MSU Gulf Coast Community Design Studio-led project receives $100,000 Knight Cities Challenge grant

Mississippi State University’s Gulf Coast Community Design Studio is receiving a $100,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for a project that seeks to increase community engagement on the city of Biloxi’s once segregated beaches, the city’s primary recreation space. (Submitted photo/courtesy of David Perkes)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.— Mississippi State University’s Gulf Coast Community Design Studio is receiving a $100,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for a project that seeks to increase community engagement at the city of Biloxi’s primary recreation space.

Titled “Witnessing the Beach,” the project is among 33 winners of the foundation’s Knight Cities Challenge, which is designed to help spur civic innovation at the city, neighborhood and block levels through ideas generated by innovators from around the country.

Specifically, the challenge encourages applicants—nonprofits, for-profits and individuals, to name a few—to share ideas for making the 26 communities where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers more vibrant places to live and work. The challenge is made possible by The Knight Foundation, which supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. For more, visit http://knightcities.org.

This year, 4,500 applications were evaluated on the strength of the proposed project idea, its potential to advance talent, opportunity or engagement, and the plan to execute the project. Of those, 144 finalists were selected and evaluated on five criteria: impact, innovation, inspiration, learning and capacity. The Knight Foundation board of trustees chose 33 winners, including MSU’s Gulf Coast Community Design Studio.

David Perkes, MSU professor and founding director of the Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, officially accepted the award Monday evening [June 12] in Miami, Florida. He was accompanied by Bill Raymond, historical administrator for the City of Biloxi, one of the project’s co-sponsors. Other partners include the Biloxi Chapter of the NAACP.

Perkes said the primary objective of the proposed “Witnessing the Beach” project is to create a culture of engagement on Biloxi’s once segregated beaches.

“Biloxi’s beach is the city’s most used public space, but it is typically not programmed and the public access is taken for granted,” he said. “The organized 1960’s wade-in protests challenged the segregation of Biloxi’s beaches. Programming the beach in the same places the wade-in demonstrations were organized will create a highly visible place for community engagement.”

 “Cities are the product of their place and culture,” Perkes continued. “Biloxi’s beach and its African American population are primary components of the city’s history and present condition,” Perkes continued. “The Wade-in protesters are now seniors, and their witnesses of work to overcome racial discrimination in 1960 are especially needed today.”

Perkes said the proposed project calls for the construction of movable platforms that will be positioned on the beach at several Wade-in protest sites. The movable platforms would be created by a large, roll-out surface on which chairs can be set up and shade from the sun can be provided.

Additionally, the platform will be designed to support exhibit panels, which will help create a pop-up gallery on the beach. This changing exhibit space will give artists and other storytellers a unique and very public venue to showcase and discuss their work, thereby advancing Biloxi’s creative culture, Perkes said.

“Creating a movable event and exhibit place with a surface that is accessible to people with mobility limitations will expand the beach’s use and bring heroic Civil Rights stories to life. The space will connect people of different generations and races with today’s artists and youth, so they can share past stories and discuss today’s concerns,” Perkes said.

The Gulf Coast Community Design Studio is a professional service and outreach program of MSU’s College of Architecture, Art and Design. It was established in Biloxi in response to Hurricane Katrina to provide architectural design services, landscape and planning assistance, and educational opportunities and research to organizations and communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Through close, pragmatic partnerships, GCCDS works with local organizations and communities in and beyond Mississippi’s three coastal counties, putting professional expertise to work in an effort to shape vibrant and resilient Gulf Coast Communities. Learn more at http://gccds.org or //www.msstate.edu/videos/2015/08/we-ring-true-gulf-coast-community-design-studio.

For more information on the GCCDS’s Knight Cities Challenge project, contact Perkes at 228-436-4661 or dperkes@gccds.msstate.edu.

For more on the College of Architecture, Art and Design, visit www.caad.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.