When it comes to arts and entertainment, Mississippi is a land of legends.
And that gave us an idea.
What if we told all their stories together in one place? What if we could showcase the overwhelming impact of Mississippi's creative legacy to locals and visitors alike? What if we help ignite creativity in the artists of the future?
The Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience – or The MAX, as we call it – took its first step toward reality in 2001, when the Mississippi State Legislature enacted Senate Bill 2666, providing for "an educational, entertaining, and interactive facility" in Meridian to celebrate Mississippians' contributions to arts and entertainment.
That bill sowed the seeds for a major destination with a cultural impact that could extend far beyond Mississippi.
Our vision was and is to showcase Mississippi's global legacy in every area of the arts, honor Mississippi's legends in arts and entertainment, and inspire tomorrow's artists through exhibitions, performances, classes, and events.
Over the decade to follow, a dedicated board and a supportive celebrity committee pressed on toward our fundraising goals, despite financial blows from both Hurricane Katrina and the 2008 recession. In 2009, nearly 10 years of hard work behind the scenes reaped one of our first tangible rewards as we unveiled our Hollywood-style Walk of Fame and laid the groundwork for this museum experience.
In early 2015, with 50% of the funding raised, the project officially moved forward. The financing included a progressive mix of private and public funds and a commitment by city leaders and the state government that set the stage for the citizens of Meridian to endorse the facility. A local tax of 2% on prepared food and beverages was approved by almost a 70% margin and is projected to provide $2.5 million annually for 10 years to help pay for the facility.
In January 2017, the inaugural class of 18 inductees to the Mississippi Hall of Fame was announced at the Mississippi Capitol Rotunda. It consisted of Walter Inglis Anderson, William Faulkner, Morgan Freeman, John Grisham, Jim Henson, Robert Johnson, James Earl Jones, B.B. King, George Ohr, Elvis Presley, Leontyne Price, Jimmie Rodgers, Sela Ward, Muddy Waters, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Oprah Winfrey, and Richard Wright. In August 2018, five more Mississippi artists were added to The MAX Hall of Fame: Jimmy Buffett, William Eggleston, Willie Morris, Charley Pride, and Howlin' Wolf. Joining them in June 2019 were Margaret Walker, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Tammy Wynette.
The new facility, with $14 million in immersive and interactive exhibitions, was completed with no remaining debt. On April 27, 2018, The MAX opened with a gala attended by over 1,000 guests along with a number of artists and entertainers featured in the opening exhibition.
In January 2019, The MAX hosted its first major traveling exhibition in its first floor galleries. The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited, organized by the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, drew visitors throughout the southeastern U.S.
By shining the spotlight on Mississippi's statewide contributions in arts and entertainment, The MAX guides visitors to other towns and museums throughout the state, from Elvis Presley's Tupelo to B.B. King's Indianola to Jimmy Buffett's Pascagoula to Eudora Welty's Jackson to Walter Anderson's Ocean Springs, and many more. Because when it comes to arts and entertainment, Mississippi is a land full of legends.