MSU’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center celebration, exhibit highlight 40 years of meaningful service

By Sasha Steinberg | Mississippi State University

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State celebrated the 40th anniversary of its Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center Monday [Oct. 7] with a Small Town Celebration and Exhibit and opening of a major benefactor gallery.

The daylong event at Giles Hall featured various presentations highlighting the significant impact of the university’s statewide community design outreach program housed in the College of Architecture, Art and Design. The center was endowed in 2004 by major benefactor Fred E. Carl Jr. of Greenwood, who attended MSU as an architecture major and was a 2009 selection for an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

Director Leah Kemp said as an advocate of meaningful design for small towns, the center provides planning and design services and conducts research to generate solutions for problems faced by communities across the nation.

“Through 50-plus partnerships and participation from more than 500 students, faculty and staff, we’ve invested over $2 million in service to more than 100 small towns over the past 40 years,” she said. “Projects may start out as an idea, concept or sketch, and then communities can tweak those and make them their own. We’re very appreciative of Fred Carl for his endowment, which will help the center in continuing to make a huge difference.”

The celebration included an opening reception for the School of Architecture’s Charlotte and Richard McNeel Architecture Gallery, displaying a “40 Years at the Carl Small Town Center” exhibit through Friday [Oct. 11]. Admission is free to all.

Community leaders, architects, planners and others in attendance also heard from Wendy Benscoter, executive director for Shreveport Common Inc. During her keynote address, she shared inspiring stories about action-oriented teams of public/private partners working to transform small towns in Louisiana through Creative Placemaking. The evolving field of practice leverages the power of arts, culture and creativity to make communities more vibrant, sustainable and fun.

“The Creative Placemaking process puts broad and diverse groups of people together to look at multi-layered projects that build on existing assets, respect quality of place, create healthier communities and a healthier climate for creative and cultural expression, and provide economic opportunity and an improved quality of life for all,” Benscoter said.

“It’s a tall order, but when the community’s voice is heard and teams of architects, artists, neighbors, property owners, innovators, planners, mayors, city department heads and community experts bring their accountability to detail together at the same table, imagination and innovation are limitless,” she said.

Also part of the Small Town Celebration was a panel discussion that reconnected MSU School of Architecture alumni with former faculty and administrators. Michael Buono, former professor and project director at the then-Center for Small Town Research and Design (now known as the Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center), was among the panelists who shared words of praise for the center’s work on projects that “serve communities extremely well.”

“It’s great to come back to Mississippi State and see former students’ names on major spaces within the building now,” he said. “As educators, we measure our successes by our students, and when our students succeed, we feel successful too.”

School of Architecture Professor and Interim Director Jassen Callender said, “Support really matters and lets us do things that are bigger and better. Much like the Carl Small Town Center has Fred Carl, the gallery needs that kind of support to move forward, and that’s where Charlotte and Richard McNeel come in. They have done so much for the School of Architecture, College of Architecture, Art and Design, and the architecture profession.”

Charlotte McNeel has MSU bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education, which she earned in 1975 and 1977, respectively. Richard McNeel is a 1979 MSU architecture bachelor’s graduate, current chair of the MSU School of Architecture’s Advisory Council and 2019 recipient of the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service, the highest honor awarded by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. He brings 40 years of professional experience in planning, design and building to his work as president of the Jackson-based firm JBHM Architecture.

As parents of MSU architecture alumnae Catherine and Kirke, the McNeels said they are proud to make this gift to the School of Architecture.

“We’re excited because students will get to see architecture work demonstrated in key exhibits that the gallery hosts,” Richard McNeel said.

“We feel very blessed, and we love Mississippi State,” added Charlotte McNeel.

For more information on MSU’s Fred Carl Jr. Small Town Center, visit and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @smalltowncenter. Kemp can be contacted at 662-325-8671 or

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Check out photos from the panel discussion.

See photos from the exhibition opening.

View additional photos from the reception and day’s events.

40th Anniversary KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Wendy Benscoter

FROM BLIGHT TO BRIGHT – How Creative Placemaking Transforms Communities 

Communities of all sizes are putting the principles and strategies of Creative Placemaking to work in implementing community change. Smaller cities and rural areas are seeing big results from this approach to increase vibrancy in their communities – vibrancy that improves social and economic conditions. 

Speaker Wendy Benscoter shares the stories of how Shreveport Common and small towns across Louisiana have built action-oriented teams of public/private partners through a Creative Placemaking process. Building on the Carl Small Town Center mission to bring meaningful design to community revitalization projects, this process puts experts, residents, property owners, elected officials, municipal department heads, creative professionals and artists together, fully engaging the stakeholders in reimagining, planning, then actively revitalizing spaces, places and communities. 

Hear how many Creative Placemaking projects start small, or incrementally as a part of bigger plans. When everyone “does their part” to create change, with cultural, economic AND social impact, the sparks “fire up” the community to imagine, believe, invest, and do more. 

Wendy Benscoter

About the Speaker: Wendy Benscoter,executive director for Shreveport Common, Inc., works with the City of Shreveport (Louisiana), Shreveport Regional Arts Council and over 30 major public/private partners to transform a long-blighted urban area to a creative cultural community; Shreveport Common. Since 2011, the team has planned and advanced the revitalization of the historic yet long-blighted 9-block area through the precepts of Creative Placemaking. In 2014, the Shreveport Common Vision Plan was studied and featured by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) Department of Urban Planning, and in 2015 Shreveport Common was voted #1 Most Outstanding Community Development Project in the Nation by the National Development Council Academy, Washington, DC

Register for our 40th Anniversary Celebration + Small Town Summit

The Carl Small Town Center (CSTC) will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a Small Town Summit on October 7, 2019, in Starkville, Mississippi.

The CSTC, which was founded at Mississippi State University in 1979 as the Center for Small Town Research and Design, will highlight projects from the past four decades through panel discussions, keynote addresses, and an exhibition.

The Small Town Summit is open to community leaders, architects, planners, and others interested in learning more about community design.

Although this is a FREE event, we require registration to help us better plan for the event and reception to follow.

Register and reserve your spot now.


Giles Hall

12:30pm- 1:00pm     Registration
1:00pm – 4:45pm     Seminar with multiple speakers
4:45pm – 5:00pm     Raffle for FREE design services
5:00pm – 7:30pm     Exhibit opening and Reception

If you have any questions, please contact us at:

CSTC seeking applications for 2019/2020 Fellowship position

STARKVILLE, Miss.— The Carl Small Town Center (CSTC) is now accepting applications for the 2019/2020 Fellowship position. This is a one year, paid position.

The CSTC Fellowship is open to early career architects or recent architecture graduates. The fellow will gain exposure to public interest design while working on a variety of design, planning, community engagement and research projects over the course of the year.  The fellow will also be able to earn credits toward licensure.

Interested candidates should send a resume, letter of interest, and digital portfolio to no later than June 15, 2019.

The Carl Small Town Center, a community design center at the Mississippi State University School of Architecture, engages communities to provide meaningful design solutions for small towns.

CSTC to celebrate 40 years!

STARKVILLE, Miss.—The Carl Small Town Center (CSTC) will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a Small Town Summit on October 7, 2019 in Starkville, Mississippi.

The CSTC, which was founded at Mississippi State University in 1979 as the Center for Small Town Research and Design, will highlight projects from the past four decades through panel discussions, keynote addresses, and an exhibition.

The Small Town Summit will be open to community leaders, architects, planners, and others interested in learning more about community design. More details will follow, but for now, please save the date of October 7, 2019.

As part of the celebration, the Small Town Center is asking current and former clients, employees, collaborators, and students to share their CSTC story. Did you work on a successful CSTC project? Did you play a role in the early days of the Center? Were you a student worker for the CSTC?

Please share your story by sending an email to CSTC director Leah Kemp at

Kemp and Gregory to speak at APA’s National Planning Conference

STARKVILLE, Miss.—The CSTC’s Leah Kemp and Thomas Gregory have been invited to speak at the American Planning Association’s National Planning Conference in San Francisco this April. Their presentation, “Cultural Planning in the Mississippi Delta,” will highlight the CSTC’s “Marking the Mule” project in Marks, Mississippi.

The Marking the Mule project consisted of a 12-month integrated planning process that engaged local Marks residents, along with historians, architects, planners, and state tourism and historic preservation officials to create a vision for a cultural trail and interpretive center focused on the events surrounding the Mule Train.

The planning process included historical research and documentation, community engagement and participation, a multi-day design charrette, design development and community feedback, and execution of a welcome sign and plans for an interpretive center and cultural trail.

The Marking the Mule project was selected for the Mississippi Chapter of the American Planning Association’s 2017 Public Outreach Award. The project also received an AIA Design Award from the Mississippi Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Gregory attends APA Policy and Advocacy Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C.— As part of his responsibilities as president-elect of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Planning Association, Carl Small Town Center community planner Thomas Gregory recently attended the American Planning Association’s Policy and Advocacy Conference in our nation’s capital.

Professional planners from around the country attended the annual event, which provides participants with an in-depth look at the latest federal and local policy issues and demonstrates how these issues can influence and impact planning decisions within local communities.

A strong focus of this year’s conference was on the country’s housing crisis and the role of planning in addressing the crisis. Additional topics included autonomous vehicles, inclusive growth, community fiscal health, federal resiliency, and hazard planning policies.

Highlights from this year’s conference program included the Daniel Burnham Forum on Big Ideas, sessions on APA’s Planning Home initiative, the announcement of APA’s 2018 Great Places in America, and Planners’ Day on Capitol Hill, in which planners meet with their Congressional representatives.

While in Washington, D.C., Gregory met with staff members from the offices of Senator Roger Wicker, Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Congressman Gregg Harper to discuss APA’s policy agenda and to advocate for Mississippi planning initiatives.

Kemp addresses NSPARC Data Summit

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Carl Small Town Center director Leah Kemp was among the state, education, and industry leaders who examined the many uses of data to create “smart cities” during the third annual Data Summit, hosted by Mississippi State’s National Strategic Planning and Analysis Research Center (NSPARC).

Sessions at the two-day summit explored how data science can lead to new innovations and processes within the “smart city” concept across various industries, including agriculture, communication and media, education, energy, infrastructure, city planning, government, health, transportation and logistics, public safety, security and data governance.

Kemp and other design and planning experts on the Smart City Planning panel discussed how towns and cities around the world are moving toward a “smart city” framework. Kemp shared how the Carl Small Town Center successfully incorporated data analysis into their planning model for the Center’s Ripley Master Plan project.

“Working with NSPARC, the Carl Small Town Center was able to use economic development data to support our recommendations for the Ripley community,” Kemp said. “Being able to demonstrate how our project recommendations will create jobs and boost the local economy is critical to receiving buy-in from the communities in which we work.”

Mimmo Parisi, a professor of sociology, founded NSPARC 10 years ago and has overseen its growth. Earlier this year, NSPARC opened a data center in the Thad Cochran Research, Technology and Economic Development Park. The new center contains 3,300 square feet of state-of-the-art technology that can process and store more than 400 terabytes of data, allowing NSPARC to further its mission of using data science to drive human progress.

During his keynote speech, Parisi discussed the ways cities will use data to improve public life, something Mississippi has become well versed in. He said data has to be structured and used in a way that makes it practical for it to provide value.

“Data has to be big, smart and fast, otherwise it won’t have the same value,” Parisi said.

James Carskadon contributed to this article.