All eyes were fixed on David Dimitri, an internationally acclaimed giant of contemporary circus from Switzerland, high-wire dancing above Luther George Park in downtown Springdale, Arkansas. It was unlike anything any of us had seen before.
As stunning as David’s performance was, the faces in the audience were what made the moment sing. People from various cultures and walks of life – male and female, young and old – drawn into the same experience. That experience is “new circus,” an emerging movement-focused, multi-disciplinary performing arts tradition that combines live music dance, stage design, text and film with traditional circus skills.
“Contemporary circus is just now getting legs in the U.S., so there’s an added layer of amazement the first time you see it,” said Misty Murphy, executive director, Downtown Springdale Alliance. “But what I really love are the walls it tears down. It makes no difference what language you speak, who you are, where you're from or how old you are. Millennials and baby boomers can have the exact same reaction, together – and that's a powerful thing.”
Through collaboration with the Downtown Springdale Alliance and the support of organizations like the Walton Family Foundation, this Northwest Arkansas community is activating a wide variety of public spaces, indoor and outdoor, with art to bring people together. The phenomenal support for the growing arts scene in this region makes it an ideal location for artists and audiences to spread their wings and try something new. But it’s Springdale’s commitment to using the arts to bring communities of any shape, size, or location together that others can learn from.
“That’s the whole idea – to serve as a convener of communities and artists for the purpose of strengthening and creating new bonds,” said Jenni Swain, founder of Potluck Arts, the organization responsible for bringing these and other contemporary circus events to Springdale over the past couple of months. “There’s a transformative power in bringing diverse audiences together.”
“For so long, downtown Springdale hasn't necessarily been at the top of people’s minds when they’re trying to find something to do,” Murphy said. “For the past couple of years, we’ve been investing and taking steps to change that. We’re in a trust-building stage right now, so the unexpected experiences Potluck Arts is bringing to our community are absolutely changing expectations in downtown Springdale.
From a team of famed Australian acrobats taking over the Springdale Civic Center to high-wire acts beside pop-up tents in a city park, heads are turning. People are talking. And there is more to come.
“It's only one part of what we’re doing,” Murphy said. “But as people continue to come together, we build energy. We build pride. We elevate conversation. That’s where the magic happens.”