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MDAH awards Southern Miss $235,000 to preserve Bennett Auditorium

USM Auditorium
Photo courtesy of the University of Southern Mississippi

The University of Southern Mississippi plans to update Bennett Auditorium courtesy of a $235,000 Community Heritage Preservation Grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH).

Bennett Auditorium, which opened in 1930 on USM’s Hattiesburg campus, will undergo needed repair and restoration of the building’s interior decorative plaster and exterior windows – considered the most distinctive elements of the historic structure – as well as modernized lighting controls.

An announcement of the grant was made on Monday in the auditorium, with USM President Dr. Joe Paul and State Representative Missy McGee, R-Hattiesburg, elaborating on the benefits of improving the facility. The nearly 100-year-old Neoclassical style, two-story structure seats approximately 1,000 and is named for the University’s second president, Claude Bennett (1928-33).

“This work will help us not only keep this historic structure beautiful, but also in use for future generations of Golden Eagles and community members so that they too might attend University Forum lectures by the greatest minds from across the country, and witness some of the best artists and musicians,” Paul said. “Southern Miss could not serve its students and communities without the support of the state legislature, and we are so fortunate to have one of our own representing us in Missy McGee in the Mississippi House of Representatives.”

Completed in 1930 and named in 1972, Bennett Auditorium was designated a historic landmark by the state of Mississippi in 1986. It has and continues to be host to a variety of concerts, forums, graduations, and other special events.

Some of the world’s most renowned musicians, authors, scientists, entertainers, intellects, and political leaders have graced the Bennett Auditorium stage over the last century, including Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Charles, Yo-Yo Ma, Winton Marsalis, Steve Martin, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and the late Mississippi Gov. William Winter, among others.

The Community Heritage Preservation Grant program was established in 2001, and has provided over $56 million to help restore roughly 400 schools, courthouses, and other historic properties located in communities throughout Mississippi.

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