Setting a vision during Crossroads visit

Setting a vision during Crossroads visit

Published 1:40 pm Monday, October 23, 2023

BROOKHAVEN — It is time to embrace change in our small towns. Crossroads Scholar Leah Kemp delivered the message in a Business Mixer at the Lincoln, Lawrence, Franklin Regional Library last Tuesday. 

Brookhaven is her first stop in serving as the statewide scholar for the Smithsonian traveling exhibit Crossroads: Changes in Rural America. People are encouraged to check out the exhibit while it is in Brookhaven from October 16 to November 22 and stop by for special Crossroads events. 

Kemp serves as the director of Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture, Art and Design’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center. She said the change in communities over the years has led the charge for MSU to provide planning solutions for small towns across Mississippi. 

“Brookhaven is better off than others. It is a beautiful community with fewer struggles than others,” Kemp said. “There are some shared challenges. We want to show what we do at the Small Town Center that works all over. Small towns change but we need to embrace it and evolve.” 

Her slideshow displayed a picture of the Cotton Mill in Starkville, once a factory, it is now a convention center and hosts business events such as the Starkville Holiday Bazaar. Cotton was once king in Mississippi. Agriculture and timber, while still playing a huge role in the state economy, have shifted over the years. Railroad is still significant but changed. 

Kemp said these dominant forces of the economy have shifted to allow for more service and content based economies. Communities need to be more intentional in planning while embracing these changes. 

“We have to accept that as a community you have to advance. Make plans and be proactive. Where do our towns engage people, what can we do to be intentional,” Kemp said. “Arts matter and complement industry. Arts and culture sets us apart. Good design helps your community. Beauty matters. Public spaces are needed for less crime, higher pedestrian activity and activity for businesses.” 

One of the ways small towns like Brookhaven can engage the public is to allow for opportunities for art. Murals in downtown are one example of public art. String lights beautify the alleyway behind Trustmark Bank in downtown Brookhaven similar to parts of downtown Starkville. 

Kemp said outdoor gathering spaces such as the railroad park downtown can bring people to the area so they can patronize local businesses. Street art such as painted crosswalks can provide a vibrancy for downtown areas. Colorful seating, tables, street furniture, pop-up games and markets are all activities to get people in commerce areas.

“Plans for a creative community takes time. Where would you like to see art? Set design standards,” Kemp said. “Design can improve your quality of life. Think about setting a vision here.” 

The traveling exhibit should spark conversations about how to plan more for Brookhaven. Residents Bill Perkins and Lindsey Gennaro shared ideas on how to beautify the city in a conversation after Kemp’s presentation. 

Kemp asked a handful of questions during her presentation to kickstart the conversation for art in Brookhaven. Email your answers to the following questions to

What three words best describe your community? What are the top three community assets? What are the eyesores in town? What is your vision for Brookhaven in five years? What is your vision for Brookhaven in 15 years? Would you be more open to seeing more art in the community and where would you like to see more art? What other types of creative arts would you like to see more of? 

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