ROGERS -- The city is at the beginning of a long-term cultural-planning process envisioned as helping to shape its transition from a small town in Northwest Arkansas to a big city, said John McCurdy, city director of community development.
"If we do it right, it could be really great," he said.
Rogers has grown by about 22% from 2010 to 2019, with its estimated population increasing from 56,109 to 68,669, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The cultural planning process will result in the creation of a master arts and culture plan that will identify challenges and offer recommendations for how to address them, said Anna Watson, city arts and culture coordinator.
"It's about celebrating what's possible, where we're going, and building on places that need more support in the community," she said.
Creative spaces -- such as museums, music venues, restaurants and shops in the city -- increased 193% from 2014-18, according to a 14-month study by Minneapolis-based nonprofit arts developer Artspace. That study concluded in January 2019. The growth was the highest among the studied cities of Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale.
"A lot of things happen as a result of a more vibrant arts and culture program within a city," McCurdy said. "Each of the cities in Northwest Arkansas has its own identity, and we don't want to lose that."
The goal is to attract and retain talented people to allow the city to continue to thrive and grow with a diversified economy, while allowing Rogers to retain its character, he said.
The city took a significant step in the cultural planning process in April by hiring Watson as its first arts and culture coordinator. She said she immediately began researching and examining cultural planning case studies in cities such as Washington and Austin, Texas.
"That was used to inform how we would approach the guiding framework with the Public Art Commission," Watson said.
The commission will look at the models and resources for other cities to help Rogers' efforts, said Kelli Roberts, commission chairman.
The commission is in the early stages of the process, Roberts said, but has put a lot of emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion.
"We want the most vibrant, thriving cultural environment and scene in Rogers, and we take that seriously," she said.
The city will collect data from the community through surveys, town hall meetings and geographic information system mapping in early 2021, she said.
That information will be incorporated into a cultural plan that Watson said she expects to take to the City Council for approval in May.
However, the city isn't waiting for that completed plan.
Earlier this month it approved its first arts and culture budget of $430,000, Watson said. The budget includes $100,000 for initial work on the city's Alleyway Revitalization Project, $150,000 for music contracts for downtown concerts and $80,000 to enter into a consulting relationship with Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange (CACHE).
The additional $100,000 will be used to support events such as Frisco Fest, Christmas parades, farmers markets and other legacy events, she said.
CACHE is a regional arts service organization formed in 2019 by the Northwest Arkansas Council to act as the central regional agency committed to connecting, supporting and developing the region's arts and culture community.
Rogers approving an arts and culture budget is particularly noteworthy, said Allyson Esposito, CACHE executive director.
The Alleyway Revitalization Project design is expected to be completed by New York-based WXY Architecture and Urban Design by September, McCurdy said.
Work on the alleyway has to be done to maintain water and sewer infrastructure downtown, McCurdy said, which affords a unique cultural development opportunity for the city.
"We have an opportunity to resurface the alleyway in a better way," he said. The idea is to relocate some dumpsters and resurface the alleyway, "add lighting and amenities with artwork so that the alleyways become a comfortable place for pedestrians."
The overall cost of the project is unknown, McCurdy said, but the city has received a Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program grant for the project from the Walton Family Foundation.
The $336,250 grant was approved by the City Council in July, said Kathryn Heller, Walton Family Foundation home region communications officer.
"The downtown Rogers alleyway project will create a unique destination that enlivens the neighborhood and connects a thriving historic district," said Meredith Bergstrom, program officer with the Walton Family Foundation. "It will also provide opportunities to work with the creative community and celebrate local culture in a way that engages the entire region."
The $150,000 slated for music programming will fulfill the biggest desire expressed by the community through the Artspace study, McCurdy said.
The city's relationship with CACHE will be particularly helpful in the city's arts and cultural planning, McCurdy said.
CACHE has access to regional and national resources and expertise that cities may not, CACHE program director Kelsey Howard said. She said the organization looks at the region as a whole and at individual cities' long-term impacts on the region.
"We are uniquely positioned to be that unifier and that encourager for cities to recognize the importance of cultural planning, to build that vision that's unique to each city, but also to reinforce that this is what's happening regionwide, and there is unique strength in that," she said.
The $80,000 budgeted to allow CACHE to act as a consultant for the city's arts and cultural development is something Fayetteville is also studying, said Susan Norton, Fayetteville chief of staff.
Howard said CACHE is focusing its cultural planning efforts on two cities in the region at a time.
"We fully anticipate after Rogers, we'll really focus on Fayetteville," she said. "After Fayetteville, we'll see."
"The arts and culture of a city is what makes people have place attachment. It's what makes people contribute to their communities and stay. It's what makes the quality of life increase. It's what helps to uplift and to bring greater focus to underrepresented voices from historically repressed communities," Howard said. "This is what brings our communities together."
Get the details
Information on Rogers’ current development plans, standards and ordinances is available online at https://www.rogersar.gov/1165/Plans-Manuals-Ordinances.
Mary Jordan can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWAMaryJ.