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Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters honors artists, musicians, writers

By: Laura Lee Leathers - June 19, 2024

  • Executive Secretary Margaret Robbins says the organization is one of the best-kept secrets in Mississippi.

Earlier this month, eleven individuals were recognized by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters (MIAL) for their achievements as artists, musicians, and writers. Perhaps you are like me – you have never heard of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters and are unaware of the annual Awards.

Let’s learn together. Perhaps it might pique your interest and lead you to join this organization. You may know someone to nominate who should be celebrated for their achievement as an artist, musician, and/or writer.

Inception

The year was 1978, when Governor William Winter, along with Dr. Cora Norman (Director of Mississippi Committee for the Humanities), Dr. Aubrey Lucas (President, University of Southern Mississippi), Dr. Noel Polk (Assistant Professor of English, USM), and the Honorary Evelyn Gandy (former Lieutenant Governor of Mississippi) along with eighteen others became the charter members of the newly formed Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. They were known as the Board of Governors.

It would be almost two years later, in 1980, before the first three Mississippians were selected for their contributions to music, art, and literature. The ceremony was held at the Governor’s Mansion.

According to the Mississippi Enterprise, Jackson, Mississippi, dated February 23, 1980, Governor William Winter stated, “I am happy to be associated with the Institute. Many Mississippi artists have received the admiration of the nation and the world; now the Institute will give our citizens a chance to honor their own. We have long needed an organization like this, and I hope every Mississippian will support it. I believe that it can make a real contribution to the culture of our state.”

The 45th Annual Recognition and Awards

Recently, the Board of Governors hosted the 45th Annual Awards Weekend. The weekend was filled with events shared at several locations around the Jackson area. The once-a-year banquet is open to the general public, but a ticket is necessary.

Friday night, June 7, an Art Reception was held at Fisher Galleries in Ridgeland. On Saturday, June 8, there were readings at Lemuria during the afternoon. In the evening, a reception followed by an awards banquet was held at the Mississippi Museum of Art. 

The Board of Governors awarded the Noel Polk Lifetime Achievement Award to Curtis Wilkie of Oxford, a distinguished journalist, author, and professor of journalism (UM).

Learn more about the life of Curtis Wilke in this article by N.K. Wessman published in the May 23, 2023 issue of Magnolia Tribune

Dr. Stephen Coleman received a Special Achievement Award “for his tireless advocacy and volunteerism in the arts.” He is a photojournalist and professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.

The program booklet, which contains the judges’ comments and each winner’s bio and acceptance remarks, is a special gift for the awardees and the guests. Each of the eleven award recipients received a sculpture from Jennifer Torres of Hattiesburg. The nine category winners were awarded a monetary gift.

A Word from the Executive Secretary

For the past twenty years, Margaret Robbins has served as the Executive Secretary for MIAL.

When asked what she would like to share with the readers across Mississippi, she stated:

“I would have to say that this organization is one of the best-kept secrets in Mississippi. I have received tremendous personal satisfaction in recognizing the creative talent that we have. Each year, I’m reinvigorated when they give their acceptance speeches. Each one expressed how appreciative they are that they are being recognized. So many times, they feel that it is thankless work because they receive very little recognition. I’ve learned they do what they do because they are driven to do it.”

How to Be Involved

Since its inception, the organization has steadily grown in memberships and distribution of awards. According to the website, there are currently seven ways to join. The memberships are offered on a one-year basis. Here is the breakdown: Student – $15.00; Supporter – $35.00, Contributing – $75.00; Sustaining – $150.00; Institutional – $150; Patron – $500.00; Benefactor – $1000.00; and you can make a charitable contribution. Membership applications are available online. 

The Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters receives additional contributions through patrons, award sponsors, and various institutions and businesses. For 2023-2024, the Board of Governors consists of individuals across the state. The new president is Julian Rankin of Ocean Springs. He is the executive director of the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. In 2019, he was the non-fiction winner by the MIAL.

Consider becoming a member and plan to attend the awards banquet on June 15, 2025, in Columbus, Mississippi.

About the Author(s)
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Laura Lee Leathers

Laura Lee Leathers is a writer and speaker. Imagine Lois Lane, over sixty-five, and living on a farm. Her metropolis is the area of freelance writing. Her primary love interest is the Word of God. She digs for information, interviews fascinating people, offers a cup of biblical hospitalit-tea, encourages, and helps others with the ‘how-to’s’ of life.