Local arts organizations survive by understanding change, By Brenda Joyce Coda

“Everything must change, nothing stays the same…” goes the 1974 song by Bernard Ighner. Change occurs as people come and go, make new or different choices, form and join and leave groups and affiliations. Those who offer the arts, whether as a business, a class for self-expression, or a product for an audience, are not immune to these changes, and must respond in order to continue.

The following arts-related organizations and businesses in Fayetteville have survived – or come into existence – as a result of being in touch with and working with their community’s needs and wants. Rather than resisting or fearing change, they looked with an eye on both the old and new to add to the experience for both the audience and the artist. Then they worked with the changes large and small externally or within the organization itself.

The decision of which organizations to include in this story was made both subjectively (well-known to the public or by this writer) and randomly.

Arts Live Theatre
Arts Live Theater is dedicated to enriching the lives of children and families in Northwest Arkansas by providing professional educational and performance opportunities for young actors. ALT has been continually active in Fayetteville for 24 years.

According to Martha Molina, ALT board president, a small group of women started ALT to take performance music into rural Madison, Carroll and Washington counties, with an emphasis on classical and operatic music. Their goal was to expose kids to music they wouldn’t normally hear. So adults started touring in schools performing for youth.

In the 1980’s, ALT began offering acting classes with themes about youth issues and changed its orientation from adult performers to youth performers, but still presenting to youth. When the Walton Arts Center opened in 1992, children could hear music and see performances, mainly by adults. Molina said that ALT “always looked to fill an area of need; as one was filled, we looked for new ones.”

Now ALT is “the only dedicated children’s theatre” in NWA, a niche that artistic education director Mark Landon Smith is proud of.

“We’re grounded here,” Smith said. “We have a strong sustainability and have grown in the past year and a half. Our challenge is space. Our primary goal is to have a permanent space in Fayetteville, where we were established, where we’re recognized.”

After 14 years of witnessing the impact that ALT has had on participants, Molina has no doubt that being part of a production will enhance the lives of participants and help them build self-confidence.

“It’s the reason I give full-time hours to a volunteer job,” Molina said. “It’s that important.”

Walton Arts Center

In the early months of 2007, at the direction of the Walton Arts Center Board of Directors, the Walton Arts Center staff began shifting resources out of visual arts programming and into performing arts education programs.

The art gallery was closed and the Nadine Baum Studio was leased to other arts organizations. The WAC donated equipment such as clay and photography equipment that had been used in NBS programs to the Northwest Arkansas Community Creative Center, one of the arts organizations that is leasing NBS.

The WAC opened NBS in 1999 primarily for educational programming.

“As this region has changed, WAC has tried to stay up with those changes, asking ‘How do we fit into the community and its new environment, especially the schools’ environment?’” said Terri Trotter, vice president for external affairs.

In 2004, WAC noticed a drop in their after-school and summer class attendance at the same time that the Boys’ & Girls’ Club and youth classes at the Fayetteville Athletic Club opened. These were just two examples of “the proliferation of other options for after school programs.” Trotter said.

“There are more private places doing art classes, the kind that had been attended at the Nadine Baum Studios,” Trotter said.

The ongoing challenge for WAC is determining how to engage kids in creative endeavors. Trotter said.

Trotter said WAC “is still getting a handle” on what space is needed for their own programming, so outside organizations may have limited dates available for renting spaces in either the WAC or NBS. A feasibility study is underway to determine whether a larger space is needed for the WAC.

Where does this leave Nadine Baum Studios?

Trotter said that Theatre Squared and the Northwest Arkansas Community Creative Center have long-term leases with WAC for NBS.

Northwest Arkansas Community Creative Center
The Northwest Arkansas Community Creative Center was started by Susan Hutchcroft, who was a contracted clay instructor and studio coordinator at WAC.

“The studios have had ongoing programs since 2000; we basically just continued on,” Hutchcroft said.

Asked about challenges facing NWACCC, Hutchcroft said she doesn’t see any big ones and that “everyone is for it.”

“The organization has taken on a life of its own,” Hutchcroft said. “There’s always someone with a great idea and it just seems to happen; it’s done before we know it. People seem to realize how important the arts are to the community.”

Hutchcroft said that NWACCC wants to expand into drawing, painting, metal, wood, photography as well as having private studios for artists.

“(Eventually) we want to be so big that artists all over the world will be offering workshops, and students from all over the world will attend, similar to Anderson Ranch near Aspen, Colo.,” Hutchcroft said. “We want to be a cooperative, a creative space to share. This is beautiful country. Artists want to come here.”

Goals include displaying public school students’ sculpture around town, working with businesses for team building through an art medium, and being a place to hang out, as well as an art destination.

Theatre Squared
Theatre Squared or T2 the Fayetteville-based theater company came to be when the right people came together at the right time. T2 faced two common issues for performing arts organizations differently – those of physical space and financial backing.

There was a void in local adult theatre when Ozark Stage Works stopped functioning. Although OSW was considered successful, it never had a permanent performance space, which made building a strong base of consistent audience and financial supporters difficult. T2 has overcome one hurdle by being able to lease space in NBS that became available after WAC changed its focus.

The co-founders of T2 had a goal from the beginning to raise all the money they would need as a full-fledge entity, rather than opening in stages as many newly formed theaters do. The co-founders worked on their vision and mission for a year, waiting until their financial support was in place in order to offer a “consistent product,” said managing director Morgan Hicks.

Hicks said, the remaining four co-founders make decisions about the “what” and then ask the board of directors to develop the “how.”

Incorporated in January 2004, May 2006 was T2’s first season of three shows. This is its first full season of five shows. T2 will stage artistic director Robert Ford’s new play My Father’s War for a three-week run beginning May 2 at NBS.

Hicks said T2 shares the same challenges as all regional theaters, with 40 percent of its operating costs coming from ticket sales. To fill that remaining 60 percent gap, Hicks said that T2 wants to “find all those opportunities, to communicate the importance of the arts to the quality of life, and that the community understands the role that their support offers T2.”

T2 recently received a $25,000 grant from The Department of Arkansas Heritage to fund Discovery: Arkansas, a new weeklong play festival slated for March 2009.

The company offers performances for adults and youth and as part of the state-initiated literacy program. T2 will provide in-service training for teachers statewide, offering ways to integrate drama directly into classrooms

“We have amazing treasures in this town,” Hicks said. “We’re lucky because we have a community in an economic position to enjoy the quality of life, and residents who have a worldly awareness.”

New Design Center, New Design School, 3c21 Design Studio and The Salvador Guttiériez Gallery for Emerging Artists
Sonia Guttiériez founded, New Design Center, New Design School, 3c21 Design Studio and The Salvador Guttiériez Gallery for Emerging Artists recognizing it as the life-long culmination of her personal, education and work experiences. She expects it to keep growing and evolving to accommodate the community she serves. In other words, change is expected and inherent, to be welcomed and explored.

New Design Center opened in 2005, with classes called “makeshops” that helped students “navigate through the technical maze of possibilities using computer design” Guttieriez said.

New Design School was licensed in 2006 as a certificate-granting school for digital design for professional level education in graphic and web design. Student enrollment came in 2007. Guttiériez anticipates it offering life drawing, painting – “all the visual arts,” in the future.

3c21Design Studio is backed by Guttiériez’ 14 years of experience in advertising and her personal vision of its place in this community, in education and the natural environment. Specializing in the areas of social topics and health, Guttiériez, does anything from physical installations to graphic design to full exhibitions.

The Salvador Guttiériez Gallery for Emerging Artists, which opened in 2005 “[It]is a way for emerging artists to get that first line on their resume showing where they’ve had an exhibit,” Guttieriez said.

Guttiériez is aware of the local arts environment as well as recent changes in it. Confident that  “each will do what they do well,” she pays attention to what others offer and looks for something different. “If I have two classes and fill them up, obviously people are hungry for what we offer here,” she said.

ddp Gallery
The ddp Gallery is owned by Dede Peters, who after moving here in 2001 from San Francisco, worked as an assistant to the art curator at WAC. Fifteen months later, Peters learned of a space available in downtown Fayetteville and took the leap to start the gallery.

Change – in her expanding experience and with a new opportunity – was her stimulus for becoming a gallery owner. Representing art by emerging and established artists, Peters wants to have a “good reputation as a contemporary, edgy art gallery…to respond to the community and be pliable.”

She also sees benefit in educating people about living with art, believing “the more art there is, the more people want it. When it’s taken away, it’s not good for the community.” That’s why Peters keeps shows mixed and with varied prices. She is willing to work with a wide range of budgets, whether it’s $40 or $6,000. She encourages people to just come in and see what’s on exhibit even if they have no intention of buying.

Through her art lease program, Peters rents artwork for people to have in their home, business or for a special event. Peters keeps the terms as flexible as possible to accommodate different needs. Change is a constant at this gallery.

Future dreams include bringing in work from international artists, including video artists who deal with social and religious issues, and offering more community events, like guest lectures, a critique night and seminars for professional development.

Peters is committed to Fayetteville, and enjoys living in a city with history, where everything is not “all shiny and new.”

Her statement reminds us of the benefit of keeping what is good, what worked well or what simply reminds us of our roots, in a kind of co-creation with change. Like many others, Peters has found that “there’s a great community here.”

The arts are said to reflect the quality and character of a culture. These interviews confirm that our city’s character and reputation have been shaped by changes, and by the quality, commitment and vision of those whose primary passion and expression in life is through the arts and what they bring to our community and Northwest Arkansas.

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