Dorsey, Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art receive awards from Mississippi Main Street





Visit Hattiesburg and one of its programs, the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art, recently took home two prestigious statewide awards from the annual meeting and awards luncheon of the Mississippi Main Street Association, held June 15 in Jackson.

Marlo Dorsey, who serves as executive director of Visit Hattiesburg, was honored with the Main Street Revitalization Champion Award, while HAPA earned the Outstanding Public Arts Project Award for its contributions to the Hattiesburg Public Art Trail.

“Each year, the Annual Awards Luncheon highlights the people, projects, and initiatives that drive economic development in Mississippi’s Main Street communities,” said Thomas Gregory, MMSA executive director. “Our local Main Street programs are strategic in their downtown revitalization work, and we are proud to recognize their accomplishments over the past year.”

The Main Street Revitalization Champion Award is part of the MMSA’s “special section” of awards. It is given each year to a professional individual who has had a sustained, positive economic impact on all Main Street communities in the state, which submit nominations for the award.

“In all honesty, I was really shocked that I would be receiving the award, just having been to those award receptions the last couple of years and seeing the people that receive them, and the transformational work that they do,” Dorsey said. “When we look at the work we’ve had to do over the last few years coming out of the (COVID-19) pandemic, we know that small businesses and tourism were both incredibly devastated from all of the limitations and challenges from COVID.

“In the moment, you don’t know everything that they’re saying; you just hear your name and you’re trying to process all of it. Some of the things I did see was how successful we were able to be in securing (American Rescue Plan Act) funding and recovery dollars. Just in the past three years, we’ve received $65 million in recovery money for tourism, and we also received $8 million in revitalization money for our downtown communities throughout the state. It’s a special moment, as we look at where we are in history right now, because we have been faced with so much adversity in the last few years.”

The Outstanding Public Arts Project Award is given annually and is the only one of its kind awarded at the MMSA luncheon. The award, which is judged by a panel from outside the state, recognizes public art endeavors that have deliberately integrated arts and culture into community revitalization work.

HAPA was presented with the award for its contribution of almost 100 pieces of art to the Hattiesburg Public Art Trail, which was unveiled in March 2021 and includes nearly 50 murals, dozens of sculptures, and 44 painted utility boxes. Those pieces of art are located throughout the city in high-traffic areas and neighborhoods.

The trail, which has an accompanying brochure, digital map, web page, and branded signage, has had hundreds of thousands of visitors and has received international media coverage since its official launch as a coordinated public art initiative.

Dorsey said she was especially excited for the project award, given the setbacks caused by the pandemic, which caused Visit Hattiesburg officials to halt or slow down several of their plans.

“A lot of the things that we wanted to focus on, we really could not focus on those things, so we doubled down on our efforts on public art,” she said. “In fact … we just unveiled our 30th mural from HAPA last week at Compadres, with “Enchanted Night,” which was Hattiesburg’s 45th mural. So we’re ecstatic that other people throughout the state and the Southeast are recognizing the important work that we’re doing here in Hattiesburg.

“We’re thrilled to be able to do our part to help provide a pathway for artists to show off their talents, whether that be local artists that we work with, or national or international artists. We’ve been truly focused on making sure that we’re being diverse in all our public art offerings. We want to become the ‘City of a Hundred Murals,’ and we certainly don’t want everything to look the same; we want people of all backgrounds.”