If Mark Twain were a spokesman with the Arts Center of the Ozarks, he might suggest rumors of the organization's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
It's easy for people to get an organization confused with the physical space it occupies. For years, the Arts Center of the Ozarks, or ACO, has operated from its building at 214 S. Main St. in downtown Springdale. On Sept. 3, leaders of the 54-year-old organization sent out the announcement of "big news": the planned transition of ownership and management of the Main Street facility to an organization called the Creative Arkansas Community Hub & Exchange.
"In the last ten years," the official statement read, "new performance centers, world-class museums, and many other specialized art organizations have ushered in a grand time for cultural growth in Northwest Arkansas. It is time for Springdale to take its place in that growth."
The best opportunity for the arts to flourish and for Springdale's downtown to become "more active and vibrant," ACO said, was for the Arts Center of the Ozarks to essentially get out of the way, at least in terms of its ownership and operation of that building.
Executive Director Bryan Gott explained ownership of the building carried significant liability, a burden that grew even more difficult to carry with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
To borrow a movie phrase sci-fi fans will appreciate, the ACO appears to have recognized the "needs of the many outweighed the needs of the few, or the one." As they explained, new ownership of the building downtown will expand its use beyond ACO's primary focus of theater performances.
Downtown Springdale is in the midst of a revival, much of it catalyzed by investment of Tyson Foods. So perhaps it's no surprise that the organization purchasing the ACO facility -- Grove Arts -- is an affiliate of the Tyson Family Foundation. That organization's mission is to reinvent and rejuvenate the arts center in Springdale, according to Nate Green of the Northwest Arkansas Council. The foundation will provide an operating grant to the Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange, which is holding focus groups to evaluate programming opportunities for the now-former Arts Center of the Ozarks building.
Other arts organizations in Northwest Arkansas praised the change and its promise to "increase the opportunity for all community members to access the arts and to have their voices and stories amplified," as it was described by Peter Lane, president and CEO of Fayetteville's Walton Arts Center.
Samuel Rivera Lopez, a Creative Arkansas organizer, said the shift in the arts scene downtown will "positively influence the city's culture and inclusivity."
Meanwhile, the Arts Center of the Ozarks organization will live on and continue performing, although its supporters continue to evaluate exactly what that looks like, and where.
Getting back to Mark Twain, he once said he was "in favor of progress; it's change I don't like."
Perhaps this new development in the world of the arts will fall into the category of progress. Hopefully, out of this transition, Springdale will witness a rebirth of ACO's theatrical performances and a birth of new artistic expressions of a diverse community in that downtown space.
What’s the point?
Major changes for the Arts Center of the Ozarks portend a future of arts expansion within Springdale.