Art Scene Grows In Bentonville
Posted: September 9, 2012 at 5:19 a.m.
BENTONVILLE — Bentonville is becoming an arts destination in the wake of the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and local businesses and governmental groups are working to create a plan to foster the city’s creative economy.
It took just more than nine months for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art to welcome half a million guests into its streamside galleries. Since the museum’s Nov. 11 opening, the city has become home to numerous art galleries and shops looking to complement the museum experience.
At A Glance
Art Spaces In Bentonville
• Norberta Philbrook Gallery and Practical Magic: 114 W. Central Ave.
• Studio 124: Midtown Shopping Center
• Pressroom Cafe: 121 W. Central Ave.
• T.H. Benton’s Coffee/Deli: 102 E. Central Ave.
• Bella Lu Ella: 1006 S.W. A St.
• Majesty Republic: 109 N. Main St.
Source: Staff Report
Raven Derge opened the Norberta Philbrook Gallery and Practical Magic Art Supply store at 114 W. Central Ave. two months ago. Derge owned the art supply store in Eureka Springs for two years before moving to Bentonville and expanding to include a gallery.
“Probably 30 to 40 percent of our customers were driving from this area to Eureka Springs,” Derge said. “Since I was in love already with Crystal Bridges and with the 21c Museum coming here, it seemed natural to come down.”
Derge joins several other artists who have set up storefronts centered around the downtown square. Thomas B. Merritt opened Studio 124 last year in the Midtown Shopping Center and hosts regular shows in addition to displaying his work. Openings are often held in coordination with First Friday events on the square.
Art Northwest is one of the newer galleries downtown. The house gallery is run by Dayton Castleman, who moved to Bentonville from Chicago specifically because of the town’s nascent arts scene. Castleman is an artist/educator who got a master’s degree in art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He taught at the college level and created commissioned art projects in Philadelphia.
The goal of the gallery is to “support the work of Arkansas-rooted artists, as well as to present curatorial projects initiated both from throughout the United States and internationally,” according to the gallery website.
Castleman was named last week to a four-person Public Art Advisory Committee for the city of Bentonville. The committee initially was formed in 2007, but never met. The revamped committee will help direct the city’s policy on public art.
The committee is one way governmental groups are trying to tackle the city’s potential as an arts haven. Groups are starting to formulate plans to take advantage of the potential economic benefits of burgeoning arts interest.
Downtown Bentonville Inc. focused on developing a creative economy strategy in the years leading up the opening of Crystal Bridges, said Daniel Hintz, Downtown Bentonville director. The group facilitates finding spaces for downtown businesses and artists, as well as expanding the area’s culinary and cultural offerings.
Downtown Bentonville promotes galleries without walls to spread art around the community in local shops, restaurants and community spaces. Bentonville Community Create is an interactive art project planned for September at the Pressroom that is designed to let Bentonville residents tell the story of the city’s past, present and future.
The Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau recognizes the importance of Crystal Bridges to its tourism draw, said Kalene Griffith, bureau director. A recent planning session by the Advertising and Promotion Commission identified the city’s arts future — with Crystal Bridges, the 21c Museum Hotel, the Walton Arts Center and a potential children’s museum — as a key component to the city’s tourism identity.
“I think there is a surge in the interest in the arts,” Griffith said. “I do think that it is developing because of Crystal Bridges. I believe we’ll continue that growth and knowledge in arts and culture.”
While the bureau has looked at how other cities promote arts tourism, Bentonville’s situation is unique, she said. Bentonville is a small town with a world-class museum tucked away in a ravine. Most art museums the caliber of Crystal Bridges are located in large cities with a strong arts base.
“There’s really no other city to compare this to,” Griffith said.
Visitors to Crystal Bridges may not expect Bentonville to have a growing arts atmosphere, but they do want to experience the local culinary and artistic culture, Griffith said.
While Crystal Bridges has far exceeded initial expectations of just 300,000 visitors a year, not all of the galleries have flourished. The University of Arkansas’ Sugar Gallery, located where the Norberta Philbrook Gallery is now, moved after a few months off the square.
The student-run gallery had been located in Fayetteville before moving to Bentonville and is currently doing site specific installations back in Fayetteville. Cynthia Thompson, director and curator of the gallery’s exhibitions, said the art department is hoping for a permanent space, but doesn’t know where it will be located.
Majesty Republic is another downtown gallery in transition. The space adjacent to the Walmart Visitors Center opened in November, but is seldom open.
Terry Semler, co-founder of the coalition gallery, said the group has been cutting corners to save money to purchase the building. He said now that the building is purchased, they plan to eventually hire someone to man the gallery full-time.
Derge said she has found the community be receptive to the arts since the opening of the Norberta Philbrook Gallery.
“I think Bentonville is ready for the arts. I talk to people that come in and they often say, ‘Thank you,’” Derge said. “They say, ‘Thank you,’ for opening up a gallery here. I’ve never seen that before.”