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OPINION | TED TALLEY: Abundance of culture in NW Arkansas ready for those who take advantage of the opportunity

Arts aplenty ready for consumers who show up by Ted Talley | December 8, 2022 at 1:00 a.m.
An exterior Friday, November 18, 2016, of the renovated Walton Arts Center before grand reopening ceremony in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK )

My work life often brought me to corporate headquarters in Connecticut and New Jersey. During those years I heard some co-workers there opine that though they loved visiting the South, they could never live there. They would miss the culture. They meant New York City -- the Lincoln Center, Broadway and such.

I would follow up with a simple question as we stood some 45 minutes from Grand Central Station: "When was the last time you were in the city for a show?"

A typical answer was a couple of years ago.

"Well, isn't that so nice for you?" I might respond, as I'd be thinking of three lively Tennessee matrons I once met on a Memphis to LaGuardia flight. They were on their annual New York City outing to catch a some Broadway shows. And, I'd reckon, what good is nearby culture if you don't access it. One can self-delude, expecting that visual and performed arts will ooze into your being just because they exist famously in your metro market, but it doesn't work that way. You have to buy tickets and go.

In Northwest Arkansas we are blessed with a multitude of art, music and theater opportunities of size and scope atypical of a spot like ours in these flyover foothills. One thing our Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has thankfully demonstrated is that cultural arts are not hoity-toity. Rather, they are often thought-provoking, visceral and gritty as well as smoothly elegant.

I try my best to take it all in, but frankly, thankfully, there's more here in our woods than one can consume.

For two seasons running I've subscribed to the Walton Arts Center Broadway series. I should have done so years ago. Once upon a time Broadway road shows were bush league. But now the talent and technology are excellent. Example: The set for last season's "Hamilton" erected in Fayetteville appeared straight from Broadway. And actors throughout the WAC series are top rate.

This November has seen a gracious plenty of culture for me.

November Fourth I attended the final Van Cliburn Series piano performance at Crystal Bridges. Acclaimed by the Baltimore Sun as "one of the biggest pianistic talents to have emerged in this country in the last 25 years," pianist Terrence Wilson played on the museum's Cliburn grand piano in the Great Hall. On the front row in this relatively small venue, I was by chance seated to the left of a key donor to this series: Mr. Reed Greenwood. He introduced himself. "That's Reed, not Lee Greenwood," he chuckled. Given the ambience of the evening, I think if indeed the "God Bless the USA" country singer Lee had been there with Reed and me, it would have been all Jim Dandy as music is music and Wilson's piano virtuosity was astounding.

Nov. 8 was the opening night, razzle-dazzle of the musical "Chicago" at the Walton Arts Center. It was captivating. The acting, the singing and those athletic, racy dance routines: Yowza! More breasts and legs in motion than at a Tyson processing plant.

The next week I was at Crystal Bridges again for my very favorite in the classical repertoire. The Arkansas Philharmonic and cellist Anita Graef performed the powerful Camille Saint-Saëns cello concerto. And there I was, by chance, on the front row directly facing the soloist. It was heavenly.

Back in Fayetteville at the end of the month it was an evening with humorist and social commentator Fran Lebowitz at WAC. I had anticipated this event since it was postponed in February. Frankly I was a little let down -- but still glad for the experience. There were quips and observations warmed over from her Netflix series, with some original commentary when she took questions from the audience. In the end, for me, she is an entity best enjoyed on TV or in print. But I wouldn't have learned that if I'd stay home watching Law & Order reruns, would I?

The highlight of the month was another night at Crystal Bridges. Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma accompanied as artist and poet Carrie Mae Weems recited. Eighteen years ago my cellist son Theo, age 14 then, and I met Ma backstage in College Station, Texas. He was amiable and self-deprecating and expressed surprise: "You drove all the way down from Bentonville just to see me?"

As I sat in my third-row seat directly across from the cellist, I considered the irony: Yo-Yo Ma had traveled all the way to Bentonville to see me.

We all should be thankful such wide-ranging talents come here to see us all.

Print Headline: NWA’s cup runneth over


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