Countless important cultural institutions folded under the effects of COVID-19, but only a few were born as a direct result of them. Count the tiniest museum in Mississippi among them.
The Hattiesburg Pocket Museum is a 36” x 48” window in a downtown alleyway with only four display shelves, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm. The exhibits—tiny but no-less cohesive—are selected from public submissions, making the free-admission, secretly located “museum” a cheeky little portal into community imagination when folks need it most.
The idea was hatched by the Hattiesburg Convention Commission who, tasked with driving tourism, needed a quick pivot after their two main projects—the historic Saenger Theater and the Hattiesburg Zoo—shuttered in the early days of COVID. In need of a safe attraction with low overhead, one staffer saw potential in a boarded-up window in an alleyway beside the Saenger. After $800 and a little elbow grease, a highway billboard announced the opening of the Pocket Museum in August 2020. To encourage folks to get out of the house and explore the city, however, it did not list an exact location.
In the months since opening, the tiny, rotating exhibit has won a following among locals and visitors. Early exhibits ranged from a collection of Swiss army knives to rubber duckies before more recently moving into high-minded concepts like “Pop T-Art,” an assortment of colorful retro toasters holding Pop Tarts paired to corresponding pieces of pop music—NSYNC’s “Dirty Pop,” M’s “Pop Muzik,” and the like playing on overhead speakers.
The creative spunk spills beyond the walls of the museum as well. Knitted pipelines and 3D street artwork span the length of the alleyway while meters in the adjoining parking garage are abstractly painted. Look closely—quarter-inch figurines sit atop electrical boxes or in the spaces between bricks, arranged in an array of scenarios from climbers scaling a piece of toast to an elder couple sharing a romantic moment on a pipe collar to Spiderman taking a break from slinging webs.
There are now picnic tables with umbrellas and string lights hung across the alleyway, making this 24/7 museum a convenient visit, day or night. If you want the place to yourself, directors say the slowest window is 3:30–4:00 A.M.