January 9 – TUPELO – The artistic community has long been the heart of Tupelo.
With arts education integrated into public schools and countless outlets for dance, theater and music, Tupelo has made it a priority to make artistic experiences tangible for all ages.
Mary Frances Massey is the product of these efforts. A singer, dancer, instrumentalist and advocate for the arts, Massey attributes her success to the fruitful environment Tupelo provided her as a child and adult.
“We have all of these awesome programs with a choir, a performing choir, wonderful art and theater teachers as well,” Massey said.
She also recognized the contribution of theater and dance to Tupelo’s art scene, allowing children and adults to experience the performing arts.
As the current director of the North Mississippi Dance Center, Massey said her job is to continue the tradition of teaching well-balanced dance in the family studio, established by her mother in 1988.
“I go back to Tupelo about two or three times a week to teach dance and also work with Start with the Arts, a CREATE Foundation and United Way project,” she said. “We go to eight Lee County daycares and teach dance, music, art and storytelling.”
Start with the Arts is just one of many projects in the Tupelo region that educate children about the arts and provide learning opportunities for children.
Massey recognized the importance of introducing young minds to the arts from an early age. She said failing to do so can negatively affect children, preventing them from exploring their talents and artistic abilities.
Research has consistently shown the positive impact of arts education on school-aged children, increasing academic achievement in a multitude of subjects, including math and reading.
The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 reinforced the fact that the arts are a “core academic subject”. Yet, for many schools, a lack of funding may prompt them to cut out arts subjects and activities first in order to save money.
However, Massey believes Tupelo is at the forefront of arts education in the classroom and beyond.
The Tupelo Public School District offers unique arts education as part of the core subjects curriculum. Every school in the district except Tupelo High School has partnered with Mississippi Whole Schools, an initiative of the Mississippi Arts Commission to increase learning of the arts through academic subjects.
Since the arts are instituted before students even start kindergarten, children are more likely to be successful than in school and athletics. On the contrary, the arts contribute to academic and athletic performance.
While Tupelo’s arts community continues to thrive, Massey has recognized that the arts are not as accessible to some children and families as they are to others. This reality fuels his passion to continue to champion art exhibition in and out of the classroom.
In addition to contributing to the Tupelo arts community and championing arts education in schools, Massey is part of the musical duo Massey Tate with his partner Paul Tate. She is also an artist-teacher with the Mississippi Arts Commission as a dance teacher and on the Artist List as a singer.
Massey is also a wife and mother of two. She recently moved to Germantown, Tennessee, with her family, but still resides in Tupelo.
BROOKE BULLOCK BURLESON is a digital producer for the Daily Journal. Contact her at [email protected]