TUPELO, Miss. — The artistic community has long been the heart of Tupelo.
With arts education embedded in public schools and countless outlets for dance, theater and music, Tupelo has made it a priority to make arts experiences tangible for all ages.
Mary Frances Massey is the product of these efforts. A singer, dancer, instrumentalist and arts advocate, Massey credits her success to the nurturing environment Tupelo provided her as a child and adult.
“We have all these awesome programs with a choir, show choir, wonderful art teachers and theater as well,” Massey said.
She also recognized how theater and dance contribute to Tupelo’s arts scene, allowing children and adults to experience the performing arts.
As current director of the North Mississippi Dance Center, Massey said her job is to continue the tradition of well-rounded dance instruction at the family studio, which her mother started in 1988.
“I go back to Tupelo about two or three times a week to teach dance and I also work with Start with the Arts, a project through the CREATE Foundation and United Way,” she said. “We go to eight daycares in the Lee County area and teach dance, music, art, and storytelling.”
Start with the Arts is just one of many projects in the Tupelo area that are increasing arts awareness and providing learning opportunities for children.
Massey recognized the importance of introducing young minds to the arts at an early age. She said failure to do so can negatively affect children, preventing them from exploring their artistic talents and 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 that the arts are a “core academic subject”. Yet for many schools, a lack of funding can prompt arts subjects and activities to be cut 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 a unique arts education through the core 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 arts learning through academic subjects.
With the arts instituted before students even start kindergarten, children have a greater likelihood of succeeding, surpassing academics and sports. On the contrary, the arts contribute to academic and athletic performance.
Although Tupelo’s arts community continues to thrive, Massey recognized that the arts are not as accessible to some children and families as they are to others. This reality fuels her passion to continue advocating for the exhibition of the arts in the classroom and beyond.
In addition to contributing to the Tupelo arts community and advocating for arts education in schools, Massey is part of the musical duo Massey Tate with partner Paul Tate. She is also a teaching artist 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 children. She recently moved to Germantown, Tennessee with her family, but still resides in Tupelo.