President of the Downtown Natchez Alliance: The group can facilitate a productive conversation about the downtown public arts program – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper

President of the Downtown Natchez Alliance: the group can facilitate a productive conversation about the downtown public arts program

Posted 10:12 p.m. on Saturday, August 13, 2022

NATCHEZ — Chesney Doyle, president of the Downtown Natchez Alliance, spoke at the public hearing on proposed mural guidelines, part of the Natchez Preservation Commission’s monthly meeting.

Doyle urged commissioners to file and take no action on these proposed guidelines until a broader community conversation can take place.

“The mission of the Downtown Natchez Alliance is to revitalize downtown in a manner consistent with the City’s Downtown Master Plan and following the National Mainstreet approach. National Main Street is a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation,” Doyle said.

This approach is a proven formula for revitalizing historic downtowns based on community engagement.

The main committees of the Alliance Centre-ville Natchez include organization, design, economic vitality and promotion.

“The mission of the design committee is to create an attractive and functional downtown. The design includes everything you see, from building facades to flowers to cracks in the sidewalk. We work together with other entities. Our goal in case murals would be to take an obviously complex, multi-layered problem and facilitate a solution that works for everyone. And I mean everyone,” she said.

Brenda Zerby of Moreton’s Flowerland is chair of the DNA design committee. Ben Hillyer of The Natchez Democrat is a member of the DNA design committee.

This consensus would occur by working with the city, the Natchez Historical Foundation, the Natchez Preservation Commission, and with the arts community and downtown stakeholders.

“That’s how the city’s master plan came into being. It took two years of community engagements. When you have competing visions, you have to align them somehow,” Doyle said.

Part of that conversation is realizing that some things are non-negotiable.

“For example, our program, which is based on the ethics of historic preservation, would never recommend anything that would destroy historic infrastructure. That’s not our point,” she said.

To date, Doyle said the community hasn’t had a productive conversation about the issue of the murals, “and that’s our business. The Natchez Preservation Commission, it’s not their job to go out and investigate everyone in the community and try to be a public arts commission.

In general, the inhabitants do not understand what the different entities of the city are responsible for doing.

“The Natchez Preservation Commissions are volunteers. They are mandated to do a job. As commissioners, they have a legal obligation to do a certain job. And people get confused about the Natchez Historical Foundation. Without these two entities, we would not have a city. We wouldn’t have the beautiful historic community we know and love as Natchez. We would have a large parking lot,” she said. “As a starting point, let’s educate ourselves about these entities, what they do and what they can’t do.

“If you go on social media you will see angry comments from people who think preservation commissioners are elected. They are not. There is enormous confusion in the public space.

The Downtown Natchez Alliance and most Main Street communities strive to see public arts programs in downtown areas.

“It could involve paintings, film, photography, music, dance, sculpture – all the arts,” Doyle said. “Art gives life to the city. Art inspires vision and creativity in more ways than one. Art can make people happy. Art can make people think. Art is educational. We are exploring with our design committee what a public art program would look like at Natchez.

She said she thinks the preliminary questions those involved in the mural issue should ask themselves are: what is the goal?

“If what we’re talking about is a First Amendment issue and a property rights issue — the idea that ‘this is my building and I should be able to say whatever I want about my building’ — well, that’s is a political question that goes beyond the parameters of what the Downtown Natchez Alliance can do or help. That’s not what we exist for. But if the objective is to bring the city to life, to animate the city through the arts is something we can all work on together and we can come up with a beautiful solution that will be exciting and ever-changing. Nobody says art has to be permanent and fixed. When you go in a museum, you see a different exhibit every time. If it’s the same old, same old, you’d stop going. A public art program downtown opens up all kinds of exciting opportunities. After Katrina, so many Gulf Coast artists traveled to Natchez. é Arts Natchez. We have a whole artistic community here in our city. We have become known as a city of art.

At the same time, everyone should be aware of what makes Natchez so appealing to locals and visitors alike.

“Our buildings in Natchez are our brand. We certainly don’t want to conceal that, mask it, or destroy it in any way. But if we start thinking about public arts in general and how exciting that could be, you can start seeing all of that together as improvements. We have a vase; let’s put a flower in it,” Doyle said.

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