What makes a community a great place to live? There’s no one answer to this question – the most vibrant and inclusive places have a robust mix of ingredients, from abundant jobs to affordable homes to high-quality schools and access to nature and the outdoors.
But great cities, towns and neighborhoods also have something more – they are places where you feel welcome, like you belong.
That sense of belonging helps bind a diverse community together.
In the foundation’s Home Region of Northwest Arkansas, we’re working to strengthen those bonds by expanding access to inclusive shared spaces and experiences that all residents can enjoy. Every resident of Northwest Arkansas deserves to feel that they belong here, and our public spaces and the events they host should reflect that belonging.
So, what does an inclusive shared space look like?
These are spaces outside of work, outside of home, where people can interact with one another and build meaningful social connections. They are places where residents can build a sense of understanding of the neighbors who live in their community.
Ideally, these are places close to home that people can access easily, attend a festival or a concert, take their family to relax or have fun without spending money.
They are democratic spaces, open and inviting to all, particularly those in historically underserved neighborhoods.
Creating these spaces begins with the community. By collaborating with a diverse set of local organizations, regional leaders can ensure everyone has a voice in creating public spaces that are welcoming for all.
Thanks to the foresight of community members throughout the region, Northwest Arkansas is already alive with several inclusive spaces and experiences that serve as models for more to come in the future:
The International Festival, part of Bentonville’s First Friday lineup of events, celebrates the city’s cultural diversity. The festival is free, open to the public and located in the city’s downtown core, close to neighborhoods, shops, restaurants and parks.
This urban park serves as a gateway from downtown Rogers, Arkansas, to key amenities in the area including residential neighborhoods, restaurants, retail and public spaces like the Railyard Bike Park, Rogers Historical Museum and Lake Atalanta. Railyard Park hosts a farmers market, a play yard for children and is a gathering place for festivals and events.
This summer concert series features a diverse lineup of entertainers. The event is free, open to the public and located in the city’s downtown core.
Lake Atalanta features more than 200 acres of paved and soft surface trails, passive recreation space and play space in a natural setting. It is also a trailhead with access to Frisco Springs Trail and the Railyard Loop that leads to other trails, the Railyard Bike Park and a dog park.
Rogers Historical Museum
The Rogers Historical Museum is a public space dedicated to telling the region’s stories. It hosts exhibits such as "Reflections of the Black Experience," an art collection by local and regional artists featuring works representative of the African diaspora to the modern-day Black experience in the United States.
Walter Turnbow Park/"Live at Turnbow"
“Live at Turnbow” is a free summer concert located in the city’s downtown core close to neighborhoods, shops, restaurants and other parks.
Walter Turnbow Park/Square 2 Square
This event is held each spring and fall, celebrating Northwest Arkansas' downtown squares and the region’s unique cycling amenities. The family-friendly ride encourages participation by everyone, not just avid cyclists. Square 2 Square runs the length of the Razorback Greenway from downtown Bentonville to downtown Fayetteville, inviting stops along the way in Rogers and other communities connected via the Greenway.
Stroll the Atolls
Strolls the Atolls is a free, regional event, held in downtown Springdale, that brings together both Marshallese and non-Marshallese residents to celebrate Marshallese culture and history. It creates a space for shared experiences among all participants while raising awareness of this Pacific Islander community and celebrating the region's diversity.
Walter Turnbow Park/INTERFORM EMERGE
This ticketed event featured 12 designers from the EMERGE Designer Residency Program, a unique creative opportunity for local designers. These designers worked with mentors from across the country to hone their skills and develop the collections on display.
Walter Turnbow Park/INTERFORM Freedom Festival
Interform Assembly was held as part of a month-long art event. It included Freedom Festival, a music and soul food festival celebrating Juneteenth.
TheatreSquared is a cultural landmark in Northwest Arkansas. The 50,000-square-foot campus unites two intimate theatres, rehearsal space, a three-level commons and café, outdoor gathering spaces, production workshops, offices and artists’ apartments. When designing its new space, TheatreSquared chose a downtown location accessible from the regional trail system. The lobby and café are open to the public throughout the week. TheatreSquared also regularly hosts free public performances.
Centennial Park/Grit Fest
Grit Mountain Bike Festival is for all women (cis and trans) and non-binary riders. The event aims to create an environment where riders feel safe to learn and grow (on and off the bike) and comfortable to be one's whole self with the group.
Siloam Springs, Arkansas
This downtown park is the largest in Siloam Springs. Located adjacent to the Siloam Springs Public Library, Memorial Park holds a space for the farmers market, a beautiful pavilion, an interactive water feature, the KIA Veteran’s Memorial, lush green space and the Chautauqua Amphitheater. When programming was shut down in 2020 due to COVID-19, the park became a safe outlet for residents seeking time outdoors.
Soft Surface Trails
Northwest Arkansas’ soft-surface trail system – a network that covers more than 320 miles – was designed to include something for everyone, from beginner mountain bikers to experts. To encourage use by all in the region, trails are also open for hiking. Organizations like All Bikes Welcome and Women of Oz provide tailored programming for diverse trail users so that everybody feels welcome.