This weekend’s new arts fest grounded in economic development

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Sanctuary debuts this weekend with tours, storytelling

YAC Contribution

The Chamber of Commerce organizes an annual leadership class focused on imparting to raising community leaders the complex mix of business, government, community programs and resources that contribute to making Lafayette County a thriving community.  

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While some point to community anchors of The University of Mississippi, Baptist Hospital or strong public schools, the leadership program shows how it is all these parts working together that make the community thrive.  

The class members of Leadership Lafayette are challenged to identify a need within the community and develop a solution.

Two years ago, Clifton Odom, with the Oxford Eagle, was in the leadership class. While working with his team on their community project, he started a conversation with Wayne Andrews of the Arts Council.  

Andrews had presented to the class the economic impact of the arts; a talk that went beyond the number of people that attended plays, spent money on dinners out or traveled to a festival.  

The talk focused on the creative economy and the economic benefit to a community of artists residing in the community. Drawing on data from Americans for the Arts and Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), Andrews showed how a community of artists attracts other creatives to the community who are entrepreneurs. 

These may take the shape of culinary entrepreneurs seeding a community with thriving restaurants, tech entrepreneurs who open recording and podcasting studios or designers making clothing. The talk focused on how Mississippi is facing a talent drain statewide but artists and creatives off anchors to retain or attract talent. 

Odom, an entrepreneur himself with an art and estate sales service who grew up in the Delta, ruminated on this talk, and later approached Andrews with an idea.  

The idea becomes a reality this weekend in Oxford with the launch of Sanctuary Arts Festival.  

A two-day tour of artist spaces from local galleries, artist studios, and a pop up show featuring artists from communities throughout Mississippi. 

“My conversation was how we can bring attention to the role of artists who reside in communities and are cultural anchors. The economic impact of McCarthy & Peter’s Pottery in the Delta, or Scotsman Co in Laurel, or Southside in Oxford,” Odom said.

Through multiple conversations over a year the idea that Mississippi is a Sanctuary for artists who find the space to be creative and in turn impact highlight how Mississippi is an ongoing place of creative output that shapes the large American culture. 

“We looked at Joe MacGowan in Starkville, whose long career in art did not take him away from Mississippi, but inspired him to build an artist retreat and workshop to bring his network to Mississippi.” Andrews said.

Sanctuary Arts Festival launches Aug. 4 and 5, as does the culmination of a year of work.  Odom and Andrews connected community partners across Mississippi. 

“VISTA and the Mississippi Presenters Network assisted us in finding artists who are cultural and economic anchors in communities across the State,” Odom said.

Odom’s employer, Oxford Magazine, stepped in to write feature articles about the artists.  

Campbell Clinic joined the effort as the goal of Sanctuary was to connect communities and recognize how they each contribute to the Mississippi mystique. Graduate Hotel Oxford and Cathead offered to host receptions in honor of the artists.  

The festival features an art crawl, studio tour, storytelling event with artists and an arts lounge with DJ. 

“This event is not only about Oxford” said Odom, “but about Mississippi and the artists who make, define and enrich our communities.” 

All events are free and open to the public due to the support from Campbell Clinic, Graduate Oxford, Oxford Magazine, WOXD, Cathead, Mississippi Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts.  

A full schedule of events can be found at