Regional program would support Springdale arts scene

SPRINGDALE — The City Council in its meeting Tuesday will consider the city’s membership in a regional arts project.

One-year membership in the Municipal Arts Agency, facilitated by the Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange, will cost $26,440, with payments of $13,220 made March 1 and April 31, said Patsy Christie, director of the Springdale Planning Department.

The cost of membership was included in the 2022 city budget, she said.

The agency would bring together Springdale and the four other cities of Northwest Arkansas to develop arts and culture in Northwest Arkansas with a cohesive vision, Christie explained.

The agency also would provide each city with individualized consulting and training to help develop that city’s culture and arts identity, she said.

“It will strengthen the city’s commitment to increase the quality of life for Springdale residents and businesses,” Christie said.

The exchange’s goals for the region include “elevating local creators, building a more equitable arts marketplace, connecting Northwest Arkansas with world-renowned leaders and artists and developing a robust, culturally-diverse creative hub,” reads its website.

The agency would help make that happen, said Allyson Esposito, executive director of the exchange.

The Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange is an arts services organization established through the Northwest Arkansas Council with money from the Walton Family Foundation, Christie said.

The exchange soon will stand alone as its own nonprofit agency, Esposito said.

The agency would help Springdale develop an arts policy, Christie said. “Not picking the art, but things like who cleans the sculpture in the park and how often,” she said.

Esposito said the arts agency would provide research, data, training and more for cities and organizations that don’t have the experience or resources. The work will be mostly behind the scenes, she said.

The exchange staff also works to update the 2017 survey of artists by the Northwest Arkansas Council.

“We will look at the entire region,” Esposito said. “Who’s out there? What they are working on? What works for them, so we can continue to provide platforms for artists.”

She said the 2017 survey found 150 to 200 active arts organizations in the region and 1,000 residents who identified themselves as professional artists.

But Esposito said, the museums and music venues in the region have been focused on bringing in art from outside.

“We need to make our art and culture an export economy,” she said. “We need to let our culture travel and provide a platform and marketplace to let the work of our local artists to be known globally.”

Esposito said organizations and cities need to consider the economic development opportunities of the arts — in addition to the tourism dollars art can bring to the region.

She noted art doesn’t just enter local economies through the ticket prices. It’s also the parking, dinner before the show and the clothing someone buys to wear to the show, she said.

“Springdale has the opportunity to play a much larger role in the region’s art scene,” Esposito said. But the city needs a comprehensive vision, a framework, policies and collective leadership — areas where the agency can assist.

Christie also said the work with the agency likely will help the city develop an arts commission to guide the city’s artistic development. Rogers and Fayetteville have such councils, and both have an arts coordinator among city staff.

Christie said the support for Springdale from the agency will come it at a basic level, as the city is just now embracing the arts and community. She compared Springdale to Fayetteville, which has the Walton Arts Center, the University of Arkansas’ fine arts program, live music on Dickson Street and galleries open downtown.

Esposito said the cities aren’t that far apart. Fayetteville doesn’t have an arts policy, and the staff member has not been hired, she noted.

“For Springdale it’s finding the right people for the right role,” she said. The agency will help Springdale determine the roles of the cities and arts organizations.

And Springdale also has an urgency to have the infrastructure in place with the development of Luther George Park, which is expected to open late next year, Esposito said.

The exchange has partnered with Rogers to lead a cultural planning effort and create an action plan for arts and culture for the city for the next 10 years, including public art, park activation, programming and cultural spaces, reads the organization’s website.

Esposito noted the opening of Butterfield Stage in Rogers’ Railyard and live music every Friday night when the weather is good. The event draws people downtown to eat in the restaurants and shop in the stores, she said.

“Artists speak for the people,” Esposito said. “They are the voice of what’s going on in the community in the moment. While we are making incremental changes, we have to determine how to hold on to our history, as well as where we are and where we are going.”

She said Northwest Arkansas needs to put artists on local commissions and boards of directors, having them sitting at the tables with decision makers, helping everyone think differently.

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