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Ocean Springs jewel: The Mary C. O'Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education

The period details of the building welcome visitors to the center.
The period details of the building welcome visitors to the center.
Mary Beth Magee

The Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education sits a few blocks east of Washington Avenue, the main street visited by many tourists in Ocean Springs, Miss. Yet the Mary C., as it is known locally, could well be considered the heart and soul of the art shops, restaurants and other attractions on Washington and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast. Within its walls wait hundreds of opportunities each year for shopping, learning and entertainment. Whether you’re looking for education, music, food or just beautiful art, the Mary C. can fill the bill.

The stately building was constructed in 1927 as the Ocean Springs Public School building. Named for the first female public school superintendent in Mississippi, it honors her legacy as a progressive educator and provides a center for arts and classes of all kinds.

The building alone is worth a visit. It has earned a place on the National Register of Historic Places. A loving restoration which began as a dream in 1998 has become a reality, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center. The architectural features of the structure have been preserved as much as possible and more modern decorative additions have kept the art deco flavor of the original period.

Besides the historic interest of the building, the Mary C. houses the Ocean Springs Historic Museum. Visitors can follow the history of the area through displays, artifacts and documents of the Ocean Springs area. Admission is free.

The Duckett Gallery offers a spacious two room art gallery with exhibitions of meaning to the area. Local artists as well as artists who create locally-themed art have been on display in the gallery. Exhibits are open to the public at no charge. Drawing, painting, ceramics and sculpture are among the media which might be found in any given show. Check the website for the current exhibit theme and artist.

What was once a school auditorium now houses the Trent Lott Performing Arts Theater, a stage for productions in many categories. Concerts, plays, ballet, recitals and more are offered in the modernized yet charming theater. With over 380 seats, the site can accommodate many types of events. The playbill changes regularly, so check ahead. The theater can be rented for private functions, as well.

Other facilities include the Scharr-Ello Studio, a professional-grade audio and video recording studio; visual arts room; performing arts room and many community gathering rooms throughout the building.

Best of all, the Mary C.’s ever-changing spectrum of classes means educational tourists will find opportunities for a meaningful vacation. Learn to spin yarn from alpaca wool, cook a gourmet meal, throw pottery, draw human figures, act, dance like a Broadway hoofer or paint -- these subjects and more show up on the classroom schedule at the Mary C. What’s happening during your vacation? Check the website or email the facility for the latest information.

Other events at the Mary C. include the Ocean Springs Art and Antiques Market, held on the first Saturday of the month. The grounds became a bazaar, with food, art and antiques available up and down the campus. Admission is free.

Remember, admission to the building, the Ocean Springs Historic Museum and the Duckett Gallery are free. Classes and performances have fees attached, with Mary C. members receiving a discounted price in many cases. Visit the website, subscribe to the newsletter or follow the Facebook page for the latest offerings.

The Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center of Arts and Education

600 Government Street

Ocean Springs, MS 39564

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