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Arts & Culture life at Ole Miss enriches us all

By Jeffrey Vitter

Chancellor at Ole Miss.

This is an excerpt from his post on the Chancellor’s blog.

As tens of thousands celebrated the 22nd Annual Double Decker Festival this weekend, I thought it would be a great time to share some thoughts about the importance of arts and culture to our university community.

Anyone who has visited Ole Miss and Oxford — even just one time — knows that the cultural life of our university and town are second to none.  It is no mistake that Visit Oxford touts our description as the “Cultural Mecca of the South.”

As my wife Sharon reminds me, the arts keep everything vibrant and relevant, and members of the Ole Miss and Oxford communities have immense opportunities to take advantage of the arts that are so conveniently located.

The arts are a quintessential part of life on a college campus — where members of the university community are exposed to cultural opportunities they might not otherwise have access to — from literature to music to visual and performing arts.

While we cannot all be world-renowned concert pianists like our own Chancellor’s Artist-in-Residence Bruce Levingston or the Poet Laureate of Mississippi like UM English Professor Beth Ann Fennelly, we can all appreciate and benefit from how the arts speak to our human experiences.

For me, my appreciation for the arts is deeply rooted in my New Orleans upbringing. It only takes one visit to NOLA to grasp the city’s joie de vivre mentality through its strong cultural foundation, vibrant arts scene, and love of music.

The arts provide an enduring legacy that helps us gain insight into cultures of other times and places.  It brings us beauty and joy, expands our thoughts and perceptions, and provides inspiration for the soul.  And the real splendor lies in how the countless expressions of art and culture intersect across all disciplines.

From Faulkner to the Ford Center, we have a plethora of amazing experiences and venues here. And, while this cannot be a comprehensive listing of all our opportunities, suffice it to say that we serve as an art and cultural hub.

For example, did you know that our University Museum is ranked as one of the nation’s best collegiate art museums by Best College Reviews?  With a collection of more than 20,000 objects, our museum serves more than 10,000 Mississippi school children and youth annually.

On any given weekend, you can discover a multitude of performances, concerts, shows, and events. Take the annual Oxford Conference for the Book just held last month.

Founded by the Center for the Study of Southern Culture and Square Books 24 years ago, the conference brings together fiction and nonfiction writers, journalists, artists, poets, publishers, teachers, students, and literacy advocates from all over the world to celebrate the written word.

Goodness knows we’ve got quite a bit of literary cred around here — from John Grisham, Barry Hannah, and Willie Morris to Larry Brown, Greg Iles, Donna Tartt, and Tom Franklin!  And, of course, to bring the literary component alive, we have the original family home of William Faulkner, Rowan Oak.

Or how about our Gertrude C. Ford Center for Performing Arts — truly one of the gems of the Oxford campus for 15 years now — where you can catch phenomenal performances, everything from ballet to Broadway.

As for music, our Blues Archive, established in 1984, not only serves Ole Miss students and faculty, but researchers worldwide. Our collections even include B. B. King’s personal record collection!

And staying with the music theme, for more than 40 years our UM Gospel Choir has performed at countless events and received numerous awards and recognition.  In fact, this premier student organization has even been nominated for a Grammy Award.

In addition to all the exceptional experiences offered on campus, we cultivate our fantastic town–gown relationship with Oxford and regularly collaborate, partner, and sponsor events in the community.  A great example is this weekend’s event, Double Decker, which is presented by UM Museum and Ole Miss Athletics. Or, how about Thacker Mountain Radio — celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

And the Oxford Film Fest, celebrating the art of independent cinema for 15 years now, provides a great opportunity for Ole Miss students, faculty, and alumni to volunteer, sponsor, as well as feature their talents.

As a flagship institution, we are committed to growing our capacity in the arts. Looking ahead, we must focus efforts to enhance and build upon our wonderful — and numerous — arts and cultural resources and programs.

Dr. Jeff VITTER is Chancellor at Ole Miss. This is an excerpt from his post on the Chancellor’s blog.