicentennial is a moment to honor the diversity of our stories and pay forward values upon which future generations can build. We are proud of the community leaders who will come together for this week to acknowledge our history, tell our story, and help envision the next chapter,” Hattiesburg Mayor Toby Barker said.
"This is just another aspect of how the arts tell our story, not just through music, dance or theatre, but through the human emotion and experience that’s related to a sense of place,” Rebekah Johnson, Executive Director of Hattiesburg Arts Council said.
Hattiesburg native and restaurateur, Robert St. John, focused his story on the legacy of Coney Island Cafe, a landmark in downtown Hattiesburg for decades. Opened in 1923 by Arthur Fokakis, who immigrated to Hattiesburg from Greece, his son, Arthur Fokakis Jr., took over the business. St. John says the restaurant maintains a “spirit of independence that helps to tell the story of the our community.”
“The Fokakis establishment has made a huge impression on me growing up. It reminds me of the importance of enduring businesses to connect us with a sense of place and tradition and knowing where we come from,” St. John said.
VisitHattiesburg and Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association say they will be integrating the large-scale photo gallery into upcoming events in November to complete celebrations of the Mississippi Bicentennial.
“Through this project, we have captured the essence and authenticity of our community in a very special way. This large-scale photo gallery and online video series showcase our culture and celebrate our diversity,” VisitHattiesburg Executive Director Marlo Dorsey said.
“We welcome visitors and residents to enjoy these vivid photo galleries in person as we highlight this important bicentennial occasion,” HHDA Executive Director Andrea Saffle said.
Participants include: Robert St. John (Restauranteur), Rebekah Stark Johnson (Executive Director, Hattiesburg Arts Council), Carey Hudson (Musician), Dr. Richard H. Clark (Founder, Hattiesburg Clinic), Hiba Tahir (Managing Editor, The Student Printz), Abigail Lenz Allen (Songstress, Hattiesburlesque), David S. Price (Historian), and Charles Brown (U.S. Army Veteran and Hub Award Recipient).
Local partners have been instrumental in this project including the Hattiesburg Arts Council, VisitHattiesburg, Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association, City of Hattiesburg, New South Restaurant Group, Standard Office Supply and Printing Co., Grin Coffee, and Coca-Cola Bottling Company.
The downtown photo gallery will be on display through the end of January. For more information on the storytellers and their stories, visit www.facebook.com/downtownhattiesburg for the video links.