Major University for Arts Proposed for Jackson | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Major University for Arts Proposed for Jackson

Jackson Developer David Watkins wants to transform the James Eastland Post Office and U.S. Courthouse on Capitol Street into an institute for the arts.

"You've heard of Julliard? Why the hell don't we have our own Julliard? We've got some of the greatest artistic talent of the world—William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, writers, actors, painters, sculptors—and we're losing them (to other states)," Watkins told the Jackson Free Press today. "I want to create a new institute. Let it be under the state of Mississippi, the Institutions of Higher Learning. Let it be a degree granting institution. We have a very small number of schools offering Masters of Fine Arts programs in Mississippi. MFA's are typically three-year programs, and it's the equivalent of a law degree. We'll create this center for the fine arts, and endow it with $100 million."

The federal offices inside the James Eastland building are relocating to a new facility East of Capitol Street in January, leaving the building vacant in 2011 and under the auspices of the U.S. General Services Administration, which will determine the best use for the building. Watkins believes that the GSA would likely be willing to commit the building for use as a Mississippi university for arts, before handing it over for private development.

Watkins estimates renovation of the courthouse will run between $10 million and $15 million, and claims he already has financial backers to provide for the renovation costs and for funding the university's $100 million endowment, even in the current tough economic times.

"I've already talked to some of the richest people in Mississippi and some of the most influential people in Mississippi, and they're saying this is a great idea. 'You get the facility and we're onboard,' they say. Getting the facility is simply a matter of convincing GSA that this is the highest and best use for it. They go through this long list of public uses, and at the very end, if there's no good public use for it, they'll give to someone for private development," Watkins said.

The transformation could prove an easy conversion. The first floor, currently housing a post office, could serve as retail space for shops, art galleries and some office space. The second floor, which presently houses the federal building's court rooms, could convert to art galleries, art studios, and performance halls. The third and fourth floors, currently serving as judicial chambers, would serve a new function as classrooms and offices. Watkins said developers would not have to tear out many rooms at all, and could preserve the antiquity and beauty of the 1930's-era building. The U-shape of the facility also provides potential for additional rooms in the back.

Watkins said he wanted to facilitate the GSA in donating the building to the city of Jackson for the city to lease long term to the IHL, handing it directly to the state of Mississippi, or giving it to a private non-profit foundation to run as a school. The developer, the face behind the renovation of the neighboring King Edward Hotel, Standard Life Building, Union Station and the Farish Street Entertainment District, makes a comparison to Julliard as potential competition.

"We're going to go head-to-head with Julliard," Watkins boasted. "Julliard accepts one out of 40 applicants. Julliard has an endowment of $130 million. They've been around for about 100 years. We're going to start out with a $100-million endowment in the first year, and it'll be a big, big splash. We'll have people from all over the U.S. with Mississippi roots, … and we're going after only the best and the brightest. We'll spend big bucks on the artists/administrators."

Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. has different plans for the building, however.

"We've toured the building. It's diagonally across from the Governor's Mansion. It would make excellent (business) offices or some other adaptive use. We'd love to see it on the tax rolls. It's a fairly valuable piece of real estate because of its location and its historic significance," said Johnson, who was not sure if the city could draw tax benefits from the facility's use as a non-profit university.

Watkins said the city would derive incredible benefits from the revenue generated by a new arts-specific university in Downtown Jackson. He said an influx of artist would also bring new apartments, studios, art shows, galleries and musicals performances.

"The secondary and tertiary economic impact—the sheer waves of economic impact—will be incredible. We're talking multi-millions of dollars of impact on the city of Jackson," Watkins said, also touting the benefit of a positive image change for the city.

"The city of Jackson, known for its civil rights struggles, gets a brand new face out of this," Watkins said." All over the world, we'll have the Farish Street Entertainment District being advertised—but we'll also be considered the home of the fine arts."

Previous Comments

ID
157817
Comment

I love this the most possible that someone can love an idea. A personal challenge for me is that I've long wanted to pursue a MFA in Design, but I am reluctant to give up the vibe that we have going on here. This would be pretty much ideal.

Author
darren
Date
2010-05-13T13:19:17-06:00
ID
157818
Comment

Ditto, Darren. And Harvey... Harvey, Harvey, Harvey. I support you, but come on. You're really going to try to argue that another office building is more important to this city than a world-class educational institution for training the next generation (and beyond) of Mississippi's great artists? Give me a break. This is another visionary idea from David Watkins, and you can count me as a 110% supporter of it.

Author
Scott Albert Johnson
Date
2010-05-13T13:31:38-06:00
ID
157819
Comment

What a wonderful idea! Thanks, David Watkins, for your vision. Now is the time for Jackson to step up and make full commitment to a community of culture and growth in the things that make us more human - theatre, dance, visual arts, etc. I applaud David Watkins, and hope that the current city leadership will see and support the value in this endeavor.

Author
theatrediva
Date
2010-05-13T13:39:48-06:00
ID
157821
Comment

Okay, it has happened, I have fallen in love with David Watkins all over again! What an incredibly wonderful vision! How perfect the fit for this city. How perfect the fit with downtown Jackson's revitalization. How thoroughly linked such a teaching venue can be with the soul of Mississippi and it's creativity in all the arts. This announcement, coming on the heels of my recent viewing of the extraordinary combined art exhibits from 24 JPS elementary schools Jump Start (integrating art into all the curriculum) which left me weeping and laughing and evidenced the alteration and growth of the child artists puts an exclamation point after my above paragraph. Love my Mayor Johnson. Love him much and his leadership and all the wonderful things being done in his administration. This could be the piece de resistance of it which could grease downtown revitalization and lift Jackson and Mississippi "up," inside and out.

Author
J.T.
Date
2010-05-13T13:55:01-06:00
ID
157822
Comment

Oops, my above post, J.T., is Jackie Warren Tatum, for full and complete disclosure.

Author
J.T.
Date
2010-05-13T13:55:52-06:00
ID
157824
Comment

Jackson is the perfect city to anchor a Southern Julliard - PERFECT...I enthusiastically support this idea. We need MFA programs here, to train our designers, artists, even teachers of other artists - all would benefit from this institution. LOVE it. I hate seeing people leave Jackson or even leaving the state to get higher degrees, let's keep them HERE.

Author
Izzy
Date
2010-05-13T14:06:28-06:00
ID
157825
Comment

David, Good idea. Thinking outside the box seems to be your forte. However, you are still thinking inside the box by ignoring Mississippi's only "Urban University", as the home for the school. Jackson State continues to be treated as a step child by the business, social and philanthropic institutions of Jackson. Image what JSU, Jackson and the Jackson hotel and restaurant industry would be if JSU's football program received the heart-felt and pocket-felt support of the Jackson business community. For decades JSU boasted the largest home attendance (35 to 40,000) of any historically black institution in the country, without local business support. No local business support even though the hotels and restaurants always looked forward to JSU home games because of the economic benefits they received. Now that our local talent is being funneled to Ole Miss, MSU and USM, the JSU program is struggling. This struggle can easially be turned into spectacular success with the infusion of local monetary support. The International Ballet Competitoion virtually disappears between the 4 year competitons. What happens when Alvin Aily and the Dance Theater of Harlem come to Jackson? Sold out performances! Why not have JSU host the organization and provide year round training for aspiring local ballet and dance students..as further competition to Julliard. Not too long ago the Opera South, housed at JSU was the only Black Opera company in the country. It fell by the wayside when the original founder passed, and not having a firmer financial footing, the organization floundered. Being housed at JSU, a Black institution, would give your proposed school a uniqueness that your traditional white arts organizations would not have. The MS Tourism Bureau (Commission), has seen the economic value of "Black" arts, history and culture in its' recent funding of the MS Blues Trail, MS Civil Rights Tour, BB King Museum, etc. So David I would invite you to consider the obvious synergies and advantages of partnering with JSU in your trail blazing desire to "compete with the best" in the arts arena. In any case I applaud you for your vision, committment and energy towards making the city of Jackson the best that it can be. Look out Julliard! Here comes DW aka "Pops?"

Author
FrankMickens
Date
2010-05-13T14:18:26-06:00
ID
157828
Comment

Okay "Pops" - you lost credibility when you started out by talking football..... JSU is a fine urban university, but what we need is an ARTS school, not another institution committed to a wide diversity of programs, including sports. Let's focus on what is important - THE ARTS.... of ALL colors!

Author
theatrediva
Date
2010-05-13T14:59:54-06:00
ID
157829
Comment

Frank, I don't see this as either or. I see the location of the Jackson Julliard in the old Federal Building as bolstering JSU, not competing with it, by virtue of the fact that it could, as JSU certainly does, continue to energize the entire downtown area. The schools would be a part of the diversity of Jackson educational opportunities, along with Belhaven and MS College School of Law and Millsaps, each its own. The beauty of the idea, to me, is the economy of building use in a way that maximizes the artistic community which is a life blood of downtown Jackson. Actually, what is really boggling my mind is how far reaching this could be. I expect even the most creative minds can't yet lasso the fullness of that, assuming the initial vision is realized. jackie Warren Tatum

Author
J.T.
Date
2010-05-13T15:17:03-06:00
ID
157831
Comment

theatrediva, Frank is not "Pops"; that's David Watkins. I think Frank was being a smart aleck, assuming that David would respond to him. Just a guess.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-05-13T15:44:14-06:00
ID
157832
Comment

And what poetic justice to put such a positive thing in something called the damned "Eastland" building for so long. It's kind of like my dream to host a social-justice writing camp at the Neshoba County fairgrounds (not when fair is NOT in session) in order to reverse some of its bad karma. Go ahead, Pops. I love it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-05-13T15:46:14-06:00
ID
157833
Comment

Frank may have been a "smart aleck" but I agree that JSU should be the University that has the BEST school of fine art with MFA degrees offered and it can still be housed in the "Eastland building." We don't need another University in Jackson. We need JSU to be THE University OF Jackson.

Author
deltabelle
Date
2010-05-13T16:07:46-06:00
ID
157834
Comment

While there's nothing inherently wrong with partnering with JSU, which is a huge part of the vibrancy of this city... and while most of your points are spot on... I think I'd prefer a new, standalone institution. This is an idea that transcends JSU, other existing schools, and the history of this city and state. It's not only a great idea on its own concrete merits... it's also a symbol of a brand new day here in the City with Soul.

Author
Scott Albert Johnson
Date
2010-05-13T16:08:24-06:00
ID
157835
Comment

Don't get me wrong, Deltabelle, I'm rather enamored with Frank's smart-aleck side, as he knows. It takes one to know one. ;-) Just explaining the "pops" reference. I'm for JSU being the university of Jackson as well. But I also think this is a good idea. Love that a discussion is starting around it.

Author
DonnaLadd
Date
2010-05-13T16:43:09-06:00
ID
157837
Comment

This is a great concept, but I don't like the idea of it falling under the auspices of the MS Institutions of Higher Learning. I don't know how Julliard is structured regarding its endowments/funding, but it's hard to imagine it being subject to the political machinations of the NY legislature and other government offices and still able to enjoy its successes. Of course, here in Mississippi, our elected officials are all about education...

Author
chaffeur
Date
2010-05-13T22:22:35-06:00
ID
157839
Comment

To Theater Diva and Donna Ladd Claification on "Pops" reference. I was under the impression that David Watkins (DW), uses "Pops" as a pseudonym for blogging purposes her on JFP. So a translation of my so called smart aleck closing to my original post of 05/13/10 at 2:18 PM is as follows Look out Julliard! Here comes DW aka "Pops?" Here comes DW (David Watkins) aka (also known as) "Pops?" (acknowledging that "Pops" may or may not be David's Jackson Free Press blogging personna) All in all, in my opinion, not "smart aleckie", just a personal pat on the back to David, with a reference to his screen name. As for losing credibility with the football reference, I disagree. Unlike yourself (please bear with my major asumption here), theaterdiva, most JFP people respond to topics with football (sports) references in greater numbers than topics with arts references. If you doubt this look at the hundreds of responses on JFP topics related to football (super bowl, Ole MS football mascot, Tiger Woods, etc) opposed to the handfull typically garnered for arts topics.

Author
FrankMickens
Date
2010-05-14T05:52:36-06:00
ID
157841
Comment

Hi. I am an inspiring artist who will be attending the Mississippi School of the Arts next year. I will be majoring in photography and hope fully the year following that (my senior year) i will be applying to many art colleges. I am specifically interested in the Rhode Island School of Art and Design and Savannah College of Art and Design (Georgia). I would love to have and arts school here in Jackson and would definitely apply if the facilities were ready when i got to that stage in my high school career. Personally i believe that if JSU was to take over the arts institution, the attention that the school deserves would be greatly diminished by the schools' focus on academics and football. Also, I am sorry to admit that I wouldn't want to attend an arts program at JSU because in my opinion, they have not set a high enough standard for their students and I would not be comfortable any large school without a serious honor code. Growing up at St. Andrew's Episcopal School has trained me to want to be the best student i can be, academically, artistically, and morally. Mr. Frank, in no disrespect, your comment seem to convey that you only wanted the arts school to be at JSU only because you think it would beneficial for JSU and give the school more positive attention from the press and increase the schools popularity. You need to think about the students who will be attending the school for the arts. They want to attend a school that is focused on what they are interested in. They don't want to feel like second rate students in a second rate arts department. Think of it this way, An academic high school may have an arts department, but it doesn't focus on the arts. Therefore, the students at that academic school have few chances to get good art supplies and good teachers because the school's budget is going to the hire of better academic teachers and better sports equipment. Whereas the school that is solely for the arts will have a bigger fraction of their budget to spend on the students that are there for the arts. This idea has great potential but I also don't want it to falter under a school with greater priorities than the arts.

Author
Camille Tedder
Date
2010-05-14T07:44:53-06:00
ID
157844
Comment

I think Savannah College of Art and Design would be a good model for consideration. They were very instrumental in the resurgenge of downtown Savannah. They started very small and literally grew to renovate and readapt dozens of buildings in the downtown area, helping bring quite a vibrancy to Savannah. I lived there for 26 years and witnessed the transformation before moving home. Hopefully, "Pops" has researched SCAD.

Author
prentiss reeves
Date
2010-05-15T06:53:12-06:00
ID
157845
Comment

Ms Tedder, Thank you for such a well presented and heartfelt response. I think you will do well in any venue you choose to participate in. I can say I agree with most of what you have said without argument. I present the following comments to point out some concepts you may wish to consider in thought process, as well as changes in my thought process your response has forced me to consider. Your words are in bold italics. Personally i believe that if JSU was to take over the arts institution, the attention that the school deserves would be greatly diminished by the schools' focus on academics and football. I believe all of the Ivy League Schools have commendable arts programs and football teams. Not to mention Carnegie Mellon, and UCLA, and USC, and, you get the idea. Also, I am sorry to admit that I wouldn't want to attend an arts program at JSU because in my opinion, they have not set a high enough standard for their students and I would not be comfortable any large school without a serious honor code. As a former JSU employee (1990's) and guest lecturer (1980's) I agree. Mr. Frank, in no disrespect, your comment seem to convey that you only wanted the arts school to be at JSU only because you think it would beneficial for JSU and give the school more positive attention from the press and increase the schools popularity. No disrespect felt, and I commend you on having enough foresight to consider that your comments might cause a lesser person than myself (smile), to take offense. However, a fact of life is that nobody (including yourself) does anything unless they themselves benefit from it,; be it for a “good feeling” or “moral commitment”. In JSU’s case, what is good for JSU is good for Jackson, which is Mr. Watkins’s goal as well; to enhance the standing of the City of Jackson and it’s residents. I also don’t think Mr. Watkins would turn down the opportunity to be the developer of the arts school he proposed. He might do it for free, if you ask him nicely! You need to think about the students who will be attending the school for the arts. They want to attend a school that is focused on what they are interested in. They don't want to feel like second rate students in a second rate arts department. Think of it this way, An academic high school may have an arts department, but it doesn't focus on the arts. Therefore, the students at that academic school have few chances to get good art supplies and good teachers because the school's budget is going to the hire of better academic teachers and better sports equipment. Whereas the school that is solely for the arts will have a bigger fraction of their budget to spend on the students that are there for the arts. This idea has great potential but I also don't want it to falter under a school with greater priorities than the arts. My daughter is a Junior in the Stella Adler Studio, of the Tish School of the Arts, of New York University, so I guess you might have to rethink your comment. You may have heard of some of Adler and Tisch graduates; Spike Lee, Marlon Brando, Lee J. Cobb, Woody Allen, Oliver Stone, etc. NYU also has internationally acclaimed academic schools in medicine, law, journalism, sociology, etc. On the other hand NYU certainly does not have a well known football program. In fact they don’t have a football team at all. They feel it will take away from their focus on academics…. and the arts.

Author
FrankMickens
Date
2010-05-15T07:24:36-06:00
ID
157850
Comment

I would love to see an arts university downtown! I had been thinking about getting an MFA so I could teach a class or two on the side, and it would be convenient to have such a program here. I would rather have it be a standalone institution so that it can be all art, all the time. I could easily say that it should belong to Tougaloo since I went there, but I think this puppy should stand on its own.

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2010-05-16T22:30:59-06:00
ID
157851
Comment

It's ironic that I just saw a banner ad for the graphic design program at the Art Institutes on this page. That's exactly what I'm doing now! :) yeah, I know the system generated the ad because of the comments on this thread, but still...

Author
LatashaWillis
Date
2010-05-16T22:33:27-06:00
ID
157854
Comment

To Johnnie Barnes, I disagree that the JSU mission statement doesn't result in what Camille was trying to note. Things like mandating that an “urban institution” focus in on students’ “class attendance, behavior, and accountability” means that there will be less time to actually advance students academic and research skill, and their overall accumulation of knowledge. If the university is nothing more than high school the sequel, in the sense that you have to take all comers and give them the basic academic skills (how come a college student would need to learn that coming to class is important?), then I think that Camille is justified in some of her concerns. I don’t begrudge JSU for willfully assuming the historic roll of HBCU’s and taking in those kids denied a truly quality college preparatory education in their academically deprived high schools. But, what JSU has done is lowered standards of admission and is trying to justify that with this so called “Urban University” mandate. No where, even in the history of HBCU’s, was it every acceptable for a true University to assume that its students and graduates didn’t need to be held to the highest of academic standards. Too often, what you will find at JSU is that many students aren’t prepared for the rigors of college work. That would be acceptable only if those students received the grades due them and worked hard to prepare themselves to be successful in college classrooms. Too often they do not. What typically happens is that the professors, whose primary job should be research and lecture, have to spend too much time remediating students, which in turn impacts the quality of instruction and education the students receive. Professors are now evaluated (in part) on how many (ill-prepared) students are not passing courses, similar to what high school teachers are going through with student’s assessments being tied to teacher performance and evaluation. This is no commentary on your education in particular Johnnie, just a general observation of the level of students I have encountered in lectures and panels I have participated in at JSU.

Author
Renaldo Bryant
Date
2010-05-17T09:54:40-06:00
ID
157857
Comment

The idea is great. But if it is to be a full, liberal arts based university, there is a certain infrastructure that must be in place to satisfy SACS accreditation procedures. For instance, every student will have to be a part of a general education program. This requires coursework, enhancement programs, oversight....etc. Why not use an established university that already has all of this in place. Then your investment money goes directly to arts instruction. There would have to be a complete administration to hire.....lots of money....maintenance.....more money.....when your dollars could go towards instruction....hiring the best faculty available (which is what it would take.....the salaries that arts instructors receive in MS universities won't cut it.) It's a great idea....just not thought out.

Author
Inthedelta
Date
2010-05-17T11:40:34-06:00
ID
157859
Comment

Blackwatch, I agree with you whole heartedly. What you may or may not know is why JSU as "Mississippi's Urban University" is effectively competing for students with Hinds Community College". Back in the 80's the IHL or whatever ir was called back then, in an effort to "eliminate duplication in services to save money "(sounds familiar eh?) gave each of the state's Universities a mission. JSU was designate the Urban University. In the process the IHL tinkered with an already "Jim Crow" based funding formula for funding the Black Universities, by increasing the emphasis of historical, current and projected enrollment. For a first hand explanation of the previous Jim Crow JSU/Alcorn/Valley funding scheme's read the very excellant first book written by Dr. John Peoples, President Emeritus of JSU. An example of the new Jim Crow, JSU was given authority and responsibility to run University Center, located on Ridgewood Rd at the old R&D Center. At Univ Center, MSU, Ole MS and USM conducted satellite courses (further eroding JSU's student base). Sounds good YES? NO. JSU was give the responsibilty to maintain the eight story Univ Center wwwwbut did not receive any additional funding for the maintenance. So JSU's Lynch St. Campus bidget was :raided: to maintain Univ Center! Continuing on with the 80's, the majority universities were then actively recruiting the best of the brightest minority students from Mississippi, on a national basis (similiar to the minority athelet recruiting raids), JSU and even Tougaloo were forced to recruit more less than ready students to amintain enrollment growth. Believe it or not Hinds Community College, under the brillant moral leadership and vision of Dr. Clyde Muse, has a more stable and growth based funding mechanism than JSU! All that being said, JSU can still be a center of excellence and ethics if the proper leadership is put in place, emphasizing down and dirty, put the pedal to the metal, extra time on task, tough love teaching by teachers who are not expected to do research, but are hired to nurture, motivate and teach "old school!(the Morehouse method). With the caretaker current JSU president leaving, now would be a good time for the academic excellance boosters of JSU to really step it up. With the failure of the minority "Ayers Case" litigants to stay the course (with their less than effective settlement), it is time for the citizens of MS who care about the HCBU's to step up to the plate.

Author
FrankMickens
Date
2010-05-17T18:46:07-06:00

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