This article in the Vicksburg Post about five towns being named Cultural Corners communities reminded me of this new, not-yet-well-known heritage tourism program begun by the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA). According to the article:
MDA’s Certified Cultural Corners Program was launched in 2008 in five pilot towns with populations of less than 20,000. They were Holly Springs, Oceans Springs, Philadelphia, Woodville and Cleveland. This year, the other communities [in addition to Port Gibson and Rolling Fork] selected for the program are Pontotoc, Aberdeen and Bay St. Louis. The program aims to develop five distinct regions of the state and promote them both individually and collectively.
I liked Sarah McCullough’s comment about Port Gibson’s Church Street–is anyone at MDOT listening?
“Port Gibson certainly fits into this program because of the extravagant architecture on Church Street, which is really unlike any other in the state. Also, there is a lot of Civil War and civil rights history in the area,” McCullough said.
As someone who enjoys just wandering around and bumping into interesting things, I’ve always been a little ambivalent about overly-packaged heritage tourism programs. I don’t like my trip to be handed to me on a platter. I also dislike “heritage” being subsumed into a larger “tourism” or “development” agenda–when this happens, the real history gets lost and a fake, cleaned-up history takes its place.
HOWEVER, neither do I like to google a house museum and find either no information or a web page that’s almost useless or so poorly designed as to make you gnash your teeth. So, I’m glad that Sarah McCullough and MDA are working hard to bring about a cohesive, well-designed heritage tourism website for the whole state that allows visitors to find information about places they already know they want to go, places they didn’t know about, and how to get to them all. For instance, I was surprised to learn, when checking out MDA’s heritage and culture website that McComb has a Civil Rights sites driving tour.
In addition to the website, of course, I think MDA/McCullough are doing a good job of not crossing that imaginary line between heritage tourism and blatant commercialism. The Cultural Corners program helps our communities around the state become part of a larger state-wide network of historic and cultural sites. This network, in turn, will help the smaller towns with only one or two historic sites (that are still interesting and important) to showcase those sites to visitors who are coming to Natchez or Columbus, and the larger towns might be able to keep visitors for another night or two if they decide to take a day trip to another site in the next county. Visitors will benefit by having the information readily available and being able to “bump into” places they didn’t know about. I think it’s a smart and effective program and I hope it will be a success for all our historic communities around the state.