Image: Robert Mann

In Jackson, Mississippi, you may ask? Fondren resident Neil Polen says “why not?” The 26 year old intern architect with the Jackson Community Design Center is a part of the group bringing Figment to The Plant on 80 in Jackson May 14 & 15. Powered entirely by the efforts of volunteers, Figment is a family-friendly, interactive festival building on audience and artist interaction and civic/community participation. It’s the same spirit Polen, a Laurel native, says fosters the neighborhood he lives in. “Fondren is kind of the heart of the arts in Jackson,” he says. Many Figment volunteers have ties here and Polen believes Fondren sets the tone. “I’d make the case without a place like Fondren fostering the arts for the last five or ten years, we might not be at a point to tackle Figment.”

Started in New York City and in its fifth year, Figment expanded to Boston before making Jackson its third site. Polen says a Jackson version was the idea of Gil Sidi, owner of the Plant on 80. After a meeting with Figment founder David Koren, Polen says it was the local arts community who made it happen. “We just wouldn’t take no for answer,” he says, striking down the pessimist mentality he claims can be common here. “We have this problem with low self confidence, and think we can’t do or don’t deserve, but, it’s not true. There are no rules.”

Polen says Figment may be able to take on a year-round channel by which positive things get done throughout the city. “I’m sure we’d be open as a group to talk about that, he says.” But for now, there’s plenty to do. “We need volunteers,” Polen says, as their group of ten or so handle all the details up until the festival. And they need projects. About 25 have been submitted thus far, but organizers will take new ones ‘up to the event date.’ And those projects can be anything. As long as they are free, encourage crowd participation, and engage the community. Polen’s own project, dubbed “Know Your City,” uses large scale maps, string and push pins to help kids and adults see how their lives interact. “We don’t want people to just accept their lives as ‘the way it is.’ We want them to see a greater world beyond their front door.” And that’s a message Figment founders are proud to see carried out in, yes, Jackson, Mississippi.

Contact Neil Polen for more info on the local event or to volunteer at rnpolen@gmail.com. To learn more about Figment, visit jackson.figmentproject.org.