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February 7, 2022


In August 2021, the City of Hattiesburg’s Community Arts Center, the Hattiesburg Landmark Preservation and the Hattiesburg Downtown Association were joint recipients of the 2021 AARP Community Challenge Grant totaling $11,400, which was earmarked for upgrading Duncan Lake off James Street with a mural and other art installations.

The results of that grant were unveiled on Jan. 4 at the lake, when Mayor Toby Barker and other officials showcased the city’s newest mural, “Duck , Duck, Goose,” located on the bathroom pavilion on-site. Partners for the project include the City of Hattiesburg, the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art, Hattiesburg Landmark Preservation, Downtown Hattiesburg, the AARP of Mississippi and more than 150 volunteers.

“We often say in the City of Hattiesburg – particularly on days like today, when we’re unveiling yet another cultural enrichment amenity – that the strength of our community is not who sits in the mayor’s office or on city council,” Barker said. “Instead, our greatest strength is the passion, talent, diversity, work ethic and collaborative Hattiesburg spirit of our people.

“Today, we celebrate the dynamic collision of Duncan Lake with another one of our community’s strengths, which is public art. This synergy of effort between the park and the arts … was made possible by a strong foundation of community engagement and volunteerism.”

The 500-square-foot mural, which was completed by muralist Gabriele Smith, features such items as grape clusters, a raccoon, a Grey Squirrel and a Northern Cardinal set against a blue background.

The AARP The grant is one of 244 awarded from more than 3,500 applicants, and one of three that were chosen throughout Mississippi, including Jackson and Ocean Springs.

The AARP Community Challenge is part of AARP’s nationwide Livable Communities initiative, which supports the efforts of cities, towns neighborhoods and rural areas to become inviting places for people of all ages to live. For more information on that measure, visit

Emily Gallaspy, director of the Hattiesburg Community Arts Center, applied for the grant about a year ago. Leading up to the mural, Gallaspy headed up a list of improvements that began in August and were undertaken over five volunteer workdays, consisting of more than 150 volunteers.

Those improvements include:

  • Painting of the pavilion and picnic tables;
  • Painting and arranging more than 200 stepping stones that created mosaics around the park;
  • Correction of drainage issues and potholes at the park;
  • The addition of two Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible picnic tables under the pavilion;
  • The addition of signage to deter feeding wildlife the wrong types of food;
  • Trimming trees to improve the visibility of the lake;
  • The removal of more than  20 bags of garbage and tires from the lake and around the park;
  • Painting the trash receptacles with bright colors to decrease litter around the park; and
  • Making the park a home for arts programming.

“I had never been to Duncan Lake or heard of Duncan Lake (prior to this), but I came out here and immediately fell in love,” Gallaspy said. “This was a cooperative effort between us and about 24 different organizations … and over 450 volunteer hours.

“That was our goal, and I’m very excited that we (were able to meet that).”

Marlo Dorsey, executive director of Visit Hattiesburg, said the Hub City was recognized as a Top 11 Arts City in the world by Travel & Leisure Magazine because of efforts like those made at Duncan Lake.

“So the work we’re doing at the community level – those conversations over coffee, those collaborations to really try to fortify telling Hattiesburg’s story – is garnering not only local and state attention, but national and international attention,” Dorsey said. “As we try to grow and eventually become that ‘City of a Hundred Murals,’ Gabby has done a great job in helping us solidify Number 31 (in the city).”