Northwest Arkansas has a growing arts and culture scene that is capturing national attention. But this year, one of its most critical performances won’t occur on any stage.
Instead, it will be the debut of a new organization aimed at championing the diverse and growing community of artists and arts organizations that enrich the lives of area residents and make Northwest Arkansas a cultural destination.
It’s an idea whose time has come.
Nearly three decades ago, when the Walton Arts Center first opened its doors, the original 1,200-seat hall stood virtually alone as a beacon for arts in the region.
The venue quickly became a gathering ground and incubator for many of the region’s present-day arts institutions, including TheatreSquared, SoNA and Trike Theatre. Leaders at the Center were the first to articulate the need for the community and artists to come together to chart a course for the future as a region.
Nearly 20 years later, another catalytic event propelled the region’s arts scene forward.
With its world-class architecture, exhibits and programs, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art could proudly hold its own in New York or San Francisco, London or Paris.
Since it opened in 2011, Crystal Bridges has carved its own path by celebrating the American spirit in a setting that unites the power of art with the beauty of nature.
Joined by the Scott Family Amazeum, these three anchor institutions are complemented by an increasing array of arts and cultural offerings, from murals to unique music collaborations to diverse theatre performances.
What’s next in the evolution of the region’s arts community?
It’s a question only the community could answer. In 2015, the Walton Family Foundation commissioned a study to help identify gaps in the region’s cultural amenities and share what more they would like to experience.
Young professionals and parents looking for grown-up time shared their desire to see more nightlife options.
The assessment also found growing agreement that all the groups bringing these opportunities to our community deserve the partnership of an organization that can offer support for individual artists, capacity-building for arts and culture groups of all sizes and marketing of our region’s offerings to the world.
This new regional arts services organization will be incubated at the Northwest Arkansas Council, which has a long and successful history of convening the region around important initiatives. This venture (an official name has not been determined) will work to elevate and support all members of the region’s arts and culture ecosystem, whether they’re artists, arts organizations or arts patrons.
We couldn’t ask for a stronger executive director than Allyson Esposito, who will lead the new organization.
A professional artist, arts administrator and attorney, Allyson arrives with a rich-hued palette of skills. As the former director of cultural grantmaking for the City of Chicago and, most recently, senior director of arts and culture for The Boston Foundation, Allyson also knows how to bring an arts community together to have an impact.
And, as a dancer, choreographer, and founder of a dance company, she understands firsthand the challenges that artists and arts organizations face.
Art inspires. Art illuminates. Art brings us together.
This regional organization is one way we as a community can express our appreciation and support for the people and groups who enrich our lives with their creative work. As Northwest Arkansas’ arts and cultural scene grows, we all have a stake in its continuing success.