Effort to explore art space opportunities in Northwest Arkansas

Posted: January 27, 2018 at 1:10 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER Artist Shawna Elliott paints Thursday at 1 Seventeen Create in Springdale. The space features artists’ work space as well as gallery and exhibition space. The Walton Family Foundation has partnered with national nonprofit group Artspace on a $400,000 grant to develop space for artists and creatives to live, work, exhibit and perform. Artspace will lead public meetings centered around arts-driven economic development and conduct a feasibility and market study for Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville, as well as tour prospective sites for development.

Kat Wilson, an artist with a small studio inside a Quonset hut in downtown Fayetteville, said she searched all over Northwest Arkansas before settling on her space.

She loves the vibe. She can close herself off and work in privacy or open the door on a nice day and chat with fellow artists. Wilson considers herself lucky.

Kickoff meeting

Artspace will hold a public forum to offer insight about what the creative sector is missing, collect feedback about potential sites and look at fresh ideas to serve the needs of Springdale. Ideas can include live/work housing, co-working spaces, shared spaces, gallery space and other arts-related concepts.

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Arts Center of the Ozarks, 214 S. Main St., Springdale

For more information, call 236-4256 or email kelly@downtownspringdale.org.

Source: Downtown Springdale Alliance

"I couldn't find a damn thing," she said of her initial search for a space.

Wilson acknowledged the increasing investment in the arts and downtown Fayetteville. The city just got a nearly $1.8 million grant to design a cultural arts corridor and the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, has plans for an arts district near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hill Avenue.

It's great news for future generations, Wilson said. But today's working artists need places to set up shop, so she joined the committee spearheading that effort.

A $400,000 grant from the Walton Family Foundation announced this week will pay to research the need for artist space in Northwest Arkansas. A one-year partnership with Artspace, a nonprofit group based in Minneapolis, will provide a road map for artists to have an affordable place to work, live, host exhibitions and perform.

Artspace will get an idea of where the money might come from to develop new artist space and gauge the demand. Different artists have different needs depending on the medium and each city has different kinds of artists, said Wendy Holmes, vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace.

To get an idea of where the region stands, Artspace will hold public meetings, study the feasibility and market for studio space and tour prospective sites. Work has already begun in Springdale and Bentonville.

The nonprofit group also develops physical locations for artists in addition to its consulting services. The actual laying of brick will be a separate process, one that may or may not involve Artspace.

A burgeoning arts scene can mean different things for every city, Holmes said. The effect in a place as large as New York may only be felt along three blocks, whereas a well-coordinated effort could transform areas across city lines in Northwest Arkansas, she said.

"The presence of artists living and working and having stable, long-term, affordable space can be a catalyst for other types of development to occur," Holmes said.

Mike Harvey, chief operating officer with the Northwest Arkansas Council, said the economic effect of the arts is multipronged. Tourist traffic increases to areas with a large number of working artists. The artists benefit from sales and shows. An area known for its arts scene becomes a more attractive place to live, he said.

"That's really where the rubber meets the road," Harvey said. "It's not only direct economic benefit, but also quality of life."

The arts made a $131 million economic impact on Northwest Arkansas in 2015, according to the most recent study from the Arts and Economic Prosperity 5 project of Americans for the Arts. The average attendee of an arts or cultural event in the region spent $35.89, excluding the cost of admission.

The Walton Family Foundation set forth an effort to establish Northwest Arkansas as a national leader in arts and cultural amenities as part of its 2020 Home Region strategic plan. Key partners include Scott Family Amazeum, Community Creative Center, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, TheatreSquared and the Walton Arts Center.

TheatreSquared, in the middle of building a $31.5 million facility, has included eight apartments for guest artists in its plan. The Walton Arts Center unveiled a 30,000-square-foot expansion and renovation in late 2016.

1 Seventeen CREATE opened in downtown Springdale last fall, providing a spot for artists to paint, draw, sculpt, craft jewelry, make pottery or take on just about any other creative endeavor.

Derek Gibson said he and co-owner Alan Altom want the venue to help stimulate a revitalizing downtown Springdale. Arts play a key role in any revitalization effort, Gibson said.

Gibson added 1 Seventeen has space available, but he welcomes competition. The effort with Artspace could result in numerous studios in the city, creating a sort of synergy and identity as an area for artists. Through collaboration, the ecology of the city's art scene will become stronger, Gibson said.

"At the end of the day, you need availability; you need people in the area so the revitalization can continue to progress," he said.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. WAMPLER A bust is on display Thursday at 1 Seventeen Create in Springdale.

NW News on 01/27/2018