UM art students say arts district could help them gain industry experience

Maggie Bolinger sketches in a printmaking class. Photo by Riley Long.
Maggie Bolinger sketches in a printmaking class. Photo by Riley Long.

With the addition of a new mural on University Avenue and Oxford’s arts center, the Powerhouse, located there – this semester Oxford Stories is embarking on a small solutions journalism project. Our reporters are starting a community conversation about the possibility of a continued arts emphasis in the University Avenue area.

Riley Long
Oxford Stories

There are more than 250 undergraduate art majors enrolled in three programs at the University of Mississippi’s Department of Art and Art History. Some shared their thoughts about having a possible arts district, or area where art is emphasized, in Oxford.

While Oxford has added an outside mural to University Avenue in an area with many creative businesses, some students say recognizing and cultivating this area as an arts district would make the city more appealing as a tourist destination and allow art students to gain industry experience.

“(University Avenue) has all of the components needed with the mural, the shops, and the Powerhouse, but there’s so much more room for art that designating the street to creative outlets could be amazing,” said Corinne Taylor.

The Newport Beach, California native is completing her last semester as a journalism major with an art minor, specializing in graphic design. She chose Ole Miss because the University of Mississippi allowed her to explore both interests.

“I spent so much time in L.A., where art is anywhere and everywhere, but Oxford is a little more discreet in exploring creativity,” she said. 

Viewing art in her city influenced her decision to pursue art as a career. Taylor sells paintings through Instagram.

“Growing up in a more artistic place shaped my style and the way I am as an artist, so a better arts scene here could be a great addition for art students,” said Taylor.

Junior Maggie Bolinger said an arts district might set Oxford apart from other small towns.

“The more I’ve been here, the more I’ve realized that Oxford is more of an arts town than you’d think, but the issue is no one recognizes it,” she said.

Moving to Oxford from Hendersonville, Tennessee was an easy decision for Bolinger, who was drawn to UM’s B.F.A. art program. With an emphasis in graphic design, her major requires a thesis presentation senior year in the form of a gallery show. 

“Adding more art galleries and creative shops could easily help me gain more experience in my field,” said Bolinger. “In high school, I had photographs displayed at Cheekwood, where they have outdoor galleries, so tons of people could see my work. It was a great experience to see my art outside of the classroom.”

Graphic design projects of Maggie Bolinger, Caroline Kuyrkendall, and Corinne Taylor. Photo by Riley Long.
Graphic design projects of Maggie Bolinger, Caroline Kuyrkendall, and Corinne Taylor. Photo by Riley Long.

Natalie Pruitt, a junior integrated marketing communications major with an art minor, grew up going to Market Square, an arts district in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her past experience with an established and respected arts district has influenced her thoughts about Oxford becoming more of an arts town.  

“I was blown away by the small town feel combined with how many unique stores and art galleries there are here,” she said. “I think because the town is so small, it allows for more creative businesses to flourish, and we need to have an arts district to show that.” 

Pruitt said an arts district might complement and support the Double Decker Arts Festival. It might also influence other artists and residents to move to Oxford.

“I think Oxford has the opportunity to turn University Avenue into a southern hub for the arts to meet,” she said.”There could be a few more walls painted by local artists and even an amphitheater for musical arts.”

Mackenzie Linneen working on graphic design. Photo by Riley Long.
Mackenzie Linneen working on graphic design. Photo by Riley Long.

Because building a portfolio for art students is vital to future job interviews, some said an arts district could also help their careers.

Roswell, Georgia native Mackenzie Linneen often drove to Atlanta’s art district to see art galleries and murals. As a senior art major with an emphasis in graphic design, Linneen will continue building her portfolio prior to graduation and is always on the hunt for inspiration.

“Oxford, having an arts district, would mean nothing but good things for the art department at Ole Miss,” said Linneen.”We need more opportunities for art students around Oxford, and increasing the art culture would allow room for that.”

Junior B.F.A. major Caroline Kuyrkendall frequented her home arts district in Chattanooga, Tennessee. While her major allows her to experiment with graphic design in art studios, Kuyrkendall longs for a more interactive experience in Oxford. 

“It is so inspiring to be around creativity constantly,” she said.”I think it would make University Avenue a place you want to slow down, walk around, and enjoy.

“I want to make art my entire life in my career, so if Oxford provided opportunities to design for new businesses or installations, I could build my portfolio while helping their business.

“Making businesses more known and updating marketing and signage, repainting buildings, and generally improving their appearance could draw customers in and generate more creative places.”

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