Exploring local culture has long been a priority for Arts in McNairy. The county arts agency made its first foray into the region’s traditional arts in 2006, completing a two year study that revealed a deep well of untold or forgotten stories about McNairy County’s creative heritage.
“It’s about more than just gathering information,” said Shawn Pitts, Arts in McNairy’s Traditional Arts Chair. “We realized that we had to give these stories back to the public in a way that helped community members grasp their significance. Maybe more than that, we wanted people to take pride in the county’s creative accomplishments.”
Fortunately, AiM leadership found many ways to accomplish that goal. The AiM Artisan Trail brought attention to the area’s many quality craftspeople; the Rockabilly Highway Mural initiative and McNairy County Music Hall of Fame created awareness about the county’s music history; and the McNairy County Visitor’s and Cultural Center grew, in part, out of the desire to preserve the Latta building’s history as a cultural space. It’s hard to overestimate the attention these efforts have brought to McNairy County’s rich history of art and music making, but AiM representatives say the work is never really complete.
“There’s always more to learn,” Pitts said. “We’ve been discussing an updated survey for several years now, but with the county’s bicentennial upon us, 2023 seemed like the right time.” Beginning in January 2023, Pitts and LaShell Moore, the organization’s Diversity Chair, will undertake a yearlong study focused on the county’s African American, Native American and Hispanic traditions. The team also hopes to explore recent immigrant cultures, as time and resources permit. “We want to cast the net as broadly as possible,” said Moore. “It’s important to reach communities that may have been missed in the last study.”
The study will involve guiding community members through survey questions, taking oral histories and collecting information about the contemporary and traditional creative pursuits of McNairy County residents. The survey team is searching for two young interns, ages 17-25, to assist with the work. They say youthful enthusiasm will bring energy to the project, but the team hopes to inspire young community members with the stories collected in the process. Those interested may apply for the paid internship online. Question should be directed to: [email protected] or call (731) 435-3288.
The new cultural study begins in January 2023 and is expected to last 8-12 months. Results will be published in various forms as information is collected and analyzed.