Best of Jackson 2020: Community and Culture

Photo courtesy Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

Photo courtesy Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

We here at the Jackson Free Press like to keep our focus on local: local people, local business, local food—you get the idea. There's nothing to us more local than Best of Jackson. We're officially in our 18th annual award season.

Here is who you voted as the best local people, places, food and more.

Best Museum; Best Tourist Attraction: Mississippi Civil Rights Museum

(222 North St., Suite 2205, 601-576-6800, mcrm.ms.gov)

The world-famous Mississippi Civil Rights Museum's eight galleries highlight the struggle civil-rights activists and everyday people faced in no-holds-barred fashion such as seeing the names of those lynched prominently displayed throughout a gallery.

Stephenie Morrisey, deputy director of programs and communication, said many people walk out moved and want to come back. "It sparks family discussion, (and) it sparks discussion between visitors who don't know each other. It's a very serious topic, and people respond to that in a lot of different ways," Morrisey said. — Aliyah Veal

Best Museum

Finalists: Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum (1150 Lakeland Drive, 601-432-4500, msagmuseum.org) / Mississippi Children's Museum (2145 Museum Blvd., 601-981-5469, mschildrensmuseum.org) / Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St., 601-960-1515, msmuseumart.org) / Mississippi Museum of Natural Science (2148 Riverside Drive, 601-576-6000, mdwfp.com)

Best Tourist Attraction

Finalists: Eudora Welty House & Garden (1109 Pinehurst St., 601-353-7762, mdah.ms.gov/welty) / Medgar Evers Home Museum (2332 Margaret W. Alexander Drive, 601-977-7839, civilrightstrail.com) / Mississippi Children's Museum (2145 Museum Blvd., 601-981-5469, mschildrensmuseum.org) / Mississippi Petrified Forest (124 Forest Park Road, Flora, 601-879-8189, mspetrifiedforest.com)

Best Radio Personality or Team; Best Radio Station: Nate and Bender, WYOY


Photo courtesy Nate and Bender

(Y101, 101.7, y101.com)

Nate West and Chris Bender credit their show's success to keeping their content light and real. For instance, neither of the hosts are afraid to rave about their top-40 faves like Post Malone, Billie Eilish and Lizzo.

West's career in radio started 24 years ago in the building where "The Morning Showgram" is recorded. He remembers the day Y101 went live. "I just knew it was one of those things where it was the cool, new, happening thing in town. I just felt like it was going to be big, and I did everything I could to get on the air," West says.

West's initial partnership with Bender started in 2004 and ended in 2009 when Bender left the station. When Bender returned to Mississippi six years later, he knew he wanted to work with West again. "I got a call asking if I wanted to come back and get my old job back, and I was like, "Hell's yeah. I'd love to come back to Mississippi and be around my peeps,'" Bender says.

Listen to "The Morning Showgram with Nate and Bender" Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. — Alyssa Bass

Best Radio Personality or Team

Finalists: Bo Bounds (ESPN The Zone 105.9, thezone1059.com) / "Dirty D" (Darrell Arnold) and Melissa K (WPBP 104.5) / Mista Maine (WRBJ 97.7FM) / Tambra Cherie (97.7 WRBJ) / Traci & Hef (US 93.3, yourcountryus96.com)

Best Radio Station

Finalists: WHLH (Hallelujah 95.5, hallelujah955.iheart.com) / WJMI (99 Jams, 99.7, wjmi.com) / WMPN (Mississippi Public Radio, 91.3, mpbonline.org) / WRBJ (The Beat of the Capital, 97.7, thebeatofthecapital.com) / WUSJ (US 96.3, yourcountryus96.com)

Best Art Gallery: Fondren Art Gallery

(3242 N. State St., 601-981-9222, fondrenartgallery.com)

Richard McKey's Fondren Art Gallery features a variety of art pieces from local and international artists that rotate throughout the year. The gallery also offers a variety of services including guitar lessons, framing and art lessons. Artists' works are available for purchase.

McKey credits the growth of Fondren for much of the gallery's success and is excited to see how the area will change and grow in the upcoming years. "I've been here about 15 years, and I've seen a lot of changes in Fondren," McKey says. "It pleases me very much to see the growth."

Although locals have appreciated the Fondren Art Gallery since it opened in 2003, McKey says the gallery gives visitors who are passing through a visual piece of the state to take home. "I love when people come in from out of state because they want some Mississippi art to remember their time here," McKey says. — Ashley Hobson

Finalists: AND Gallery (133 Millsaps Ave., andgallery.org) / Brown's Fine Art & Framing (630 Fondren Place, 601-982-4844, brownsfineart.com) / Fischer Galleries (736 S. President St., 601-291-9115, fischergalleries.com) / Jackson Street Gallery (637 Highway 51, Ridgeland, 601-790-7001) / Offbeat (151 Wesley Ave., 601-376-9404, offbeatjxn.com)

Best Arts Organization: Mississippi Museum of Art


Mississippi Museum of Art Photo by Trip Burns

(380 S. Lamar St., 601-960-1515, msmuseumart.org)

The Mississippi Museum of Art serves as a cultural hub not only for the city of Jackson but also for the state of Mississippi. It displays a variety of art collections and regularly rotate exhibitions. The museum also features the works of several Mississippi artists through mediums such as paint, photography and sculpture.

Additionally, the museum facilitates several community programs including Gallery Talks, Art Nights, the Creative Healing Studio and the Center for Art & Public Exchange. The museum caters to its younger audiences through programs such as "Look & Learn with Hoot," a hands-on storytime for parents and their children ages 5 and up. The museum is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. For more information on upcoming events or collections, visit msmuseumart.org. — Ashley Hobson

Finalists: Craftsmen's Guild of Mississippi (950 Rice Road, Ridgeland, 601-856-7546, craftsmensguildofms.org) / Greater Jackson Arts Council (201 E. Pascagoula St., Suite 103, 601-960-1557, greaterjacksonartscouncil.com) / Mississippi Arts Commission (501 N. West St., Suite 1101A, 601-359-6030, arts.ms.gov) / Mississippi Symphony Orchestra (201 E. Pascagoula St., Suite 104, 601-960-1565, msorchestra.com)

Best Category We Left Off: Best Outdoor Activity

Here in the South where the weather is warm more days than it's not, Jacksonians often take to the outside for enjoyment. Those who enjoy nature can fish or canoe at Mayes Lake, visit the nature trails behind the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science or stroll through the Mississippi Petrified Forest. Sports enthusiasts can grab a few friends for a pickup game of tennis at Parham Bridges Park, golf a few holes at the Country Club of Jackson or catch a baseball game at Trustmark Park. Outdoor gatherings like Fondren's First Fridays and Belhaven Lights Belhaven Nights bring locals together for music, food and fun. No matter your preference, Jackson offers something to get you outside and moving. —Torsheta Jackson

Finalists: Best Local Facebook Group / Best Manager / Best Mobile Learning Lab / Best Principal

Best Community Garden/Nature Attraction: Mississippi Children's Museum's Gertrude C. Ford Literacy Garden

(2145 Museum Blvd., 601-981-5469, mschildrensmuseum.org)

The Mississippi Children's Museum uses its Gertrude G. Ford Literacy Garden, on its first floor, as both an outdoor activity area and a gallery space.. The purpose of the space, inspired by the poem "The Enchanted Land of Story," is to encourage growth and connection between children and their parents, Director of External Affairs Susan Branson says. "It's meant to inspire conversation between parents and children. It's all about developing language and reading skills," she says.

This fun space looks straight out of a children's book with its whimsical mushrooms, a tree house inspired by "Jack and the Beanstalk" and even a "word waterfall." The garden also has a section where children are encouraged to help with planting and harvesting. — Ashley Hobson

Finalists: Art Garden at the Mississippi Museum of Art (380 S. Lamar St., 601-960-1515, msmuseumart.org) / Clinton Nature Center (617 Dunton Road, Suite 4303, Clinton, 601-926-1104, clintonnaturecenter.org) / Lefleur's Bluff State Park (3315 Lakeland Terrace, 601-987-3923, mdwfp.com) / Mynelle Gardens (4736 Clinton Blvd., 601-960-1894)

Best Annual Event: Hal's St. Paddy's Parade & Festival


Hal's St. Paddy's Parade & Festival Photo by Kristin Brenemen

(March, halsstpaddysparade.com)

The 36th-annual Hal's St. Paddy's Parade on March 28 will feature a 5k run, a pet parade, a children's festival, a second-line march, and musical performances from guests such as Robert Randolph, Freedom, The Molly Ringwalds and Sweet Crude. The theme is "Here's Looking at Rude, Kid," which refers to a line from the film "Casablanca" and nods to 2020 parade grand marshal Trace Alston, leader of the Rude Men marching krewe. Jill Conner Browne and the Sweet Potato Queens will participate, and Mustache the Band, The Chee-Weez and AJC the DJ will perform at the after-party. Tickets for the after-party are $10 and are available at seetickets.us. — Dustin Cardon

Finalists: Bright Lights Belhaven Nights (August, greaterbelhaven.com) / Cathead Jam (May, catheadjam.com) / Jackson Indie Music Week (January, jxnindiemusic.com) / Mistletoe Marketplace (November, mistletoemarketplace.com) / WellsFest (September, wellschurch.org/wellsfest)

Best Dance Group: Ballet Magnificat!

(5406 Interstate 55 N., 601-977-1001, balletmagnificat.com)

Kathy Thibodeaux learned ballet in Jackson and became one of the first contracted dancers for the Jackson Ballet Company (now Ballet Mississippi) under the direction of Thalia Mara. Keith Thibodeaux grew up a child actor, playing roles like Little Ricky on "I Love Lucy" and Johnny Paul Jason on "The Andy Griffith Show." The couple met and married in 1976, and established the Christian-based Ballet Magnificat! a decade later in her hometown. The dance group tours and trains dancers from child to adult. It also features a trainee program, which lasts up to three years and has drawn in applicants from more than 15 countries. The organization offers scholarships for its various programs. For more details, visit balletmagnificat.com. — Brianna Gibson

Finalists: Dancing Dolls (The Dollhouse Dance Factory, 1410 Ellis Ave., 770-265-1111, dollhousedancefactory.com) / Kinetic Etchings (1347 Fontaine Drive, 601-946-6506) / Montage Theatre of Dance (Hinds Community College, 601-857-3460, hindscc.edu) / Purple Diamonds Dancers (Diamond Dance Company, 1256 W. Capitol St., 601-323-7476)

Best New Restaurant; Best New Addition to Jackson: Cultivation Food Hall


Cultivation Food Hall Photo by Acacia Clark

(1200 Eastover Drive, Suite 125, 601-487-5197, cultivationfoodhall.com)

Cultivation Food Hall, located inside The District at Eastover (1200 Eastover Drive, Suite 125), opened in January 2019. The food hall includes six food vendors, a bar and a coffee shop. Vendors include Bocca Pizzeria, Whisk, a Creperie by La Brioche, Poke Stop, Atlas Greek Down South, Gold Coast bar, il Lupo Coffee and the food hall's most recent additions, Ariella's Pasta Bar and Yuzu Ramen.

The food hall gives local entrepreneurs a way to open their own dining venues without taking on a full-scale restaurant. Alivia Ashburn-Townsend originally opened Ariella's NY Delicatessen, a New York-style deli, inside the food hall but has since reopened as an Italian restaurant called Ariella's Pasta Bar in November 2019. Jackson native Connor Mize, who previously worked as executive chef at Saltine Oyster Bar and sous chef at Estelle Wine Bar & Bistro, opened Yuzu Ramen in November 2019. — Dustin Cardon

Best New Addition to Jackson

Finalists: Bar 3911 (3911 Northview Drive, 601-586-1468) / Fondren Fitness (2807 Old Canton Road, 601-540-0338, fondrenfitness.com) / Godfrey's Caribbean Restaurant (2460 Terry Road, 601-398-3602) / Sophomore Spanish Club (200 District Blvd. E., 601-203-3333, sophomorespanish.com) / Urban Foxes (826 North St., 769-572-5505, urbanfoxesjxn.com)

Best New Restaurant

Finalists: Godfrey's Caribbean Restaurant (2460 Terry Road, 601-398-3602) / Sophomore Spanish Club (200 District Blvd. E., 601-203-3333, sophomorespanish.com) / Sweetie Pies (120 N. Congress St., 601-487-8121) / Urban Foxes (826 North St., 769-572-5505, urbanfoxesjxn.com)

Best Kids' Event: KidFest! Ridgeland

(April, kidfestridgeland.com)

The 18th Annual KidFest! Ridgeland, a four-day festival filled with shows, amusement rides, interactive activities and more that Best of Jackson voters love, is Saturday, April 18, to Sunday, April 19, and from Saturday, April 25, to Sunday, April 26, at Freedom Ridge Park (253 W. School St., Ridgeland).

Attractions will include Zoppe, an Italian Family Circus, the Magical Poodles dog show, a backyard circus, a "Wolves of the World" exhibit, leprechaun magician Connor O'Carraig, carnival and train rides, hat-making stands, fair food stalls and more. Gates open at 9 a.m. on April 18 and 25 and at noon on April 19 and 26. The festival closes at 6:30 p.m. on all four days. Tickets are $12 per person, and children younger than 2 get in free. All attractions, shows, rides and activities are included in the ticket price. Printable coupons for $2 off admissions are available online at kidsfestridgeland.com/ticket-info. — Dustin Cardon

Finalists: Boo at the Zoo (October, jacksonzoo.org) / Dr. Seuss' Silly Birthday Celebration (February, mschildrensmuseum.org) / Touch a Truck Jackson (April, touchatruckjackson.com) / WellsFest (September; wellschurch.org/wellsfest)

Best Festival: Bright Lights Belhaven Nights

(August, greaterbelhaven.com)

Bright Lights Belhaven Nights, the historic Belhaven neighborhood's annual street festival that launched in 2004, draws people from all over Jackson for live music from local bands, vendors, food and more every August. Last year's event, on Aug. 10, 2019, brought more than 3,500 visitors to the Belhaven neighborhood's Poplar, Kenwood and Carlisle streets. The American Planning Association designated Belhaven as one of its "Great Neighborhoods in America" in 2014, and Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights won the Best Festival award in Best of Jackson 2019. — Dustin Cardon

Finalists: Cathead Jam (June, catheadjam.com) / Farish Street Heritage Festival (September, farishstreetheritagefestival.com) / Jackson Indie Music Week (January, jxnindiemusic.com) / Mississippi Science Festival (September, mssciencefest.org) / WellsFest (September; wellschurch.org/wellsfest)

Best Local Podcast: Key to the City


Key to the City Photo courtesy Humbled Visuals Photography


"Key to the City" podcast host Keoni Gray knows it's important to acknowledge black artists, activists and other community members who do anything outside of the box before they achieve mainstream success. Since the podcast's first episode aired in June 2019, he has interviewed 32 creatives and community leaders such as Kansas Gray, Mookey Montana and Lorenzo Wesley.

Gray moved back to Jackson after spending time in Texas as a small-business lender following Hurricane Harvey. In addition to the podcast, he devotes his time to freelance videography and editing. Gray says the podcast allows for the community to appreciate the positive contributions of his guests and exhibits the resiliency of black Mississippi trailblazers.

"(I'm) not saying that I'm shying away from anyone else of any other demographic, but I love to focus on my people," Gray says. "We need more positive aspects and visuals and audio of people that are doing things in our community to show others that, 'Hey, we can do the same thing. If we come together, we can really be a powerful force."

Listen to new episodes of "Key to the City" every Monday on your favorite streaming app. — Alyssa Bass

Finalists: JXN Transplants (soundcloud.com/jxntransplants) / Reality Breached (facebook.com/realitybreached) / The Roguish Gent (facebook.com/TheRoguishGent) / Token Talk (facebook.com/TokenTalkPodcast)

Best Local Live Theater/Theatrical Group: New Stage Theatre

(1100 Carlisle St., 601-948-3531, newstagetheatre.com)

New Stage Theatre, now in the midpoint of its sixth decade in operation, is a Jackson institution. From its first performance of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" to its upcoming production of Matilda the Musical, New Stage has been a font of local culture and artistic education for ages. New Stage also has a beloved series of workshops and summer camps for children. Its education focus makes the theater so influential in Jackson's creative development.

Its 54th season kicked off with "Into the Breeches," a comedy about an all-woman production of "Henry V" set against the backdrop of World War II. In 2020, after "Matilda the Musical" (Jan. 28-Feb. 9) comes "Pipeline" (March 10-15, March 17-22). Finally, two plays adapted from novels, Mark Haddon's "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" (April 21 - 26, April 28-May 3) and E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime" (June 2-7, June 9-14.) — Nick Judin

Finalists: Black Hat Shows (601-376-9005, facebook.com/BlackHatBurlesque) / Black Rose Theatre Company (103 Black St., Brandon, 601-825-1293, blackrosetheatre.wordpress.com) / Fondren Theatre Workshop (fondrentheatreworkshop.org) / Hearth & Mantel Theatre Company (769-218-9496, hearthandmanteltheatre.com) / MADDRAMA Performance Troupe (Jackson State University, maddrama.com)

Best Public Forum or Speaker Series: Play Eat Learn

(UMMC Center for Advancement of Youth, umc.edu)

"Play. Eat. Learn.," a series of lectures for parents and activities for children at the Mississippi Children's Museum, launched through a partnership between the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Center for Advancement of Youth, the Junior League of Jackson and the MCM in October 2018.

During the events, JLJ members provided dinner and cared for children ages 3-10 while they played in the museum during dinner. CAY experts delivered lectures on topical subjects for parents. The program, which was free and open to the public, took place through September 2019. The "Play. Eat. Learn." lecture series covered topics such as child development, caring for children with autism or ADHD, parenting teenagers, dealing with anxiety or depression in youth and more. For more information on CAY and other UMMC programs, visit umc.edu or follow UMMC on Facebook. — Dustin Cardon

Finalists: Friday Forum (Refill Cafe, refillcafejackson.com) / History is Lunch (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, mdah.ms.gov) / Ideas on Tap (Mississippi Humanities Council, mshumanities.org) / Millsaps Arts and Lecture Series (millsaps.edu)

Best Nonprofit Organization: The Mustard Seed, Inc.


Photo courtesy The Mustard Seed, Inc.

(1085 Luckney Road, Brandon, 601-992-3556, mustardseedinc.org)

For 39 years, The Mustard Seed has worked to meet the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs of "Seedsters"—adults with disabilities. The faith-based organization is inspired by the Bible verse Matthew 17:20, which informs readers that they can do anything even if they have faith the size of a mustard seed.

The Seedsters live in group homes on The Mustard Seed's campus, participate in ceramic art-therapy sessions and the Bells of Faith handbell choir, and travel off campus for activities on Fridays.

Community Relations Director Mandy Sisson says the Seedsters are positive examples of true friends who display unconditional love. "I think that's one of the most rewarding parts about this job," Sisson says. "Maybe the Seedsters didn't have as many social activities outside of their special-education classes, and maybe they were drug around to brothers and sisters' games and ballet recitals and things. Then they come to The Mustard Seed, and because of our ceramics program and the ways that we integrate them into the community, I think that they really get to shine." Visit mustardseedinc.org. — Alyssa Bass

Finalists: The Bean Path (4215 Medgar Evers Blvd., thebeanpath.org) / Cheshire Abbey (cheshireabbey.com) / Community Animal Rescue & Adoption (960 N. Flag Chapel Road, 601-922-7575, carams.org) / Pearl Riverkeeper (pearlriverkeeper.com) / Stewpot Community Services (1100 W. Capitol St., 601-353-2759, stewpot.org)

Best Locally Owned Business: The Prickly Hippie


The Prickly Hippie Photo courtesy Brandon Smith

(500 Highway 51, Suite F, Ridgeland, 601-910-6730, pricklyhippie.com)

When Jenni Sivils founded The Prickly Hippie, one of the newer businesses to take root in the area, it primarily sold succulents and cacti, which take far less water and attention than other plants. Every plant in the shop had been planted weeks earlier and tested for proper rooting and growth. Today, the business has gained renown for its coffee, baked goods and various handcrafted goods. The bakery's menu includes freshly made goods such as homemade pop-tarts, doughnuts, cake bites and brownies—as well as KETO options like salted chocolate espresso cupcakes, breakfast bagels and more.

The Prickly Hippie donates a portion of its proceeds to a different local nonprofit organization each month. More information, including tips for caring for succulents and cacti, is available at pricklyhippie.com. — Luis Montgomery

Finalists: BB'S LIVE - Bonny Blair's (1149 Old Fannin Road, Brandon, 769-447-5788) / Capital City Kayaks (601-953-7615, capitalcitykayaks.com) / Offbeat (151 Wesley Ave., 601-376-9404, offbeatjxn.com) / Sneaky Beans (2914 N. State St., 601-487-6349) / Spray Tans by Kayla (504 N. Bierdeman Road, Pearl, 769-251-0852)

Best Reason to Live in Jackson: Food

The metro area's food landscape seems to improve and change constantly. There's always something new and local to try, whether it's a new food vendor like Atlas at Cultivation Food Hall or Ed's Burgers, which is coming to Fondren soon. But if you don't want to try something new, there are always old favorites like Broad Street Baking Company, Beatty Street Grocery or Keifer's. If you don't know what to try, just ask one of the local Facebook foodie groups such as Jackson Foodies or Eat Mississippi #TriCountyFoodies. They have regular meet-ups, and someone always knows of a hidden Jackson gem. — Amber Helsel

Finalists: Community / Cost of Living / Culture / Diversity / Fondren / The People

Best Stage Play: "Mama, I Want to Sing"


"Mama, I Want to Sing" Photo courtesy Mark Henderson

(The Department of Art & Theatre at Jackson State University, jsums.edu/art)

In September 2019, the Jackson State University's Department of Art & Theatre showed out with a production of "Mama, I Want to Sing." The play tells the story of a young girl who dreams of leaving home and pushing beyond her church-choir roots to pursue a professional musical career, despite her mother's objections. The tale is based on the life of Doris Troy, who rose to stardom in 1963. The production ran for six shows.

In addition to actors from JSU, the cast included members from local churches, high schools and the Mississippi Mass Choir. Mark Henderson, a professor at JSU and the production's director, says community engagement was just as important as the lessons the play's story told. "I wanted to do a musical and think about what our community needed," he says. "I wanted them to have a place to come and forget about politics and our problems for a while."

The goals of the play were to provide an opportunity for the community to come together and to offer an escape, Henderson says. The department has two new plays set for the spring 2020 semester, "New Beginnings" and "Sister." — Ashley Hobson

Finalists: "The Dying of Ida Greene" (Hearth & Mantel Theatre Company, 769-218-9496, hearthandmanteltheatre.com) / "Kansas City: The Story of the Negro Baseball Leagues" (Montage Theatre of Dance, Hinds Community College, hindscc.edu) / "Murder on the Orient Express" (New Stage Theatre, 1100 Carlisle St., 601-948-3531, newstagetheatre.com) / "Sister Act" (New Stage Theatre, 1100 Carlisle St., 601-948-3531, newstagetheatre.com)


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