State-funded art project at Unity Park in the design stage


Tess Vrbin



A long-planned addition to Starkville's Unity Park received financial support from the Mississippi Arts Commission in August.


MAC awarded the Oktibbeha County board of supervisors a $4,300 grant for a sculpture representing the idea of "nurturing the growth of tomorrow," said Dylan Karges, a member of the archaeology faculty at Mississippi State University and the artist taking the lead on the project. MAC will award a total of $1.3 million in grants statewide during the 2020-2021 fiscal year, according to a press release from Jeanne Marszalek, chair of the Unity Park Advisory Committee.


Founded in 2013, Unity Park is dedicated to recognizing individuals and events that advanced civil rights both locally and nationally.



Marszalek said she and Karges have been discussing the art project for a few years. They initially planned a mural but realized the trees at the park would grow to cover it up, she said.


They had hoped for an "interactive" project, but the COVID-19 pandemic made close contact with others inadvisable, so the planned creation is now a sculpture, likely made of steel, Karges said.


He is working closely with members of the Boys and Girls Club of Columbus to come up with "discussion points" and ideas for the sculpture via "art projects and civil rights history discussions," he said.


"Hopefully (we will) be integrating some plantings in the raised beds in the park, looking at the idea of nurturing and this collective effort to grow a better tomorrow," Karges said.


The Unity Park Advisory Committee and the county supervisors will approve a mock-up of the project before it is created and installed.


Karges said the project will hopefully be finished and in place by Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 18, 2021, the day the park will honor two new additions to its list of local advocates for racial justice.


The 2020 honorees were Dorothy Bishop, the first female president of the Oktibbeha County NAACP, and Carole McReynolds Davis, an artist and a member of the first local race relations team in the 1990s. Both died in 2014, when Bishop was 71 and Davis was 72.


To be honored at Unity Park, a person must have lived in Oktibbeha County for at least part of his or her life, been deceased for at least five years, "advanced community unity" and "made a significant contribution to civil rights in Oktibbeha County," according to the park's website.


Nominations for 2021 opened Sept. 1 and can be submitted via email or traditional mail, according to the website. For more information, go to





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