“This will be a community effort, and I hope it not only leads to greater food access here in Jackson, but that it also inspires a conversation that spreads around our country,” said former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg visited Jackson Thursday to announce a $1 million award to the capital city to help address nutrition and food equity through public art.

The project – “Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue About Food Access” – will seek to inform policy related to nutrition using art as a medium to communicate the issues around food insecurity in Jackson.

“I’ve always believed that culture attracts capital instead of capital attracting culture,” Bloomberg said during a news conference downtown. He touted supporting over 500 public art projects while serving as mayor in New York.

“This will be a community effort, and I hope it not only leads to greater food access here in Jackson, but that it also inspires a conversation that spreads around our country,” he added.

Out of over 200 cities that applied for the Public Art Challenge, a Bloomberg Philanthropies initiative, Jackson was the third winner announced, following Anchorage, Ak., and Coral Springs, Fl.

“The city is overjoyed to have been selected in this process,” said Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, joining Bloomberg for the announcement. “To be able to aid in the aesthetic appeal of the city while delivering a message of healthy eating for the citizens of Jackson is a truly remarkable opportunity and we are ecstatic and look forward to seeing this project come into fruition.”

“Fertile Ground” will combine the expertise of a variety of professionals, including artists, architects, farmers, chefs, nutritionists, and community members.

Sites for the project will include public streets, community gardens, a local elementary school, a vacant building that will be converted into exhibition space, and a food lab with pop up kitchen space will act as an experimental food incubator.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba

Mississippi has had the highest rate of food insecurity in the country for eight straight years, according to Feeding America, a national food bank network. Moreover, a 2017 study showed Jackson had the highest rates of obesity and diabetes of any city in the country.

In September, the National League of Cities awarded Jackson a $120,000 grant to help battle hunger in the city’s schools.

Bloomberg, who served as New York City’s mayor for 12 years, responded to speculation that he will run for president in 2020.

“If I had an opportunity to do something in Washington, I would certainly think long and hard about it,” he said. “What I’m trying to do now is go around the country and talk to people and listen and see what’s on their minds, and see how receptive they would be. There are plenty of other people who will probably run, so we’ll see what happens.”

The award marks a prolonged partnership between Bloomberg and Jackson. In 2015, Bloomberg Philanthropies picked Jackson among eight cities to work on an open data portal, to make information such as the city’s spending publicly available. The project is still in the works, although Jackson City Council President Melvin Priester said it would be finished soon.

Then earlier this year, Bloomberg chose Mayor Lumumba among 40 mayors around the world to attend a leadership training at Harvard University in July.

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Alex Rozier, from New York City, is Mississippi Today’s data and environment reporter. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Open Secrets, and on NBC.com. In 2019, Alex was a grantee through the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines program, which supported his coverage around the impact of climate change on Mississippi fisheries.