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November 18, 2022

Outdoor spaces at Thames Elementary School have recently undergone more than $50,000 in improvements. Numerous partners joined together for property enhancements and public art additions at the school, which currently includes the only public playground and park in midtown Hattiesburg.

Starting with a $10,000 AARP community challenge grant awarded in early summer 2022, the expanded project now includes coordination with Hattiesburg Landmark Preservation and Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art. Improvements have grown to include basketball court refurbishments, new park benches, updated landscaping, crosswalk art, and three original large- scale murals.

“When we submitted this concept in our AARP grant application, we were thrilled with the potential of this campus and park. The idea to revitalize a public place in the heart of our city has now become a reality. It’s an incredible project with multiple partners,” said Shawn Harris, HLP treasurer. “The investment of time, funding, and sweat equity from many citizens and partners helped create a space we can all be excited to visit.”

This fall, HAPA commissioned two artists to create inspirational public art for Thames students and the entire community. The park’s basketball surface is now covered with a 93-foot by 60- foot mural designed by Dr. Mike and Tiffany Goebel, project partners, and local artist River Prince of Prince Sign Company. This is Mississippi’s first full coverage basketball court mural.

“I can’t wait to see the impact this court has on the students at Thames and the surrounding community,” said Prince. “I’m thankful to have played a small role in the overall vision of the project and hope ‘Love Court’ brings joy to everyone who plays on it.”

Artist Steffi Lynn Tsai of Brooklyn, N.Y., was selected to paint two wall murals at the site. Her submission to a previously published call for artists garnered interest in a Hattiesburg project.

Some of Tsai’s previous clients are Samsung, Adobe Creative Cloud, American Eagle, Kenneth Cole, Wendy’s, Converse, Sephora, Chipotle, Kendra Scott, and more. This is her first project in Mississippi.

“These murals were inspired by the concept of bringing ideas to life,” said Tsai. “I want to encourage people to believe in themselves and manifest their ideas and dreams!”

This project brings Hattiesburg’s total count of large-scale murals to 40, with 10 of those being completed in 2022 thus far.

“As Hattiesburg continues to grow as a global arts destination, it’s important for us to maintain a good balance of supporting local talent while also inviting national artists to leave their mark on Hattiesburg,” said Marlo Dorsey, VisitHATTIESBURG executive director. “This has led to two incredible artists working together to beautify a space that will enrich imaginations for many years to come.”

In addition to the AARP and HAPA funding, several private citizens and businesses with a passion for revitalizing youth recreational spaces in the community also contributed to the project. A cleanup day was held in late October as a part of Make a Difference Day, where more than a hundred volunteers assisted with litter pickup, landscaping, and general facelift work in preparation for the project’s unveiling.

Project partners include the Goebel family, the Krebs family, David and Lucy Tucker Roberts, Representative Missy McGee, City of Hattiesburg Parks & Recreation, Hattiesburg Coca Cola, Optimist Club of Hattiesburg, Hancock Whitney Bank, and Venture Church.

A long-standing destination for recreation and fitness, the Thames Elementary playground and park is now a stop on the HBURG Public Art Trail, which features more than 50 murals and sculptures. To learn more about HAPA or for a map of existing public art in Hattiesburg, visit HAPA’s Facebook and Instagram pages or