Phil Hardin Education Series on horizon for MSU Riley Center

As a valuable resource for the community and the state, the Mississippi State Riley Center for Education and Performing Arts continues high-quality educational programming with new support from the Phil Hardin Foundation.

A generous $75,000 grant from the Meridian-based foundation will make possible the center’s latest offerings in the form of the Phil Hardin Education Series to impact teachers and school children in Mississippi for the next three years.

“Although the Hardin Foundation has been a partner with the MSU Riley Center from the very beginning, we are very excited about this new grant as it ensures our ability to present high-quality educational programming in a more sustainable way,” said Daniel R. Barnard, the center’s executive director. “Once COVID-19 has passed, we will more properly acknowledge the Phil Hardin Foundation’s ongoing support by formally renaming our educational series in its honor.”

Since the opening of the MSU Riley Center in 2006, endowment-level support from the Phil Hardin Foundation has ensured the center’s success as a catalyst for positive change and enrichment in schools, homes and communities across Mississippi and West Alabama. One of the Southeast’s premier performing arts and conference facilities, the center features a beautifully restored Victorian theater and offers state-of-the-art performance, conference and education spaces.

Students involved with the Any Given Child Initiative through activities in the arts. (Photos by Reggie Thomas)

Thanks to the new grant, the MSU Riley Center is able to present its traditional annual programming for pre-K through 12th grade audiences as the Phil Hardin Education Series. Each performance of the series has an accompanying curriculum or teacher’s guide to connect the experience of the historic theater to the Mississippi Career and College Readiness Standards.

“At a time like this, these resources are increasingly important to our state and Phil Hardin Foundation support provides for materials produced for both the series and our additional educational and outreach programs,” said Tiffany McGehee, the MSU Riley Center’s outreach director. “From school performances for students in grades Pre-K-12 to Kennedy Center workshops for teachers, the arts education programs at the Riley Center deliver top quality.”

The Phil Hardin Education Series is one of three integral components of educational programming offered annually at the MSU Riley Center. The series is the yearly programming of theatrical performances for over 5,000 pre-K through 12th grade students. The audience includes students from private, public, and home schools. Each show is selected by a committee of educators, faculty and community partners to ensure curriculum connections and that schools are receiving programs that will help meet their educational goals and state standards. Shows vary from large-scale dinosaur puppet shows, fun interpretations of early childhood literature, musicals and classical Shakespeare.

Along with the Phil Hardin Education Series, the MSU Riley Center presents additional programming through the Any Given Child Initiative.

“We are very proud of the annual trifold programming we are able to bring as an outreach tool to the state and our area, and we hope to continue this with partners like the Phil Hardin Foundation.”
~ Tiffany McGehee

The MSU Riley Center partners on the Any Given Child Initiative with MSU-Meridian and the Meridian Public School District. Any Given Child, administered by the Kennedy Center and implemented through many dedicated partners, continues to impact learners across the district, and even state, with arts integration, professional development and arts experiences for students in pre-K through 8th grade.

“We are pleased that Any Given Child Meridian received the Mississippi Governor’s Award of Distinction from the Mississippi Association of Partners in Education for our partnership in March,” McGehee said. “In the 2019-20 school year alone, our partnership reached 3,713 students, 285 teachers, and 11 schools with artistic experiences which included field trips, teaching artists, arts projects and professional development in arts integration.”

The final component of educational programming at the MSU Riley Center is the Footlight Project, a partnership with Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter Inc. that provides drama workshops to improve the quality of life for survivors of domestic violence. By using educational theater techniques, the MSU Riley Center is able to facilitate activities that help build self-esteem, offer some levity, improve interpersonal relationships and build public speaking skills. These workshops help survivors of abuse succeed as they continue in their new lives, while also developing a new artistic skill.

“We are very proud of the annual trifold programming we are able to bring as an outreach tool to the state and our area, and we hope to continue this with partners like the Phil Hardin Foundation,” McGehee said.

The Phil Hardin Foundation has long valued exposure to the arts as essential to the development of the whole child and seeks to combat the wide gaps in the level of that exposure among children in the area through education and philanthropy.

“The MSU Riley Center Education Series is all about helping to close the gap by providing live theater to all the schoolchildren in our community, and we have been impressed with the quality of past programming,” said Lloyd Gray, executive director of the Phil Hardin Foundation. “When the Riley Center approached us about helping to fund this series, it seemed like a great match of the center’s needs with the Hardin Foundation’s interest in arts education and integration of the arts into the broader academic experience. We’re excited about this new partnership.”

For more on the MSU Riley Center programming, visit and for more on supporting the center, contact McGehee at or give online at

By Amy Cagle | Photo by Megan Bean