STARKVILLE — Starkville Area Arts Council hopes to help the city’s arts scene grow under the guidance of its newly hired new executive director and first program coordinator.
Mary Switzer, past board president and member of the organization’s board of directors, will start her role as executive director Dec. 1.
“She’s already putting in the work now,” said Juliette Reid, a former SAAC intern and AmeriCorps VISTA, who now serves as program coordinator.
Switzer replaces John Bateman, who left to pursue a master’s degree in Chicago.
Switzer was on the SAAC board for about six years. She said she has always been passionate about the arts.
“I grew up in a household that really nurtured that in me, and I studied art in high school and in college,” she said. “I got my BFA at Mississippi State. It’s been my dream to be able to do something in the arts. The fact that this is creating an environment for me to talk to other artists, support the creative economy in this town, reach out to people in the community and teach them about the importance of the arts is just something I’m really excited about.”
Switzer will share grant-writing responsibilities with Reid and an AmeriCorps VISTA, whose two-year term with the SAAC begins Dec. 6.
Switzer said she also will work on connecting SAAC with people in the community and reach out to people who may not already be involved in the arts.
“We have some really great programming currently,” she said. “I want to expand on that programming and also hopefully create some new fun programming as well with Juliette.”
“The next VISTA after me will help our creative economy programs, like the business skills workshops, the exhibits, the (Cotton District Arts) festival and things like that,” Reid said.
Reid began her role as program coordinator in late October. She is a 2019 graduate of Mississippi State. She said she has always been involved in the performing arts.
Reid said she will still handle some communications and volunteer schedules, but her new position will focus more on programs.
“My job is a little bit more focused on making sure that our programs and the people who run those programs have what they need, like our art partners program,” Reid said.
“I’m going to be working a little more closely with them, making sure that they get all the supplies that we just got in,” she said, pointing to several dozen boxes of various arts supplies purchased with a 4-County Foundation grant behind her in the SAAC office in the Greater Starkville Development Partnership building. “I’m gonna make sure that they get those supplies and they have, you know, other supplies that they need to make things work.”
Reid said she also plans to incorporate more STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) and more literacy activities in SAAC’s programming.
The organization currently has one free, little library and plans to get more in the near future.
“My goal is to grow the programs we have and build additional resources for those who need it,” Reid said.
Emphasizing art in Starkville
Both Switzer and Reid said the arts are a pillar of the Starkville community.
“We want to make the arts a pillar of the community … something that people associate with Starkville. And I think that they already do to some degree,” Switzer said. “We have a lot of public art that has started to happen in the past couple of years. We really just want to continue to grow that and bring a strong awareness to the fact that Starkville has art and that we support it.”
Starkville is filled with art and various art-related activities, Reid said.
“I’d like to build up our arts reputation and make the arts council more prominent, because a lot of people don’t even know that the Cotton District Arts Festival is done by us,” she said. “I just want people to be aware that we do have lots of fun programming for adults and kids, and we’re trying to expand that programming.”
SAAC’s current art exhibit, Winter Showcase, will hang in the Greater Starkville Development Partnership lobby through Jan. 10, 2022. Its next solo exhibit featuring the art of Rowan Haug will open in January.
The SAAC is gearing up for several announcements regarding its upcoming programs. The announcements will appear on the council’s website, starkvillearts.net .
The dates for the nonprofit’s second biggest fundraiser, Forks and Corks, and the 2022 Cotton District Arts Festival will be announced soon, Reid said.
The council is also releasing its cookbook “Art and Eat,” which will feature 175 recipes, along with community stories and artwork.
“Hopefully we’ll have some new events next year,” Switzer said.
“We don’t want to just continue what we’ve been doing in the past,” Reid added.
SAAC also is looking for volunteers. To learn more about the organization and to apply, visit the website.
‘Fresh new ideas’
Reid said she looks forward to working with Switzer.
“She has so many fresh new ideas that a lot of them involve collaboration — more collaboration, obviously with the symphony, the theater, the partnership and main street and the Cotton District,” Reid said.