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ArtLinks Draws on Creative Economy

Arkansas Arts Council - Friday, October 18, 2019


More than 100 people recently gathered for the Arkansas Arts Council’s statewide arts conference, ArtLinks, to learn how to use the arts to boost rural and urban economies, enhance cultural tourism and create a sense of identity in rural communities.

“Our biennial ArtLinks event is an exciting chance to network with movers and shakers who are instrumental in developing and enhancing the economy through and with the arts. It’s also an opportunity to learn innovative arts initiatives and programs being used successfully nationwide,” said Patrick Ralston, director of the Arkansas Arts Council.

More than 100 attendees – from farmers to thespians – listened to renowned experts and speakers. They toured public art that boosts Fayetteville's tourism industry, experienced the benefits of art therapy, learned techniques to advocate for the arts and honored fellow artists who received the Individual Artist Fellowship awards. Attendees said they are pleased by the amount of information that came from the conference.

“Meeting other people in the arts and listening to the speakers at ArtLinks was amazing,” said Olivia Trimble, a Fayetteville artist. She said she was inspired, particularly by ideas on public arts in rural communities.

The conference, held Oct. 6-8 in downtown Fayetteville, created a way to learn what other states are doing to enhance the arts and how to elevate the arts at home in Arkansas. Collaboration is key, said David Wayne Reed, with the Mid-America Arts Alliance.

The Alliance teamed with the Walton Family Foundation to create the Artist 360 program that funds a limited number of Northwest Arkansas artists’ projects with grants through 2020. Reed said the program is launching Arkansas artists’ professional careers to the national and international levels.

“Often times, as artists, we work in silos,” Reed said, but collaborations can create better art, better programs for the arts and more meaningful relationships for the arts, he and others said.

“You need to be representing the arts everywhere,” said keynote speaker Andy Vick, executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region in Colorado Springs. Vick suggested organizations partner with historical associations and museums, zoos, tourism agencies, veteran groups, chambers of commerce and more.

Some similar joint-projects are underway across Arkansas. For example, Main Street Siloam Springs has teamed with the University of Arkansas’s School of Art to bring public art to downtown, said Kelsey Howard, executive director of the Main Street group. The Shiloh Museum of Ozark History recently worked with the Marshallese community to bring in a traditional, craft artist to create a Marshallese canoe. Both collaborations showcase the potential for diversity, storytelling through art and cultural preservation that will increase tourism and the overall economy, speakers said.

Speaker Steve Clark, whose efforts to use the arts to revitalize downtown Fort Smith, earned him a Governor’s Arts Award this year, created a nonprofit organizations and worked with other groups to bring about The Unexpected, a public arts festival in Fort Smith. The event brought in internationally renowned artists who worked with local artists on murals.

“We are now creating this economy, this scene, that supports the local arts,” Clark said. “You begin to see these little art experiences bubble to the surface, and it’s beautiful.”

Arts of all kinds can be used improve communities and create places where people want to move to and live in, said speaker Charles Fluharty, founder and president emeritus of the Rural Policy Research Institute. The arts, then, can become a vital component of the survival of rural America by attracting and keeping a young workforce, he said.

“If the kids are leaving, the community will wither and die,” Fluharty said.

Some smaller cities, including Searcy, do use the arts as a component of a creative place-making strategy geared toward attracting young families. Other opportunities for the arts in rural communities include using rural space for affordable work and living conditions for artists.

There are multiple ways to enhance the arts, but collaboration remains a vital component, said Paul Pietsch with the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Strong creative economies require people of all backgrounds coming together, he said.

“It’s really about working together,” Pietsch said. “This is an all-hands-on-deck situation.”