Best of Jackson 2019: Community and Culture | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Best of Jackson 2019: Community and Culture

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Photo courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Photo courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History Photo by Mississippi Department of Archives and History

Best Radio Personality or Team; Best Radio Station: Nate & Bender, Y101


Photo courtesy Nate and Bender


Roads in life are not typically straight. They wind and curve and can even loop around. Such is the case with Nate West, 40, and Chris Bender, 42, who have found themselves working alongside one another once again.

Their mutual partnership began in 2004 when Bender came to Y101 in Jackson after stints in Abilene and Lubbock, Texas, as a station host. West had begun his tenure with the Y101 station nine years prior, working as a part-time host. In 2009, Bender decided to explore other opportunities, left the station and headed west, working in Reno, Nev., and later Austin, Texas.

"In radio, you're always looking for bigger markets. It's that next step you 
take," West says.

By 2015, Bender was back in Jackson.

"This is home to me," he says. "What do they say? The grass isn't always greener on the other side. I like this station better than the 
corporate ones."

West and Bender do top-40 radio station Y101's "Morning Showgram" Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. —Mike McDonald

Best Radio Personality or Team

Finalists: Bo Bounds (ESPN The Zone 105.9, / Cami Marlowe (Y101, 101.7, / Dirty D (Darrell Arnold, WPBP 104.5) / Scott Steele (US 96.3, / Traci & Hef (US 96.3,

Best Radio Station

Finalists: WJMI (99 Jams, 99.7, / WMPN (MPB 91.3, / WMSI (Miss 103, 102.9, / WRBJ (97.7 The Beat of the Capital, thebeatof / WUSJ (US 96.3,

Best Dance Group; Best Dance Studio: Ballet Magnificat!


Photo courtesy Ballet Magnificat!

(5406 Interstate 55 N., 601-977-1001,

Ballet Magnificat! is one of Jackson's best-known dance companies. Keith Thibodeaux (who played Little Ricky on "I Love Lucy" as a child) and Kathy Thibodeaux (a USA International Ballet Competition silver medalist) founded the company in 1986, with the goal of creating a touring Christian ballet troupe. Today, Ballet Mag has two touring troupes: the Alpha and Omega companies. The groups, which have included dancers from companies such as the Spokane Ballet, Pittsburgh 
Ballet Theatre, the State Theatre of the Czech Republic and more, have performed at places such as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and at the Christian Music Artists' Seminar in Estes Park, Colo.

In 1989, the Thibodeauxs founded Ballet Mag's School of the Arts. The school currently has locations in Madison and Jackson. It has classes for all age ranges, from the "Tiny Tots" class for 3-year-olds to Ballet I, II and III in the upper school, and also beginner's, teen and adult ballet classes.

For more information, visit —Amber Helsel

Best Dance Group

Finalists: Dancing Dolls (The Dollhouse Dance Factory, 1410 Ellis Ave., 601-969-4000, / Kinetic Etchings (1347 Fontaine Drive, 601-946-6506) / Mississippi Metropolitan Ballet
 (110 Homestead Drive, Madison, 601-853-4508, / Montage Theatre of Dance (Hinds Community College, / Studio Sole Dance (2999 Highway 49 S., Florence, 601-845-3326,

Best Dance Studio

Finalists: Dance Works Studio (1104 E. Northside Drive, Clinton, 601-720-1885, / Salsa Mississippi Club & Studio (605 Duling Ave., 601-213-6355, / Studio K (801 S. Wheatley St., Suite A, Ridgeland, 769-251-1506, / Studio Sole Dance (2999 Highway 49 S., Florence, 601-845-3326, / Taboo Dance & Aerial Fitness (856 S. State St., 601-502-4000,

Best New Addition to Jackson; Best Tourist Attraction: Mississippi Civil Rights Museum


Mississippi Civil Rights Museum Photo courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History

(222 North St., Suite 2205, 601-576-6800,

The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum is not for the faint of heart or the weak of feet. Since opening in December 2017, the museum has received worldwide praise and visitors. There are eight exhibit areas of the museum, most stuffed with historical items that chronicle the struggle of African Americans in Mississippi. Throughout, multimedia, interactive displays teach visitors about both brutal and uplifting stories you thought you knew, and those that have been forgotten.

Some of the galleries are intimate and contain graphic images, like the photo of Emmett Till's badly beaten body when he was pulled out of the Tallahatchie River. No story is left out, and the last gallery asks the museum visitor to decide "Where We Go from Here?"

The museum is not a quick stop. Plan to spend several hours there and wear comfortable shoes, as you will walk a lot throughout the galleries.

Admission to the museum is $10 for adults and every third Saturday—it's free. —Dawn Dugle

Best New Addition to Jackson

Finalists: 4th Avenue Lounge (200 S. Lamar St., 
769-572-4669, / Aplos (4500 Interstate 55 N., Suite 174, 601-714-8989, / The District at Eastover (1250 Eastover Drive, 601-914-0800, / Fine & Dandy (100 District Blvd. E., 601-202-5050,

Best Tourist Attraction

Finalists: The District at Eastover (1250 Eastover Drive, 601-914-0800, / Fondren / Mississippi Children's Museum (2145 Museum Blvd., 601-981-5469, / Natchez Trace Parkway ( / Old Capitol Museum (100 S. State St., 601-576-6920,

Best Category We Left Off: Outdoor Activity

Mississippi gets a lot flack for different things (some deserved), but there is something we do have that a lot of other places don't: green space. The state is predominantly agricultural and fairly rural, so of course, there are lots of outdoor activities. In Jackson alone, you can find something to do outside. Maybe hike through LeFleur's Bluff State Park or walk the trails behind the Mississippi Museum of Natural 
Science. If you find yourself downtown and in need of a place to just sit, you could always go to the Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art.

Not to mention, no matter the season, there are always festivals happening, whether it's Fondren After 5 or something annual like Bright Lights Belhaven Nights. There are no shortage of outdoor activities around here, so it's no wonder that Jackson voted this the Best Category We Left Off. —Amber Helsel

Finalists: Best Children's Entertainer / Best Construction Company / Best Manager / Best Youth Sports Organization

Best Local Live Theatre Group; Best Stage Play: New Stage Theatre, "Sister Act"


Photo courtesy James Patterson

(1100 Carlisle St., 601-948-3533,

If you want to attend the theater in Jackson, New Stage Theatre is one of the best places to go.

Jane Reid Petty founded the nonprofit in 1965, and the organization premiered its inaugural season the following year in its first location, a church at the corner of Gallatin and Hooker streets. New Stage produced 13 seasons there before moving to its current space in Belhaven in 1978.

Over the years, it has produced plays from many genres and settings, from the biannual "A Christmas Carol" to this year's winner for Best Stage Play, "Sister Act," in the 2017-2018 season. The play tells the story of Deloris Van Cartier, a woman who witnesses a crime and then has to hide in a convent. The production was originally supposed to run May 29 until June 10, 2018, but after success in the original 
production, New Stage held it over until June 17.

This season, New Stage has done plays such as "The Diary of Anne Frank" in fall 2018, and will perform "Hell in High Water," which recounts the Great Flood of 1927, from Jan. 29-Feb. 10, and "Sweet Potato Queens" March 13-24. The nonprofit also does the "Unframed at New Stage Theatre" series, which produces plays that are not typically on a main stage, classes, summer camps and more.

For more information, visit —Amber Helsel

Best Local Live Theater Group

Finalists: Black Rose Theatre Company (103 Black St., Brandon, 601-825-1293, / Fondren Theatre Workshop ( / Hearth & Mantel Theatre Company (769-218-9496, / MADDRAMA (Jackson State University, 1400 John R. Lynch St.,

Best Stage Play

Finalists: "After We Become Rain"—Hearth & Mantel Theatre Company (769-218-9496, / "The Diary of Anne Frank"—New Stage 
Theatre (1100 Carlisle St., 601-948-3533, / "Hair Grease"—Montage 
Theatre of Dance (Hinds Community College, / "Morningside"—
New Stage Theatre (1100 Carlisle St., 601-948-3533,

Best Arts Organization: Mississippi Museum of Art

(380 S. Lamar St., 601-960-1515,

This year's winner for Best Arts Organization, the Mississippi Museum of Art, has grown from its humble beginnings as the Mississippi Art Association into a full-blown entity complete with more than 1,400 square feet of exhibition space and a 1.2-acre park known as the Art Garden.

Over the last year, museum-goers have been able to enjoy exhibits such as "Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer," which displays 65 of his pieces that combine his native American heritage and contemporary artistic practices; and "Central to Their Lives: Southern Women Artists in the Johnson Collection," which features southern women artists' work from the late 1890s to the early 1960s.

As of last year, the MMA's cafe is now a branch of the Fondren business La Brioche Patisserie. For those who like gifts, the museum's gift store has items for everyone, from Mississippi-based business' products to socks that feature famous paintings.

Admission is free, and the museum is open Tuesday thru Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. For more information, visit —Brinda Fuller Willis

Finalists: Craftmen's Guild of Mississippi (950 Rice Road, Ridgeland, 601-856-7546, / Greater Jackson Arts Council (201 E. Pascagoula St., 601-960-1557, / Mississippi Arts Commission (501 N. West St., Suite 1101A, 601-359-6030, / New Stage Theatre (1100 Carlisle St., 601-948-3533,

Best Art Gallery: Fondren Art Gallery


Photo courtesy Richard McKey

(3242 N. State St., 601-981-9222,

Art lovers have voted Fondren Art Gallery as Best Art Gallery in Best of Jackson every year since 2015, and it's not hard to understand why. The gallery is filled with works from more than two dozen artists, including local up-and-comers and international creatives, representing everything from paintings to drawings to ceramics.

Fondren Art Gallery also offers framing services for paintings, photographs and objects, as well as art restoration and cleaning. Gallery owner Richard McKey teaches private art lessons for individuals of all ages as well as groups. He also offers private guitar lessons by the hour in the gallery's music studio. Art lessons are $60 per hour if participants bring their own canvas and paint, or $80 if they need materials provided. For more information, call 601-981-9222 or email [email protected]. —Dustin Cardon

Finalists: AND Gallery (133 Millsaps Ave., / Brown's Fine Art & Framing (630 Fondren Place, 601-982-4844, / Fischer Galleries (736 S. President St., 601-291-9115, / Offbeat (151 Wesley Ave., 601-376-9404, / View Gallery (1491 Canton Mart Road, Suite 7, 601-487-6477,

Best Kids' Event: Boo at the Zoo


Photo courtesy Jackson Zoo


Halloween is full of scary events that may not necessarily be for kids. However, the Jackson Zoo understands the importance of having an event for them that is "merry not scary," Director of Marketing E.J. Rivers says. Jacksonians understand, too, because they made it this year's Best Kids' Event in the Best of Jackson contest.

During the 2018 event, participants got to see Inky the Clown and Dorian the Magician. The event also had food trucks, edible and non-edible treats, animal encounters, haunted hayrides, bounce houses and more.

For more information, visit —Brinda Fuller Willis

Finalists: Dr. Seuss' Silly Birthday Celebration (February, / KidsFest Ridgeland (April, / Touch A Truck Jackson (April, / WellsFest (September;

Best Reason to Live in Jackson: Food and Restaurants

One thing you can guess about almost every human being is that they love food. Luckily, Jackson has options in the local restaurant scene. For those Italian lovers, there's restaurants like Amerigo, this year's winner for Best Italian, and longtime favorite BRAVO! Italian Restaurant & Bar. Another local favorite, Keifer's, is this year's winner for Best Local Fries, Best Hangover Food and Best Mediterranean. There, you can munch on foods like the pita mozz and cottage fries. Jackson has some of the best bakeries you can find in Mississippi, including Primos Cafe and Campbell's Bakery.

Vegetarian and healthy-eating fanatics can always visit places like Aladdin Mediterranean Grill or Babalu Tapas & Tacos. Jackson also recently got a new addition for its food scene: Cultivation Food Hall, where you can find everything from African-inspired dishes, to sushi in a bowl, to New York deli staples. —Armani T. Fryer

Finalists: Community / Cost of Living / Culture / Fondren / People

Best Festival: Bright Lights Belhaven Nights



Casey Creasey, executive director of the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation, believes that Bright Lights Belhaven Nights is one of the cooler neighborhood festivals in Jackson, and Best of Jackson voters seem to agree. The event, which is now in its 15th year, draws people from all over Jackson for live music, vendors, food and more.

Creasey says the festival has grown over the years, and about 3,500 attendees came out last year to enjoy food, art vendors and musical guests. Attendees include all ages with a large children's area, young families, college students and more. This year's festival is set for Aug. 10, 2019, and will cover Poplar, Kenwood and Carlisle streets in the historic Belhaven neighborhood.

For more information, visit —Brinda Fuller Willis

Finalists: Cathead Jam (June, / CelticFest (March, / Farish Street Heritage Festival (September, / Mississippi Science Fest (September, / WellsFest (September,

Best Local Podcast: Let's Talk Jackson


Beau York


"Let's Talk Jackson," a podcast from Podastery Studios, highlights one of Mississippi's many artists, activists, entrepreneurs, musicians and more. The show currently runs with about 10 episodes per season. Intern Kourtney Moncure, along with Executive Producer and Podastery cofounder Beau York, co-hosted and produced season six, with interviewees such as r&b singer Vitamin Cea, hip-hop artist Yung Jewelz and Ardenland founder Arden Barnett.

Moncure says she is an avid music lover and enjoys working on projects that involve the arts. She wants to focus on nonprofit organizations in the Jackson area in the future.

"I want to show different aspects ... that Jackson is more than just local restaurants. Sometimes you can make whatever it is you want to happen here in Jackson without moving away," she says. —Shameka Hamilton-Knight

Finalists: Made in Mississippi ( / Reality Breached ( / Red Flag Podcast ( / The Roguish Gent ( /Token Talk (

Best Community Garden/Nature Attraction: Mississippi Museum of Natural Science


Trip Burns/File Photo

(2148 Riverside Drive, 601-576-6000,

Just a stone's throw from Interstate 55 sits the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in LeFleur's Bluff State Park. Inside the museum, you'll find more than 200 living species in a network of aquariums. You can even watch divers hand-feed the fish in an aquarium not too far from a two-headed snake (who also has to be hand fed so that he doesn't choke). The permanent exhibits showcase Mississippi species, including many that are endangered. The museum also has 2,500 feet of space for special exhibits. The next one is "Ocean Bound," which shows how people's actions on land affect oceans.

Outside, MMNS has two-and-a-half miles of nature trails that highlight the trees and plants native to Mississippi—including poison ivy, so watch where you step.

Admission to the museum is $6 for adults, $4 for kids ages 4 to 18, $5 for adults $60 and over, and free for children ages 3 and under. The museum offers special pricing for birthday 
parties. —Dawn Dugle

Finalists: The Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St., 601-960-1515, / Clinton Community Nature Center (617 Dunton Road, Clinton, 601-926-1104, / Flowood Nature Park (4077 Flowood Drive, Flowood, 601-992-4440) / LeFleur's Bluff State Park (3315 Lakeland Terrace, 601-987-3923, / Mynelle Gardens (4736 Clinton Blvd., 601-960-1894)

Best Public Forum or Speaker Series: Millsaps College Arts & Lecture Series


Millsaps Arts and Lecture Series, a multi-year winner for Best Public Forum or Speaker Series, is now in its 51st season. A group of Millsaps alumni who wanted to give back to the community through cultural opportunities founded the event. Each year, it offers programs on music, literature, current events and history at the Gertrude Ford Academic Complex Recital Hall.

This year, there will be a conversation about filmmaking in Mississippi, the music of Muscle Shoals, two observatories in Mississippi and Robert Kennedy's visit to our state in 1967. Partial funding for the series comes from the Mississippi Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. For more information, visit —Dawn Dugle

Finalists: Friday Forum (Refill Cafe, 136 S.
 Adams St.) / History Is Lunch (Mississippi Department of Archives & History, / Ideas on Tap (Mississippi Humanities Council, / TeamJXN 
Luncheon Series (

Best Locally Owned Business: Deep South Pops


(1800 N. State St., 601-398-2174; 4500 Interstate 55 N. Frontage Road, 601-398-0623,

While Deep South is pretty famous locally for its popsicles, with ones for dairy lovers and those who can't have dairy alike, the business is more than just that. It's a coffee shop that features items such as nitrogen coffee from Cascade Brewing Company, gelato from Sweet Magnolia Gelato Co., baked goods and more.

Deep South also serves as a great meeting place, whether you're with a large group or just want to study with a friend. The business also has an art gallery at the Belhaven location. Recently, it featured art from Holmes Community College professor Kris Wilson and artist Anna Claire Lilly Ziegler. If those things aren't enough for you, Deep South now has two locations: one in Belhaven and one in Highland Village. For more information, find the business 
on Facebook. —Amber Helsel

Finalists: Capital City Kayaks (601-953-7615, / Offbeat (151 Wesley Ave., 601-376-9404, / The Prickly Hippie (500 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland, 601-910-6730, / Sneaky Beans (2914 N. State St., 601-487-6349) / Spray Tans by Kayla (504 N. Bierdeman Road, Pearl, 769-972-1138)

Best Museum: Mississippi Children's Museum

(2145 Museum Blvd., 601-981-5469,

The Mississippi Children's Museum features numerous ways to make learning fun for kids, with installations such as the Gertrude C. Ford Literacy Garden that opened in 2017, which features literary-inspired sculptures, native plants and an edible garden where children can also listen to stories.

MCM also regularly hosts traveling attractions, including the "Very Eric Carle" exhibit that ended in January. The next visiting attraction is "Daniel Tigers Neighborhood, a Grr-ific Exhibit." The exhibit begins in May and is based around a PBS program starring Daniel Tiger, son of the Daniel Striped Tiger character from "Mister Rogers Neighbourhood."

On Feb. 9, MCM will host its "Ignite the Night" fundraiser, where adults get to enjoy a night of music, dancing and drinks at the museum. This year's theme is "Hampton's Holiday," where guests can dress in "preppy summer chic" and eat Long Island-style food, play lawn games and bid in a silent auction. —Dustin Cardon

Finalists: Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum (1150 Lakeland Drive, 601-432, 4500, / 
Mississippi Civil Rights Museum (222 North St., Suite 2205, 601-576-6800, / Mississippi 
Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St.; 601-960-1515; / Mississippi Museum of Natural Science (2148 Riverside Drive, 601-576-6000,

Best Annual Event: Hal's St. Paddys Parade & Festival


For the past 35 years, thousands of local Jacksonians and visitors from around the country have flocked to downtown every March for the delightful craziness of Hal's St. Paddy's Parade & Festival, which has been voters' choice for Best Annual Event since the Jackson Free Press first added the category in 2010.

Over the years, the New Orleans-inspired St. Patrick's Day parade has evolved into a wide-ranging, uniquely Jackson event, complete with a 5K run, a pet parade, a children's festival, a second-line march, and of course, a top-notch music festival that has featured artists such as Robert Randolph, Freedom, The Molly Ringwalds and Sweet Crude.

While details on the next installment are still forthcoming, longtime festivalgoers are no doubt already looking at the theme for 2019, "A Magical Mystery Tour," for creative costume and float ideas. —Micah Smith

Finalists: Jackson Music Awards (July, / Mississippi Science Fest (September, / Mistletoe Marketplace (November, mistletoe / WellsFest (September, / Zoo Brew (May,

Nonprofit Organization: 
The Mustard Seed, Inc.

(1085 Luckney Road, Brandon, 601-992-3556,

A group of parents of adults with developmental disabilities founded Christian nonprofit The Mustard Seed in 1981. The organization's name comes from Matthew 17:20: "Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move."

The organization leads its "Seedsters" in activities such as a Christmas hand bell choir and art activities that also help maintain The Mustard Seed's gift shop, which sells mugs, Christmas tree ornaments, ceramics and pottery that the organization's clients make. Proceeds account for 
20 percent of The Mustard Seed's annual income.

Each April, The Mustard Seed also hosts "Racin' for the Seed," a duathlon with a 5K run and walk, 14.6 mile bike ride and 1 mile run and walk. This year's event is at Lakeshore Park on April 13.

For more information, visit —Dustin Cardon

Finalists: Animal Rescue Fund of Mississippi (395 W. Mayes St., 769-216-3414, / Cheshire Abbey (cheshire / Community Animal Rescue & Adoption (960 N. Flag Chapel Road, 601-922-7575, / 
Mississippi Kidney Foundation (3000 Old Canton Road, Suite 110, 601-981-3611,

Support our reporting -- Follow the MFP.