Hattiesburg’s swans serve as reminder of city’s prominent art scene

Scattered within the Hattiesburg community Hattiesburg are swans–made out of fiberglass, and metal, standing five feet tall, three inches wide.  Some are adorned with flowers, tuxedos, patriotic symbols and many other artistic patterns. Feeling as if they just appeared, as beautiful as they are, not many people know the story behind these beautiful projects, especially people who are new to Hattiesburg.

The story behind them is quite simple, but nonetheless sweet and promising. It promotes the idea of a rich art culture for Hattiesburg, something this community is known for and continues to develop.

These swans stemmed from the inspiration of Bern, Switzerland’s “Cows on Parade.” 

In its own Mississippian way, the Area Development Partnership (ADP) planned the “Festival of Swans” in November of 2006. 

They were funded by a grant from the Women’s Services of Forrest General Hospital and received sponsorships from the ADP. 

The swans were created in Spain and after getting delivered to the United States, these swans were handed over to local artists who would paint and prepare them for the festival. 

“The overall purpose of this is really just to develop more of an appreciation of culture and the need and value of it in society, in our lives and to enhance the quality of life for all the citizens of the Hattiesburg and Pine Belt area,” former Director of Cultural Development for the ADP Jack Kyle said to WDAM in 2007. 

The decorating of these swans required a community effort, just as the city continues to do with the painting of its utility boxes and murals across town. 

Churches, charities, families, businesses, and people from the Hattiesburg area gathered to make these swans something special and authentic to the community. 

USM student Ansley Brent was involved with the painting of the swans as a child, and warmly recalls the event like it was yesterday.

“Painting the swans had an effect on me because I knew I was about to be a part of a new tradition in our community,” Brent said. “It made me appreciate the arts by observing the uniqueness of all the swans and seeing how they were all beautiful in different ways.” 

The swans were officially put on display at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in February of 2006 and the festival began. 

The swans were permanently placed all over Hattiesburg, invoking a rich, new culture of art and tradition. For years, these swans could be found at the Zoo, Forrest General Hospital, Trustmark Bank, Main Street, near Southern Miss, and even in front of non-typical places such as gas stations. They became a Hattiesburg staple and a core piece of this community. 

After searching for the swans in a group, it seemed as though some of them had disappeared. Online, there are addresses for these swans and their locations, but after going to every location, there were no swans to be found.

Thankfully, a few were found. They are exactly what they have been described as–massive, vivacious swans. As expected, these swans continue to exude artistic beauty. 

After almost 15 years in public, the swans have started to age. Yet their essence and what they stand for can still be seen under the years of wear and tear.

None of the swans are the same–incomparable but represent Hattiesburg in the same way. 

Most of the swans are not in their original location–resulting in being overlooked by the public. 

As a thriving arts community, it’s the inhabitants of this area to make sure these works of art are not forgotten. 

The swans may appear like nothing more than sculptures to some, but they had a deep impact on this community and how art is viewed. 

“I think the swans brought the Hattiesburg community together. It was a way to bring several businesses and environments together and it also broadcasted what that area brought to the community.” Brent said.

In the coming years, Hattiesburg may see a resurgence of the swans–painted in a new light by a new generation of artists. Their beauty will once again make the Hattiesburg community a little brighter.