Meet Jay Dean of Festival South

Now in its ninth year, FestivalSouth continues to enjoy a part of the Hub City’s days and nights each summer. This year FestivalSouth runs June 9-23. 

The multi-genre arts festival was the brainchild of Jay Dean, who recently retired as music director for the University of Southern Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Southern Opera and Musical Theatre Company.

Dean said the idea for FS was developed in 2009 because he wanted to create a major community-based arts and entertainment event.

“It took 18 months to bring it to fruition in June 2010,” he said.

Dean is happy with the progression the festival has made since that time. “I think it has evolved nicely,” he said. “There will always be adjustments that need to be made, but the basic framework is solid.”

Dean said each year since its inception, the FestivalSouth organization has met or exceeded its four basic goals, which are to provide cultural quality of life events for the community, engage in arts education activities, serve as an economic development tool for the community and, increase cultural tourism in our community.

“I have seen us grow and become more and more diverse in every way,” he said.

A variety of artists, both well known and up-and-coming, have graced a plethora of FS stages across the Pine Belt – from the Petal Performing Arts Center to Temple Baptist. 

As far as the future of the three-week festival, Dean would like to see a continuation “to refine our projects and reach new audiences, both locally and internationally.”

But when the curtain fell on this 98th symphony season, Dean lowered his baton and took his final bow. It was his 30th season with the group. 

“For the last three decades, I have had the distinct pleasure to work with this consistently excellent ensemble, and when I look back over those years, and reflect on the events of which I am the most proud, this orchestra has always been front and center,” the conductor said. “I have also been privileged to be the music director of the Southern Opera and Musical Theatre Company for 23 of those years. Some of the vocalists that have been involved in this program through the years are among the finest in the nation.”

At the end of that night with nearly 300 performers on stage and before a capacity crowd, Dean was presented a joint resolution from the Mississippi Legislature commemorating his 30 years of bringing exceptional artistry to the city, state and world. 

Earlier in the month, at a Southern Miss Partners for the Arts celebration, Mayor Toby Barker honored the storied career of Dean by presenting him with a key to the city.

But Dean isn’t going anywhere. While he is retiring as the USM orchestra and opera director, he has no intention of true retirement. 

“I will be continuing at Southern Miss in the position of Associate Dean for the Arts,” Dean said recently in an announcement that surprised many. He will also continue many outside projects with the Hattiesburg Concert Association, the Mississippi Opera, the Natchez Festival of Music and other projects.  

“All of these projects benefit from the involvement of Southern Miss, and Southern Miss students and faculty benefit from these outside projects,” he said. “Through such activities we are reaching every corner of the state and beyond.”

Beyond these programs, Dean said the thing he has most appreciated about his work at USM “is the freedom that I have been given to explore, create and develop ideas that turned into major events for our University, community and state. That freedom provided us with the opportunity to create an ongoing series of extraordinary musical events with some of the most celebrated musical artists in the world. For those of us who were present at those events, the memories will be with us forever.”

 Dean said he felt fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful orchestral musicians and opera singers during and is pleased “to have been able to play a small part in the events that, on so many occasions, were life-changing experiences for us all.”

“Southern Miss will always be a part of my life,” said Dean.