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Delta State alumna returns to alma mater for Archives exhibit

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One of the first and most endearing pieces in the series is a shot of The White Front Café in Rosedale. Other works by photographer Debra Ferguson will be on display at Delta State University’s Capps Archives and Museum Building as part of “The Vanishing Delta” exhibit, set to open Sunday, March 26.

Photographer Debra L. Ferguson left the Mississippi Delta in the early 1970s but, as she puts it, “The Delta never left me.” Fortunately, assignments and family kept taking her back to the region, and along the way she began capturing images of things and places that were fast disappearing.

A retrospective of this work, “The Vanishing Delta,” opens Sunday, March 26 in Delta State University’s Charles W. Capps Archives and Museum, with an opening reception planned for 3 p.m. inside the Seminar Room. Ferguson will be in attendance to deliver a program detailing her art.

A 1974 graduate of Delta State, Ferguson works as a magazine and advertising photographer, specializing in agricultural and rural lifestyle subjects. Her photography has appeared in Farm Journal, Progressive Farmer, Southern Living Travel and other publications. A prolific stock photographer, her images are represented by agencies in California, England and France and have appeared in ads, text books and magazines in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

She admits to being “a little obsessed about photographing certain Delta landmarks.” When Ferguson drives past a familiar sight, like an old school or store, she often turns around and captures an image.

“I learned the hard way to stop, no matter how tight my schedule was, and compose a photo that says something about the character of the place,” she explains. “There were times when I didn’t stop, then I came through the next time and discovered that the building was gone, utterly erased. At one time it had maybe been the center of a community that, itself, thrived for a time and then dwindled to nothing.”

Indirectly, Ferguson is describing Skene, the farming community just outside of Cleveland where she grew up. She remembers when several stores operated at or near the crossroads, and the surrounding countryside was home to scores of small farmers and the families that lived and worked in those fields. In her earliest recollections, two schools served that patch of Bolivar County, and several churches prospered in and near Skene.

Now, she says, very little of it remains. Except for a small cluster of homes and the Baptist Church, just about everything else has been torn down or reduced to an empty shell. Communities like that disappear a little at a time, she says, and people who are closest to the place don’t see the decline as dramatically as someone like herself who comes and goes over the decades.

“The Delta partly mirrors what has happened across a wide part of rural
America since World War II,” Ferguson maintains. “Over the years, I’ve handled assignments in places as far apart as North Carolina and California, and nearly every time I go back to familiar communities, something is missing. Modern farming doesn’t require as many people, so rural populations declined and their businesses and institutions slipped away a little at a time.”

“The Vanishing Delta” exhibit, underwritten by Cleveland State Bank, includes images representing a wide portion of the region, from Tunica in the north to Yazoo City in the south. As this body of work grew and Ferguson began producing fine art prints, she began calling it her Vanishing Delta series. A web site, www.vanishingdelta.com, grew out of the work.

Ferguson says she noticed lately that many of the images have something to do with food or eating. One of the first and most endearing pieces in the series is a shot of The White Front Café in Rosedale. The cafe, which still survives, was founded by Joe Pope, a businessman who made his mark serving hot tamales to a mostly takeout clientele. As strange as it seems to outsiders, hot tamales are a Delta passion. They’re served in some of the region’s finest restaurants and in small eateries like the White Front.

Another spot in the series is Booga Bottom’s, a country café that flourished for a number of years, doing business in an old country store east of Duncan. Ferguson walked into Booga Bottom’s one afternoon in the 1970s.

 “It looked like it had been there forever,” she says. “Meringue was piled high on the pies, and they were served at lunch by the women who made them. I had heard about the place for years and, even though it had a busy lunch hour, I wondered how much longer a spot so far out could survive. I went back to my car, loaded a couple of cameras with the last black-and-white film I had that day, then asked if it would be OK to take a few shots.”

The images capture a quiet Delta afternoon in a place that soon faded away. A couple of years later, Ferguson drove back to Booga Bottom’s and found it abandoned and empty. 

Ferguson’s work also celebrates the ethnic history of the Delta. “I never pass up a chance to photograph a small-town store that still bears the name of a Jewish, Chinese or Italian family that owned it,” she says. “Those signs say more about the history of a town than any historical marker. The Delta was one of the great meeting grounds in American history, and those stores and signs symbolize that fact.”

Ferguson, a current resident of Jackson,  jokes that she learned photography “by shooting a lot of bad pictures.” Five years ago, she ventured into digital photography, and two years ago dropped film photography, altogether.

Her digital work has been featured in the New York professional journal, Photo District News, as well as in PC Photo. The exhibit includes a mixture of film and digital photography. All images are printed on giclée fine art canvas, with reproduction by Digital Imaging Group of Flowood, Miss.

Ferguson eschews the notion that she basically is photographing decay, something she often sees when photographers find their way to a place like the Delta “and fixate on rusty, abandoned pickups and dilapidated shotgun shacks.”

“In many cases, I’ve probably recorded the last image of a landmark that was once important to many people, and I try to bring forward something of its purpose and its quiet dignity,” she says. “These places are worth remembering, and when they’re gone, it’s for eternity.”

Free and open to the public, the exhibit is set to run through May 4. For more information on “The Vanishing Delta” exhibit, please contact the Delta State Capps Archives and Museum Building at (662) 846-4780.

 

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Delta State to present first-ever Delta Business and Entrepreneurial Symposium

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Dr. Brent Hales, Director of the Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research at Delta State, is working to recruit participants to upcoming Delta Business and Entrepreneurial Symposium, Wednesday, March 29 in Stoneville. For more information or to register, please contact Hales at (662) 846-4233 or at bhales@deltastate.edu.

Delta State University, through its College of Business, Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research, Small Business Development Center and Center for Community and Economic Development, in partnership with the Mississippi Micro Enterprise and Assistance Network, will present the first annual Delta Business and Entrepreneurial Symposium, Wednesday, March 29. 

To be held at the Charles W. Capps Entrepreneurial Center in Stoneville, Miss., from 8 a.m. – 3 p.m., the symposium will feature information on entrepreneurial opportunities in the Delta region, opportunities for funding and programs designed to assist existing and emerging entrepreneurs.  Jim Clinton, Executive Director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, will keynote the event’s luncheon. 

In the last 10 years, the Mississippi Delta has experienced significant manufacturing employment decline.  And with such declines are expected to continue, the traditional method of seeking large-scale manufacturing opportunities is costly and often ineffective.  

Similarly, most new jobs for the uneducated or low skilled workers pay minimum or near-minimum wages and are not substantially increasing wealth in the community.  Additionally, population declines are projected for the region for the next 15 years by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning Office of Policy Research and Planning (2005). 

Such downturns affect communities’ tax bases and their ability to promote their existing businesses. Opportunities for growth in the Delta may largely depend on using local resources and local talent to promote new small or niche businesses. 

The Delta Business and Entrepreneurial Symposium will highlight innovations in entrepreneurialism and mechanisms that communities can use to encourage small business development. 

According to Dr. Brent Hales, Director of the Center for Business and Entrepreneurial Research at Delta State, “The Symposium is designed to bring together community and business leaders, interested entrepreneurs, economic development professionals, and other interested parties, to both learn about entrepreneurship and to create a network of existing and emerging entrepreneurs.  I would encourage anyone interested in learning about entrepreneurship to attend this symposium.” 

The cost of the symposium is $10.  For more information or to register attendance, please contact Dr. Hales at (662) 846-4233 or at bhales@deltastate.edu

 

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Delta State’s Renaissance to perform spring concert

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Delta State University’s popular vocal and instrumental ensemble, Renaissance, will present its spring concert Monday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. inside the Bologna Performing Arts Center on campus.

The 2005-2006 edition of Renaissance has been busy performing for high schools and civic clubs, but the campus concert is, by far, one of the most special and important performances of the semester for the group.

This year’s concert will feature songs such as Faith Hill’s wildly popular hit, “Mississippi Girl;” Gretchen Wilson’s “All Jacked Up;” Michael Buble’s “Home;” Bonnie Raitt’s “I Will Not Be Broken;” as well Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s current hit, “Like we Never Loved at All.” The group will also be performing top hits from the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, and today.

Admission is $5 per person and tickets are free for Delta State faculty, staff and students with valid I.D. Tickets may purchased in advanced at the BPAC Box Office, open Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. 

For more information, call the Renaissance office at (662) 846-4610.

 

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Delta State Alumni-Foundation to kick off spring Phon-a-thon

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Student callers Amy-Claire Smith of Sardis, Heather Houston of Clarksdale, and Madelyn Ayers also of Clarksdale, prepare to assist the Delta State University Alumni-Foundation in its spring phon-a-thon, which begins Sunday, March 26. The pledge drive will last through Thursday, April 13, with over 20 other student callers aiding in the effort.

The Delta State University Alumni-Foundation will begin its spring phon-a-thon, Sunday, March 26. The pledge drive will last through Thursday, April 13, with over 20 student callers assisting in the effort.

First initiated in March 2003, the phon-a-thon works to encourage gifts to the Delta State Fund, the Foundation’s annual giving program. The Fund was created to provide unrestricted dollars to Delta State.

Unrestricted private support is essential to the advancement of the University and its academic programs.  An unrestricted gift to the Delta State Fund is used for Faculty Development, marketing the University to prospective students, and awarding scholarships to deserving and needy students.  Annual fund gifts also support current operations and are critical in meeting the day-to-day needs of the University. 

“We have had great support in the past from our alumni and friends. Our goal is to improve the overall participation rate by 15 percent, as well as increase the dollar amount pledged.  I invite all alumni and friends to be as generous as possible when they receive a call from a Delta State student.  All gifts, regardless of size, provide the University with valuable resources.  We are both thankful and grateful for the support provided by our alumni and friends,” said Missy Pearce, Director of Annual Giving.

“We think it is important that our alumni and friends know where their donation is going – to students – and we think they are a worthwhile investment,” she continued.

For more information on The Delta State University Fund or how you can become involved, please contact the Delta State University Alumni-Foundation Office at (662) 846-4711 or e-mail Pearce at mpearce@deltastate.edu.

 

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BPAC to welcome ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’

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In 2002, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” was the most awarded new show on Broadway, taking home six Tony Awards including Best Musical. On Thursday, March 30 at 7:30 p.m., the Bologna Performing Arts Center on the campus of Delta State University will play host to this “thoroughly” entertaining musical. One of the most sought after touring productions of the year, this show will be fun for the entire family.

Based on the Oscar winning film starring Julie Andrews, “Millie” is the story of a small-town girl who turns a big-time town upside down. The production takes audiences on a fun-filled ride back in time and drops them off in the midst of the Roaring Twenties. From vivacious flappers to the intrigue of white-slavery, the musical takes place in Manhattan, 1922, with all the jazz-age razzmatazz you want in a big, bright, Broadway blockbuster.

“We’re very fortunate to have this tour of ‘Thoroughly Modern Millie’ come to the BPAC,” David Dallas, Executive Director of the Bologna Performing Arts Center contends. “It’s a funny story that audiences of all ages will enjoy and from the production requirements, it looks like it is going to be a real extravaganza. Our hall will be an incredible venue for a show this style and I’m just hopeful everyone will be able to come, see it and enjoy the night.”

For ticket reservations, please contact the Bologna Performing Arts Center Box Office at (662) 846-4626.