Forrest General Ushers 2007 Festival of Swans to Pine Belt
Forrest General Ushers 2007 Festival of Swans to Pine Belt

Unidentified artisans prepare swan sculpture for 2007 Festival of Swans.
In an unprecedented move, Women's Services of Forrest General Hospital is taking the lead role in an outdoor public arts project designed to boost cultural awareness throughout the Pine Belt area of south Mississippi.

The hospital is the presenting sponsor for the 2007 Festival of Swans, launched by the Hattiesburg Area Development Partnership (ADP) and patterned after the Cows on Parade projects in Chicago and New York, Party Animals in Washington, D.C., and Festival of Fins in New Orleans.

"When we bring people here for recruitment purposes, when we're trying to recruit health professionals, whether it's physicians or nurses, they enjoy seeing the cultural awareness and activities they can take part in," explained Millie Swan, director of physician and public relations at Forrest General.

ADP cultural director Jack Kyle, who pioneered four international exhibitions in Jackson from Russia, France, Spain and Germany through the Mississippi Commission on International Culture Exchange beginning in the mid-1990s, created the Festival of Swans based on the successful Mississippi Catfish on Parade outdoor public arts project he originated in Jackson.

"Festival of Swans will be a great opportunity for every person in the Greater Hattiesburg area to enjoy and be exposed to art on a daily basis," said Kyle, who has signed nearly 50 swan sculpture sponsors at $2,500 each since launching the program in November. His goal: 100 sponsors.

"The swan is viewed, of course, as beautiful, graceful, elegant — all the things women are," said Swan, who recently incorporated the swan image into the hospital's Women's Services logo. "I embraced the swan idea and want it to be very successful."

Designed by Kern Studios in New Orleans, fabricated in heavy-duty fiberglass material in Spain, and modeled after the mute swan and the Australian black swan, the swan sculptures will measure five feet in height, five feet in length, and three-and-a-half feet in width.

Once delivered, sponsors will paint and decorate the sculptures in brilliant patterns and colors of different themes and titles. The swans will be displayed from March 1 to Dec. 1.

"This is a wonderful partnership because, just like Forrest General continually strives to take healthcare to the next level as new technology and services come onto the scene for our patients, the ADP is striving to take the cultural awareness and development to the next level," said Swan.

Hospitals across the nation have embraced similar projects. For example, in Norfolk, Va., Bon Secours DePaul Medical Center sponsored the nationally-released book, "The Mermaids and Yellow Jack: A NorFolktale," in conjunction with the hospital's 150th anniversary, as part of the city's Mermaids outdoor public arts project.

The 2007 Festival of Swans will also feature ancillary events and programs, including a festive Swan Ball; a Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra concert led by maestro Jay Dean; a ballet performance featuring highlights of "Swan Lake;" SwanMania, an educational reading program for schoolchildren; a student art competition; and participation in the 2007 Arts Heritage Festival of South Mississippi.

Kyle joined the ADP, the Pine Belt's economic development engine, in early 2006 with impeccable credentials for the newly created position. Following The Majesty of Spain exhibition in 2001, King Juan Carlos decorated Kyle as a Commander of the Order of Isabel the Catholic. Following The Splendors of Versailles exhibition in 1998, Kyle was knighted by France as a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, and the president of Germany awarded him the Cross of the Order of Merit after The Glory of Baroque Dresden exhibition in 2004. House Beautiful gave Kyle a "Giants of Design" award for his work as an arts ambassador.

"We see the Festival of Swans as a way to drive home the message that quality of life is not lip service in economic development, but it's a key and core aspect and we feel the Festival of Swans is something we can do to contribute to our community," said ADP president Angie Godwin. "It's good for people. It's good for business."

February 2007