The sale of the building at 214 S. Main St. in Springdale was announced Sept. 3 to "open the physical space to broader use and encourage further partnership between the various organizations in the area." However, the announcement added, "this will also allow the Arts Center of the Ozarks organization to focus on developing and producing future programming without the additional task of managing and maintaining the building itself."
"One of our biggest assets, the building, was also our biggest liability," Bryan Gott, the current executive director, said last week. "The cost of operations and maintenance put a tax on the organization well before covid. As the virus' impact continued, it became clear that we needed to explore plans toward a more sustainable solution to save the organization. The sale of the building was the sale of an asset, but the ACO will continue on as an artistic nonprofit in Springdale."
"We have been in a rebuild process for a few years, and this season was going to be great," says Nikki Cathcart-Sievert, a longtime supporter of the organization on and off stage and a member of the ACO Board. "It was going to look more like what we all know and love about the ACO theater while expanding upon some of the new things we have begun to create.
"However, once it became clear that we were no longer going to have a season [due to covid-19 concerns], we knew something would have to be done to preserve a way for arts to continue to happen in Springdale," she continues. "There were many thoughts and ideas, but the bottom line was art needed a space in Springdale and the heritage of the ACO -- amazing community theater -- needed to continue. As we floated out the various possibilities and discussed with all necessary parties, this became the most viable. The building on Main Street will become a place for artists to have a space, and the ACO theater group can continue on."
The building is being purchased by Grove Arts, an affiliate of the Tyson Family Foundation formed to help reinvent and rejuvenate the arts center in Springdale, according to Nate Green, Northwest Arkansas Council communications director, as revealed in a story Sept. 4 by NWADG reporter Mary Jordan. The Creative Arkansas group will manage operations through an operating grant from the foundation, he said. Gott and Erin West, the assistant executive director, will go with the ACO nonprofit, not stay with the building, he added.
So what does all this mean for the organization thousands of people have called ACO for half a century? Cathcart-Sievert says "we are still a theater entity and will continue to mount theater performances."
"We are in the process of brainstorming and putting together a strategic plan for the specifics," she continues. "Our immediate next steps are to find a space for our props, costumes, set pieces, etc.," which they have 90 days to remove after the sale is completed Sept. 18. "Long term, we plan to be ready to start up performances whenever it is safe to do so!"
According to Gott, "all historic assets beyond the building itself have been reviewed, logged, and are being given individual attention to ensure they are cared for properly. They will all move with the organization" to an as-yet-undetermined location which he and Cathcart-Sievert both hope will be permanent and in Springdale.
Whether ACO continues to present art shows, classes for adults and children and other traditional offerings depends on "what sort of space we land in," Cathcart-Sievert says. "Likely, we will focus at first on theater, but could easily add in other things as we go along. Kind of going back to our roots."
"This is a huge opportunity, and we hope that you will celebrate with us," Derek Gibson, ACO board president, said in the original announcement. "The spirit of community theater remains strong, and the dedication of the ACO to its theater family has not wavered. Our traditional summer musical will be back on stage in 2021."
According to its director, Denice Parkhurst, the ACO Chorale does still exist and while not singing this semester, does plan to in the future. Email her at [email protected] for more information.