Three months after opening, Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience ready for the masses

photos by Bill Graham / The Meridian Star

Brothers Bobby McDonald and Brock McDonald learn about puppeteer Jim Henson in the television exhibit at the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience in Meridian Tuesday. 

After three months with The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, parking hasn't been as scarce as expected nor has business boomed in downtown Meridian. 

For both issues, Mark Tullos, the CEO and president of The Max, asks for patience.

"In my experience of opening museums, there's never a dramatic takeoff," Tullos said. "It's a slow incline over one to two years. You have to get the word out there."

In the three months since the museum opened, Tullos said the center has been doing a lot of "buttoning up," or addressing the little details, and were now "ready to start the advertising push."

"We really want people to have a wonderful experience their first time and every time," Tullos said. 

For example, some of the digital aspects, the first of their kind for this area, have been fine tuned over the months, Tullos said. 

Three months after opening, Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience ready for the masses

Visitors check out the theatre exhibit at the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience in Meridian Tuesday.

"We've been through a few-month trial and now we're ready for the masses," Tullos said. 

With travel in the fall from football fans, tour buses and school field trips, Tullos said he anticipates an uptick in attendees. 

Since the Max opened, sales tax collections in Meridian haven't seen the bump that many hoped for or expected. 

According to the Mississippi Department of Revenue, sales tax collections dipped in June, usually a profitable month for Meridian with popular events such as State Games of Mississippi. In 2017, Meridian collected $1,256,198 but only collected $1,219,514, approximately a three percent decrease. 

Overall, sales tax collections for the year are down by approximately two percent, or down from $14,128,336 in 2017 to $13,877,059 in 2018.

Despite these numbers, Linda Arledge, whose daughter owns Crooked Letter, a Front Street boutique, said The Max has brought foot traffic into downtown.

"I see people pass by all of the time," Arledge said. "If you see people walking they're here for (The Max) or grabbing something to eat before they go."

Arledge said that attendees frequently came to the boutique, located just across the street from The Max.

"It's definitely a help to us," Arledge said.

This weekend will mark a push from The Max to become an attraction for more in-state visitors, starting with its hometown of Meridian.  

Throughout the day, Make + Take events will start every 30 minutes, giving each family and child a chance to create their own paper plate carousel, Tiffany McGehee, the museum educator, said.

"We tried to pick something Meridian-based for Meridian Day to celebrate our heritage here," McGehee said.

Additionally, McGehee will assist in and direct an investigative theater piece in which participants, ideally those 16 and older, will go into the community to gather stories and return with characters, all to be woven into a piece about Meridian.

"Hopefully, if they're willing, they will even perform it on our stage," McGehee said. 

Saturday's Meridian Day will be the first of many, Tullos said, with other cities slated to be featured in the upcoming months, including Hattiesburg, the Gulf Coast and more.

"It's to build interest because we're really a statewide museum," Tullos said. "It's great for getting people into the door for the first time."

With the changes coming to downtown, Tullos said Meridian would be unrecognizable in a few years.

"The entire culture will change," Tullos said. "Meridian has got a lot going on but we've got to keep our eye on the ball and be patient."

Using an aircraft analogy, Tullos described this moment at The Max as the moment just before liftoff, with the last few months being the travel down the runway.

"We've tested it out, all the engines are revved up and we're just about to take off," Tullos said. "And I'm excited."

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