Oddfellows gallery hosts Creative Economy forum

HATTIESBURG, MS. - The Oddfellows Gallery hosted a Creative Economic forum downtown Thursday morning. Around 100 people including artists, city leaders, business owners, entrepreneurs collaborated to seek new ways to implement a new downtown economy centered around the creative arts.

Mayor Toby Barker kicked-off the forum. Barker says people from all over the south have a chance to cultivate a better economy. He says, "I hope people walk away today inspired to do something about an idea they have, I hope they are encouraged to collaborate with each other and further share it with us.”

Longtime residents of Hattiesburg say downtown is not what it was compared to the past. Gary Delancey says, “Give it (downtown) more life, like probably what it was in the late 60’s you known down here it was more robust.”

Hattiesburg Historic Downtown Association's (HHDA) Executive Director Andre Saffle says the conversation will create economic ideas. "There are so many people here, economic developers, realtors, leaders in the community, and people from other communities that are here. So I think it’s a fantastic group of people that are here to come together and have a really interesting conversation.”

In the last year bars, restaurants, loft apartments, and venues have been added to the Historic Downtown. However, supporters say it has the potential to become even better.

“We want to hear what theirs ideas are our goal today is to find the intersection of creativity and entrepreneurship. When those two intersect something great will happen" says Rick Wilemon Oddfellows Curator.

“I think people are getting more and more excited, I know young people, I know my students love coming to the Live at Five and market on Thursdays, so it is an exciting time for Hattiesburg" say an attendee Chatham Kemp.

A Columbia resident and artist Ben Watts participated in the forum and says a creative Hattiesburg downtown is a great idea for surrounding artists. "It is going to provide a venue, an area for artists to show their work, for people to know where it is in a concentrated area."

"Art in a community like this pulls people together you can look at Soho, New York, it was the lowest point in the city, the artists moved in and now its the higher end district. Art is very important in small towns" says Watts.

Shawn Harris a Commercial Banker at Regions Bank and HHDA board member says Regions just moved their mortgage building from downtown to West Hattiesburg. According to Harris that will create more room for a vibrant hub.

“Downtown is the center of our city, it is a very important piece for Hattiesburg" Harris says.

He adds, "It takes really all of our collaborators and stake holders and partnerships that we have, to really move things forward and keep our progress for downtown."

During today's creative forum attendees worked to come up with a narrative that best describes the Hattiesburg area along with a story to create interest in the Historic Shopping District.

“Creative people sometimes have an entrepreneurial side, sometimes they don’t" says Wilemon.

He continues, "But if we can combine that person who has that spirit and understands how business works, with a creative person, those people combined together can make something happen.”

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