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Mississippi Delta NHA Announces Award Recipients

Visitors listen to Clarksdale storytellers Ms. Z.L. Ratliff and Ms. Brenda Luckett speak outside the Riverside Hotel, Clarksdale.

CLEVELAND, Miss. — In the eighth year of its grants program, the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area has awarded $147,944.23 to eight cultural heritage development projects in the Mississippi Delta. This is the second year for the Grants Leadership Academy format.

Grantee Dr. John Zheng, Professor of English at Mississippi Valley State University, reflected on the training he received as a new Grants Leadership Academy attendee. He said, “I feel lucky to participate in the Management Concepts training which will be helpful when we kick off our project plan on River and Land: The Literary Voices of the Delta.”

This year’s grant projects include educational opportunities for MS Delta youth in Cleveland and Indianola, an artist residency in Belzoni, and celebration of the 45th anniversary of the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, among other projects.

“We’re so happy with the work this grant cohort has been doing and will continue to do to tell the stories of the Mississippi Delta’s cultural heritage,” said Dr. Rolando Herts, executive director of the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. “Supporting our partners in telling Mississippi Delta stories is at the core of the Heritage Area’s mission. The Grants Leadership Academy is one way we do that.”

One story MS Delta NHA is supporting with a grant this cycle is the historic Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale. Z.L. Ratliff, Director of the Riverside Hotel African American Historic Preservation Center said, “We are so grateful to have been awarded this grant from the MS Delta NHA that will enable us to create an interpretive center within the Hotel in order to share our amazing story amongst our community and visitors to the Mississippi Delta as to what a special place in history the Riverside Hotel had on Civil Rights, Blues and the birth of Rock and Roll.”

Delta Wind Birds at Sky Lake, Humphreys County

Delta Wind Birds’ Artist in Residency Program and Inaugural Belzoni Mural Project will be the first MS Delta NHA grant to serve Humphreys County. “Visitors to Sky Lake in Humphreys County are typically stunned by the sheer size of the ancient bald cypress trees found there, and the beauty of the habitat they create. A new mural in nearby Belzoni, funded by a grant from MS Delta NHA, will not only highlight these natural marvels, but will also attract new visitors to the area for appreciation of both art and natural heritage,” said Dr. Jason Hoeksema, Delta Wind Birds Board President and Professor of Biology at the University of Mississippi.

Also among the grant class are repeat grantees like the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola. “We are very appreciative and honored of Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area for awarding us a grant that will help support our Art of Living Smart Summer Camp 2024,” said Misty Clark, Education Director for the B.B. King Museum. “It is because of grants such as this, we are able to sustain our summer camp. The Art of Living Smart Summer Camp is an innovative program that addresses community values, strengthens academic and social skills, exposes student to local history while encouraging overall healthy lifestyle choices.”

This year’s total grant award of $147,944.23 will be matched by awardees with in-kind or cash match commitments of $203,678.18 for a total investment of $351,622.41 in cultural heritage development organizations and projects in the region. To date, the MS Delta NHA grants program has generated more than 4 million dollars in total direct investment in Mississippi Delta communities.

The grant recipients and their funded projects this year are as follows:

Students at the B.B. King Museum’s Art of Smart Living Summer Camp, Indianola

B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center, Indianola – Funding to support the Art of Living Smart Summer Camp 2024 to be offered to participants from ages 8-17 years of age.

Cleveland Music Foundation, Inc. (dba GRAMMY Museum Mississippi), Cleveland – Funding to support Delta Sessions 101, which will feature 10-week sessions focused on voice, piano and guitar in an after-school setting.

Coahoma Collective: StoryWorks Theatre, Clarksdale  – StoryWorks seeks to expand the scope of our 2022-23 project entitled Freedmen’s Promise to include additional historical research, community engagement opportunities and will direct and produce a film of a theatrical performance of our “Beneath An Unknown Sky” play.

Delta Arts Alliance, Cleveland  – This funding support will help DAA acquire enhanced lighting, sound, acoustic technology, and additional seating for the Ellis Theater.

Delta Blues Museum, Clarksdale – This is a project celebrating the Delta Blues Museum’s 45th Anniversary that includes: the creation of an explore and Learn feature on Little Milton Campbell; a Virtual field trip through Clarksdale’s New World District; a teacher workshop, and several other programs.

Delta Wind Birds, Belzoni – The purpose of the project is to establish an Artist in Residence program and create a public mural in the town of Belzoni, which will raise awareness of the value of ancient Delta wetlands for wildlife and people, promoting wetland protection, engaging visitors and local residents, and promoting economic development through ecotourism.

Mississippi Heritage Trust, Jackson – The primary objective will be to create an interpretive center within the Riverside Hotel to capture and tell the amazing story of the Hotel and its founder Z.L. Hill. The project upon completion will serve to tell the rich cultural, civil rights and music history of the Riverside Hotel and its founder.

Mississippi Valley State University, Itta Bena – This funding will support the development, teaching, and assessment of a new undergraduate English course on Delta literature, the establishment of new and expanded partnerships between the university and statewide cultural entities, and a convening conference to showcase contemporary Delta writers and artists and celebrate the internationally significant literary tradition of our region through readings and discussions.