BE IT RESOLVED
The overwhelming success of Crystal Bridges Museum put visual arts front and center in Northwest Arkansas, inspiring a variety of new kinds of venues for visual arts and helping artists sell their works.
It’s not like Crystal Bridges created an art community with the opening of the museum in 2011. There had been galleries at the University of Arkansas for decades, artists’ cooperatives like Heartwood Gallery in south Fayetteville and the Fayetteville Underground predated the museum, and Eureka Springs has been a mecca for art and artists for nearly a century. But the more intense focus that came with a world-renowned museum changed the dynamic from artists showing in coffee shops to artists taking seriously the opportunity for their work to become collectible.
In the past year, the Fayetteville Underground changed its name, its focus and its management. Sharon Killian is the president of the board of the Fayetteville Art Alliance, the nonprofit organization that oversees that art gallery on the square. The gallery was “rebranded” during a First Thursday event on Sept. 7 as “Art Ventures,” and in her perfect world, the art gallery will come to look just like the developing region around it — in all the community’s “growing diversity.”
Jaquita Ball, an artist herself who has Red Cat Art Studio in Bentonville, knows what a mature art market looks like — and she knows Northwest Arkansas isn’t one quite yet.
That means “it is difficult for a gallery to exist as a stand-alone business venture,” she says, but also that artwork is constantly finding more places to be seen. One of them is Midtown Associates, a real estate firm in downtown Bentonville with three “galleries” — lobby and community room spaces — Ball has been curating for almost two years — and from which, successfully selling art in the $2,000 to $3,000 range.
Zeek Taylor, a Eureka Springs artist known for his anthropomorphic chimps, is also curating an unusual art space in Bentonville.
“The Bentonville branch of the First National Bank of Northwest Arkansas opened in June of 2017 in a building designed specifically to showcase art,” he explains. “Located on Southwest A Street in the ‘arts district’ of Bentonville, First National wanted to contribute to the growing art scene in Northwest Arkansas. The building has five large windows that feature rotating exhibitions that are visible 24 hours a day from the street.
“With the huge number of quality artists in the area, I have no problem finding work to exhibit,” Taylor adds. “The hard part is deciding who to exhibit at any one time.”
“We are in talks about leasing a permanent space downtown and are hoping to open the Fenix home base in the spring,” says Sabine Schmidt, a photographer and one of the founders of Fenix Fayetteville, a consortium of artists born out of changes at the Fayetteville Underground. “By 2025, we hope to be a center for working artists who benefit from the services that Fenix offers and a strong contributor to the arts community and economy in Northwest Arkansas and beyond. Fenix artists come from all over the U.S. and abroad, but we’re all at home in this community and want it to thrive.”
Other arts venues continue to blossom.
“For me Backspace, LalaLand, Stage Eighteen, Community Creative Center, Arsaga’s Depot, etc., all create a sort of loose grouping of community spaces that show local art in different ways and for different reasons, but all support the arts economy, and local businesses and the Fayetteville sort of mindset,” says Samantha Sigmon, an artist and visual arts coordinator for Stage Eighteen. “It’s simply hard to make money here on art sales alone, and for me that is OK, because we can program in nontraditional spaces to put on some fun events, or have art infused into more places and [be] more worried about making a really cool and interesting thing happen.”