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Murals, Public Artworks Benefit Arkansans

Arkansas Arts Council - Wednesday, July 10, 2019


Public art is on the rise across Arkansas, bringing communities closer together and feeding the states growing creative economy.

“Public art – from murals to sculptures – is an important part of the creative economy and is crucial to improving Arkansas’s overall economy and tourism market,” said Patrick Ralston, Arkansas Arts Council director. “Public art helps revitalize downtowns and improve the quality of life of residents. Cities statewide are reaping benefits from public arts.”

Although no statewide registry exists, public art is going up in large and small Arkansas cities, from Fort Smith’s acclaimed art festival, “The Unexpected,” to Batesville’s revival of a vintage Coca-Cola ad. Cities, nonprofits, businesses and individuals are supporting the movement. The City of Fayetteville recently commissioned two murals by local artists, and a new mural sponsored by The Downtown Little Rock Partnership went up recently in downtown Little Rock. The Department of Arkansas Heritage, of which the Arkansas Arts Council is a division, recently started a Public Art Grant program for Main Street and Downtown Network communities.

Individual artists are also seeing more requests for mural work, said Anthony Tidwell, a Hot Springs native who founded Cutwell 4 Kids, a nonprofit that helps children through art. Tidwell and several other artists recently completed a mural that recognizes the city’shistorical,black cultural and entertainment community.

Mural in downtown Hot Springs“For the tourists that come to town, murals are curb appeal. People want to stop and take pictures,” Tidwell said. “The murals, they add something to your scenery. It gives a personal touch, too. I think a city without a mural is very dull.”

Interest in public art is growing across the U.S., said Dr. Lenore Shoults, curator at The Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas and the Creative Economy Committee chair for Arkansans for the Arts. “Public art has an enormous effect on tourism, is a driver of the creative economy and increases residents’ sense of pride in their home regions,” Shoults said. “Art, whether indoors or outdoors, resonates across time and cultures and is an expression of our humanity. It tells stories, evokes emotions and brings us together.”

A 2017 study found arts industries in Northwest Arkansas alone bring in more than $130 million in revenue to the area. Across the state, 3,349 art-related businesses employ more than 18,000 Arkansans, according to information from Arkansans for the Arts, a nonprofit arts advocacy group.

“Murals are often unexpected and can brighten people’s days and stick in the memories of visitors,” said Scott Whiteley Carter, special projects administrator for the City of Little Rock. “Murals draw people to them, which can benefit area businesses because it means increased foot and vehicular traffic. They create space and can make a parking lot into an event plaza, simply by their presence.Murals show the community values art, quality of life and creativity.”

Smaller communities are using public art to create positive feelings and a more tightly knit community, said Mat Faulkner, an advocate for creative place-making for Searcy. Faulkner is president of Think Idea Studio and nominated Searcy for the Small Business Revolution competition that the city won earlier this year.

“One of Searcy's most popular projects has been ‘Art Alley,’” Faulkner said. “This project turned an unsightly alley into an artist walk, featuring a monthly evening event with local artists painting sections of the walls.” Faulkner said there were six artists painting the first month but that number rose to 90 artists by the fourth month. The mural has invoked a sense of pride, he said.

Public art can also educate people by revealing a city’s or region’s history. “Depending on the subject matter, murals teach historical events and express a community’s roots,” said Kathy Dulaney, an artist in Helena-West Helena and member of the Arkansas Delta Arts Partnership.

Mural in downtown Fayetteville