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Taking it to the MAX in Meridian, Mississippi
By Tom Adkinson

MERIDIAN, Miss. – There must be something in Mississippi’s drinking water that generates such an array of talented people decade after decade. They shine in literature, music, movies, television, theater, art, journalism and more.

William Faulkner, Elvis Presley, Oprah Winfrey, Jimmy Buffett, Jim Henson, John Grisham and Morgan Freeman are just the start of the list. Keep going with Eudora Welty, Marty Stuart, Leontyne Price, James Earl Jones, Jimmie Rodgers, Tennessee Williams and B.B. King. The list could go on and on.

max hall of fame
The MAX’s Hall of Fame will have you walking in circles – actually two circles – to see the stories of famous Mississippians; image by Tom Adkinson.

That’s why the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience in Meridian exists. The attraction shortens its name to The MAX. This modern-design building, with its sharp-angled exterior walls and a two-story circular hall of fame on the inside, is an interactive tribute to an astounding aggregation of artistic, talented and accomplished Mississippians.

moon pie drop
One exhibit lets you create your own artistic piece of pottery on an imaginary potter’s wheel; image by Lois Adkinson.

The casual visitor can get almost overwhelmed examining just one level of the 360-degree hall of fame, reading biographies and admiring photos of B.B. King, Charley Pride, Oprah Winfrey, William Faulkner, John Grisham and others. However, doing that only scratches the surface of what The MAX offers.

Permanent exhibits immerse you in the cultural influences that have shaped so many talented Mississippians. There are eye-catching galleries about the land (from the Appalachian foothills up north to the Gulf of Mexico down south), the concept of home, the power of church life and the importance of community.

Along the way are opportunities to engage as well as observe. In one computer-driven exhibit, you can create an artistic piece of pottery just by maneuvering your hands as if there really was a potter’s wheel in front of you instead of a video screen.

At the end, you get a printout of what you made. It may not be as memorable as a piece from hall of fame member George Ohr, “the Mad Potter of Biloxi,” but you could claim he inspired you.

max hall of fame
The faces of “Sesame Street” characters became famous because of Mississippian Jim Henson; image by Tom Adkinson.

Elsewhere, you can rearrange plates on a large dining room table and have computer-generated messages explain the creativity of Mississippi chefs and food writers such as Craig Claiborne, or you can pick up some Muppet characters and stage your own “Sesame Street” scene while recalling favorite memories of Jim Henson. (A traveling exhibition, “The Jim Henson Exhibition: Imagination Unlimited,” is at The MAX from Jan. 12-May 4, 2019.)

max hall of fame
Dazzling images dance across multiple screens to tell the stories of Mississippi’s land, water, communities and other influences; image by Tom Adkinson.

Mississippi’s musical heritage is in the spotlight in an action-packed exhibit about Mississippi’s famous juke joints. The narrator of the “Maxie’s Juke Joint” exhibit explains “(These were) little shacks and cafés around the Delta where people would go to drink, dance and play some cards after working in the fields. Like a big ol’ house party. Everybody gets to sweating like a sinner in church.”

You pick the musical accompaniment at Maxie’s from selections by legends such as Charley Patton, Robert Johnson (who sold his soul to the devil for his blues talent, as the story goes), Jimmie Rodgers, Pinetop Perkins and north Mississippi hill country slide guitarist R.L. Burnside.

max hall of fame
Passages from Mississippi luminaries such as William Faulkner, Eudora Welty and John Grisham appear magically on this writer’s desk; image by Tom Adkinson.

The MAX has a rooftop terrace, performance locations and rooms for art programs for visitors who can stay for a spell. Outside, there’s a Hollywood-style walk of fame that stretches two city blocks to the doors of the MSU Riley Center, a Meridian landmark that includes a restored 1889 grand opera house theater.

“We want to educate and inspire the next generation of Mississippians,” said Jerome Trahan, director of marketing for The MAX. He could have added opening the eyes of non-Mississippians to the talent the state has produced.

Trip-planning resources: The Max and Visit Meridian

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published January 3, 2019

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