Alli Ferguson’s little hands grabbed a plate that rested on the white table.
As she placed the plate into one of the surface’s grooves, a vivid, hi-definition color image splashed onto the plate and captions scrolled onto the large table.
The detailed pictures and information about the cuisines entranced her.
“It was telling you what the chefs from Mississippi were doing and what they used to make, and how they used to make the type of food they used to like,” Ferguson, 12, said.
Ferguson, who was accompanied by her mother, sister and grandparents, received a hands-on demonstration about Mississippi’s culinary contributions to humanity.
The experience stirred both her appetite and curiosity.
“One of them was a sub (sandwich), and it had pork and a bunch of different things on it,” Ferguson said. “And one was something that Elvis used to eat — it was bacon, bananas and peanut butter.”
Ferguson was among hundreds who flocked to the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience Saturday morning to commemorate the opening of Meridian’s newest bellwether attraction.
The inaugural festivities began with a 9 a.m. ribbon-cutting and opening ceremonies included performances by a choir and band. A massive American flag swayed from a Meridian Fire Department engine parked on Front Street.
Crestwood Elementary School student Madison Davis strolled around the first floor with her uncle, Ray Fluker, and the two bounced between touch-screen kiosks in the Hall of Fame rotunda.
Massive photographs of Morgan Freeman, Sela Ward, Richard Wright and other inaugural inductees hovered above and around them. Sunlight bounced off the light and dark blue panels to create a picturesque backdrop.
Earlier in the morning, Davis sang tunes with her fellow choir members as they rang in the grand opening.
“It felt good but scary at the same time,” Davis, 9, said of her performance. “I enjoyed when they threw the flags, and when I sang “When I believe.”
For Fluker, a Meridian resident, the decision to visit Saturday was twofold.
“She’s my niece, and today was her concert day and they opened up the museum,” Fluker, 30, said. “I always talk to her about history and knowing history. I always talk to her about education, and (I) just want to be here for her.”
A stream of patrons trickled into The Max’s entrance Saturday morning and the flow continued into the afternoon. Visitors ambled on Front Street and marveled at the $50-million structure.
Veronica Quarles of Marion is an Air Force veteran who for years traveled the country and sang as a member of the Tactical Air Command Showcase. Quarles perused the 60,000-square-foot building and viewed its exhibits.
When she reached the second floor, she slipped into the Alexander Family Church Gallery and took a seat on one of its pews to watch a video about Mississippi’s gospel music history.
“They really have a lot of good showcases here — I’m going to call them showcases because that’s what they really are, and I like the fact that they are hands-on," she said "The upstairs is lovely — I love it to death — because they make you feel like you’re right in the moment with the showcases.”
As a singer, The Max’s chapel exhibit held a significance for Quarles.
“I like the chapel because it crosses all lines with the religious side of the house,” she explained. “They didn’t focus on just the African-American (element), because spirituality and love cross all lines. We don’t see color, and I think that’s what this showcase has done — it crosses all party lines, especially racially. The music was really nice; the video was beautiful. I don’t think they could have done anything better than that. I loved it.”
Teresa Hodges attended Friday’s opening-night gala and returned Saturday with her two sons, Boston and William, after the youngsters expressed a desire to attend.
The family settled into the Home Gallery on the second floor, and Boston, 10, scrawled a picture of the family's dog on a piece of paper on one of the room’s tables while his mother and brother gazed at images on the wall.
“We have a dog at home — the first thing he thought about was a dog,” Teresa Hodges said with a laugh.
While Boston enjoyed the opportunity to draw, 10-year-old William delighted in browsing the quilt-making exhibit and the interactive, art-filled lockers in the school exhibit.
“We talked about how (the lockers) are from the Meridian Public School district and the fabulous art department that they have there,” Teresa Hodges said. I really like the interactiveness.”
Saturday not only marked the opening of an attraction expected to draw thousands from Mississippi and around the nation. It also signaled the completion of an idea born many years ago.
Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience Director of Marketing Paula Chance reflected on the milestone moment.
“It means a lot,” Chance said. “This project has been a long time coming. For it to be finally realized, the process it took to get it here, the people involved in it is pretty amazing. But when I’m outside today and I see the city, the people who live here, the kids come out… that makes it all worthwhile. For me, this represents some of the best of Mississippi, in that people can come here and be proud of this and be proud of artists that have come out of Mississippi and know that they can achieve this.”