State Politics

Bills to abolish Mississippi Arts Commission die in committee

Gov. Phil Bryant recently talked about the lack of input he has in the selection of the MAC-sponsored Governor’s Arts Awards.
Gov. Phil Bryant recently talked about the lack of input he has in the selection of the MAC-sponsored Governor’s Arts Awards. AP File

Those supporting an independent Mississippi Arts Commission said prayers, made phone calls and held their collective breaths Tuesday before they received word that both House and Senate bills to abolish the MAC died in committee.

MAC Chairwoman Peggy Sprabery of Pass Christian said Tuesday afternoon, “The bill is dead in the Senate. I’m 100 percent sure. We want to thank Appropriations Committee Chairman Buck Clarke.”

“We were told he received a lot of pressure to keep the bill alive and amend it, but he’s a true friend of the arts and he listened to the people of Mississippi,” Sprabery told the Sun Herald.

The skeptical were still watching the House Appropriations Committee late Tuesday, but word came down at 5:30 p.m. that the House was done and anything that didn’t pass out of committee was dead. Sprabery said she believed the House bill did not come out of committee.

The Coast arts community watched as the two bills moved through the legislative process Monday and Tuesday.

Senate bill 2611 proposed disbanding the MAC with its 15 commissioners from around the state, fold it under the Mississippi Development Authority and let the governor appoint an advisory committee. The bills were introduces two weeks ago.

Putting the arts commission under the MDA was being pitched as a way to consolidate agencies and save money.

Sprabery and others said such a move would make the issuing of arts grants a political nightmare.

Gov. Phil Bryant recently complained he lacked input in the selection of the MAC-sponsored Governor’s Arts Awards each year. According to the nonprofit, nonpartisan digital news source Mississippi Today, his comments came up on a radio show and may offer some context to the sudden push to change the MAC.

The Senate bill would have transferred “all duties, responsibilities, authority, power, assets, liabilities, contractual rights and obligations and property rights of the Mississippi Arts Commission,” including employees, to the MDA in July.

“We are saying prayers, making phone calls, and holding our collective breaths in hopes that the Senate bill will not come out of committee (Tuesday),” Sprabery told the Sun Herald on Tuesday morning as the committees took up the bills.

That was the mood of those supporting an independent arts commission.

“There has been a large public outcry because the arts commission affects so many communities,” Commissioner and former Chairwoman Carol Puckett told the Jackson Free Press.

“When purpose meets passion, great things happen,” Sprabery said. “In the whole state, I think that’s what happened. I’m so excited.”