Art Ventures has hit the ground running in 2023.
Executive Director Lakeisha Edwards says that the first quarter will include kids' art education through workshops and the K-12 Art Initiative and special exhibits at the Chamber of Commerce, the Faulkner Center, TheatreSquared, The Medium and more.
The programming, Edwards says, is built upon Art Ventures' three pillars: art representation, art education and community collaboration.
Artist representation includes the many shows that are planned throughout Northwest Arkansas as well as exhibits in the Lower Ramble in Fayetteville or at Northwest Arkansas National Airport in Bentonville.
It also means allowing everyone to see themselves in the art that they view.
"We really push our local artists into mainstream exhibitions," not only to help artists share their work but also "to ensure that people have proper representation so that people see themselves when they go into the spaces where they see art, and making sure that our marginalized communities are represented," Edwards says.
Art Ventures also helps the artists to secure connections which allow their art to travel. That can mean showing work at galleries like their partner, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, where artists gain more exposure. Locally, Edwards has seen Art Ventures artists such as Eloa Jane show her paper art in the Focus Paris 2022 International Art Exhibit at the Carrousel de Louvre in Paris, France. Lourdes Valverde, another Art Ventures represented artist, took her art to other galleries around the state and is preparing to take her work abroad as well.
Art Ventures also offers art education programs for local kids, which is the second pillar.
"That education comes twofold. One is for youth education through our K through 12 Gallery Initiative and our workshops. And then we also have a [paid] internship," Edwards says.
For the K-12 Initiative, "we take the kids through the entire gallery process," explains Edwards. "We either go into a school or into a public space and set up a workshop that lasts anywhere from six to eight weeks. The kids do research on a topic, usually some type of world problem, like pollution," and then they explore that problem through art within a chosen medium such as painting or sculpture.
"Don Tyson School of Innovation did ceramics last year, the home school kids did watercolors, so it could be a variety of mediums," she explains. After completing research and choosing a medium, the students get guidance from an actual artist.
"Then after they create. We actually have a reception. We treat them just like we do our represented artists. We celebrate them publicly because we feel like that is another component of this experience, not only to create but to be celebrated for that creation and to be acknowledged as an artist," Edwards says. "That's something that even our own represented artists sometimes lack. They create, and they have all these amazing things, and no one ever gets to see them. We know kids need that even more than adults."
In addition to the K-12 Initiative, Art Ventures also hosts one-day workshops to help expose kids to art who may not be able to do such an intensive study.
"Sometimes the kids' school just doesn't have the resources or [in] marginalized communities, they may not have the transportation to get to these programs, or it may even be a case where unfortunately, we see so many transit homes, where kids are so displaced, that they actually don't stay in a place long enough to complete a program within their school system. So we have the one-day workshops so that we can just grab you for one day, and teach you something that can assist with having a coping mechanism and actually learning something and feeling fulfilled. Then we're satisfied."
Eventually, she says that they want to do some workshops at the gallery.
"We've received some funding, where we'll be able to do in-house workshops. So we're going to do a sewing class because we have a represented artist that has a degree in costume design who will lead that."
For college-age students, Art Ventures offers a paid internship at the gallery so that students may gain hands-on experience in the art world.
"We do a curatorial internship with students that are either enrolled at UA or NWAAC," Edwards says. "We've recently been looking for minority students at either of those institutions so that we can give them that chance. We can give them some real-world experience inside a gallery. They'll learn the ins and outs of creating exhibitions, curating all the things that go into creating these exhibitions -- both on- and off-site -- and all the business things that happen behind the scenes as well.
"Then the last pillar is community collaboration. And that collaboration is so important because we know that many of our communities don't feel like they belong in the world of arts and culture. So we have to go into those communities and partner with other organizations that are providing additional benefits so that we can really capture the audience because nine times out of 10, they're not going to willingly come to us."
Community collaboration gives Edwards a chance to use her skills as an organizer.
"I'm not an artist, I have no formal background in art, but what I do have a background in is community and managing nonprofits and really driving the mission of a nonprofit organization. That's what drew me to this position because we know that art is transformative. We know that there are so many people taking their own lives, and we see so many people are just really having a hard time with life in general. People take for granted that there are others who have gone through those same things, but they chose a path of art and creativity to release it, and it's literally saving their life."
Making art accessible to the viewer is life-affirming as well, she explains.
"During covid, there's no one that could say they didn't lean on to some type of arts and culture, whether it was listening to music, whether it was watching live theater, whether it was watching movies ... anything you've looked at -- it's art. And it makes me sad that people take it for granted. Because those that are pouring into it really deserve to be highlighted and to be appreciated and supported. Not just visually, but financially, so they can continue to create."
Edwards encourages those who can to participate in their Art Angels membership program to help support the plethora of programs offered by Art Ventures.
"When people become an Art Angel, what they're doing is they're either making a one-time donation, or they're signing up to be a monthly donor. The monthly donations can be as low as $10 a month, which is low, but it gets people in the mode of giving consistently. And then kind of forgetting about it, right? Just leave us in your budget and walk away. If we had enough people that just did that $10 level, we can at least sponsor our first Thursday events or just have some consistent funds coming in to cover supplies for our K through 12 Gallery Initiative or for our art program.
"We want to get people more consistent with their giving so that we can kind of be more consistent with our programming," she adds.
Keep up with Art Ventures at artventures-nwa.org.