NEH Impact: Exploring Natural and Culture Landscapes in Mississippi

The Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA) in Ocean Springs, Mississippi preserves the legacy of Walter Anderson—a prolific artist who spent the majority of his career on the Mississippi Gulf Coast documenting the local culture and landscape through his artwork. WAMA uses Anderson’s artwork as a catalyst for public programming and education to explore human connections with the natural world. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, WAMA leveraged an NEH CARES grant to develop Southern Art/Wider World, which included live digital lectures that brought together scholars, community leaders, and the public to explore Mississippi’s diverse cultural and natural landscapes. Through our NEH for All initiative, we partnered with WAMA to document the impact of these lectures. Survey results from the lecture series demonstrate how WAMA provided space for cultural exploration amidst physical distancing measures.

Eighty-six percent of respondents agreed that “this program helped [them] think more deeply about Southern identity.” The programs emphasized the complexities and “layers” of identities, culture, and history in the South. As a result, respondents were able to fill in knowledge gaps around the history and culture of the region, and reflect on this learning through the program. One respondent wrote: “It gave me a better understanding of the development of Ocean Springs, New Orleans, and the Indian culture in the South which spanned from Texas to Georgia and all throughout Mississippi. The [American] Indian culture shaped and contributed to our Southern culture.” Another respondent wrote: “[This program enhanced my] understanding of the many layers of history rather than seeing it as a single narrative.” 

Survey responses also demonstrated the ways the lectures and discussions highlighted connections between the natural world, culture, and social issues. Ninety-eight percent of respondents agreed they were “able to see connections between themes explored in this program and contemporary issues in our society.” One respondent wrote: “The intersectionality of social issues with the landscape was fascinating! I had never thought of how the physical landscape also played into segregation.” And another wrote: “We have a rich culture that is being torn apart. Most of us grew up poor, and the Gulf provided riches in the form of food and serenity. This program made me proud to be a southern girl!” 

WAMA’s work with the NEH CARES grant continues. The museum is currently developing a digital continuing education course in partnership with the University of Mississippi, and sharing lessons learned in implementing digital programs and creating digital infrastructure with other Mississippi cultural institutions. You can watch previous lectures, and follow WAMA’s continued programming by visiting the Southern Art/Wider World webpage.

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COVID-19 Social and Racial Justice