Former Pike County youth jail to become art school

Updated: Sep. 19, 2019 at 6:55 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Most of us wouldn’t have seen it in this old jail. But McComb artist Calvin Phelps, who has traveled the globe and worked in art administration in Los Angeles, looked at the rundown old building and saw the beginnings of a permanent physical home for the Pike School of Art Mississippi.

“I don’t know how he ever saw the vision of it working in the jail, but he did and I can see it now, it’s fantastic. Now we’ll move forward with this and it’ll be a catalyst to greater things,” said Vickie Webb, a member of the McComb Creative Partnership Board.

Walking through the old jail in the late summer heat, the skeptic’s eye picks up cramped cells with decaying toilets and stained wooden bed shelves. Numbers and a yard stick still adorn the wall where they used to take mugshots.

But those kinds of throwbacks will soon be -- physically too -- a thing of the past.

With two floor plans side by side, Phelps can show you what’s in the building now and what it will be. It takes less of an artist’s eye to see it when it’s drawn out. But he sees it, and it’s very real.

“In this space we’ll have exhibition spaces, room for art work shops, a little museum space dedicated to McComb," Phelps says, pointing to his maps. "In the back we’ll have space for the artists to come for a month or two if they want.”

Leaning against the wall in the front room is a sign. “NO weapons, guns, ammunition. NO pocket knives, tobacco products, purses allowed in facility.”

But on a table in the middle of the room is some art students’ answer to the nos.

“We say yes to,” the top of the poster reads, and students had written their allowances on pieces of paper shaped like flowers. “Yes, you can use broken pottery pieces to create a unique piece,” one reads. “Yes, you may slam clay to the floor to remove any art bubbles,” another says.

Phelps says that as with many other small towns, keeping the kids off the streets and out of trouble is always a goal.

“There’s nothing really here for the kids to do and this is what we want to do is really keep them out of jails by turning a jail into an art center,” Phelps said.

Phelps said the school is in the process of trying to raise $150,000 to get off the ground. Visit the Pike School of Art Mississippi’s website for more.

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