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Museum of the Mississippi Delta work upcoming

  • The Greenwood Commonwealth
  • Published Wednesday, July 9, 2014, at 7:17 a.m.
  • Updated Sunday, July 13, 2014, at 1:08 p.m.

— Upcoming renovations to the Museum of the Mississippi Delta will increase its ability to give the public access to the region's arts, culture and history, says Cheryl Taylor, the museum's executive director.

The renovations, which have been in the works for a little over three years, will start early in the fall — roughly sometime in September to early October — and should be finished by the end of the year or early in 2015.

"The mission of the museum is pretty simple," said Taylor. "We are here to present all of the different elements of life in the Mississippi Delta in a way where people can experience and learn about the Delta. So this renovation is aligned with our mission in that will allow us to be able to present those elements in a more profound way."

Taylor said the museum will be open for most of the renovation period, with the exception of maybe one or two days.

The work is being funded through a $125,000 grant, which the Mississippi Arts Commission awarded the museum in October of 2010, and money from the museum's ongoing capital campaign, which was established because a portion of the grant had to be matched in order for it to be received.

The project is estimated to cost about $220,000 to $250,000.

"It is not a huge project, but for what we have to do, it's going to make a really big difference," said Taylor.

The 57-year-old building that houses the museum was originally built as a petroleum company headquarters.

"It's got some wear and tear," said Taylor.

When the museum first sent the proposal for the grant money, the plan was to add on to the building rather than remodel it.

Taylor said she knew there was interest in adding an educational center. The proposal was written for adding an addition on the back of the building with a multi-purpose room.

"We knew we had some seed money to use," she said. "We started thinking that we should look at this carefully and make sure this is what we want to do. We decided that we wanted to have a hard look at this facility."

The museum received a grant from a local foundation for a feasibility study on the building. After the assessment, the museum's board of directors decided it made more sense to work on the interior space rather than add on to the facility.

"Even with the new addition, we would have still had the same problems in the rest of the building," said Taylor. "So we revised our plan."

The makeover will include upgrades to the front entrance and the signage outside, some roof repairs and reorganization of the agricultural room.

The renovation will be headed by Madge Bemiss, an architect with a firm based in Richmond, Virginia. Bemiss was involved with two renovations at the Mississippi Museum of Art and developed its art garden.

The museum only has preliminary plans now, but Bemiss will present the final details for approval to the board by the end of this month.

Taylor said the upgrades will give the facility a more museum-like feel.

"We want an open flow from the front entrance heading into the agricultural gallery," said Taylor. "We also plan to have better lighting, so we can more adequately display and present our collection."

Only the agricultural room will be closed. The rest of the permanent exhibits — the Malmaison room, Mississippi art collection, the archaeology room, swamp room, fossils, feathers and fur, Leflore County's military history and Leflore County's historic time line — will be open to the public.

"It'll just be a cleaner, crisper space," said Taylor. "We want to lighten and brighten up the museum."

Taylor said this renovation is the first phase of an ongoing project to upgrade the museum. During phase two, she said, more of the galleries will be reorganized to better highlight their contents. There are also talks of incorporating a larger hands-on space for children.

Although upgrading the building is a priority, Taylor said that it is also important to be careful with the renovations.

"We get visitors from all over the world," she said. "Most of the common responses and comments we get are, 'I can't believe you have such a fine museum as you do in this size of a town.' I think people like small museums and are surprised to find the quality of collections as we have here. So we don't want to lose our character."

The idea, she said, is to improve the experience for visitors, "so that when they leave here, they get a much better understanding of the role and importance of the Mississippi Delta in not only Southern history but American history and world history as well."

Information from: The Greenwood Commonwealth, http://www.gwcommonwealth.com

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