From the Ivory Tower


This is, by far, the most dynamic issue of the Free Weekly that I have had the pleasure of editing. Each week is a journey into a different avenue of Northwest Arkansas culture, and inspired by the upcoming events of Fashion Week and the Dig In Festival, we were able to compile a beautiful snapshot of emerging cultural movements in Fayetteville.

The common thread of these stories can be found in a shared sense of supporting the Northwest Arkansas community — whether it’s independent businesses or local food production or fashion for philanthropy.

I can’t decide if Fayetteville culture is growing more distinct and more vibrant, or if I am just getting closer to the heart of the scene, if my eye level is beginning to adjust to the grassroots scale.

Each artisan and business owner shared a similar story: They love what they do. Whether it’s making jewelry or clothing, baking croissants or helping find (or sell) books — these people have something culturally valuable to share with the community.

Money is something that these independent business owners need to continue making their products, but there is no formula or template to guarantee success. Like the heirloom seed, their products and tastes have evolved over time, in response to the environment.

We are that environment.

We, as members of community, shape the local market by communicating what we need and want to business owners. Large retailers try to mimic this personalized business, selling “brand experiences” in the absence of personal relationships. This is why Starbucks writes your name on your coffee cup, and why the sales girl at the mall writes your name on a dry erase board.

Chances are, the crew at Little Bread Company already knows your face and your name; and they know that you like

Tarts and chocolate covered strawberries from The Little Bread Company in Fayetteville.

bagels for breakfast and a California veggie sandwich for lunch. Depending on how chatty you are, they may even know a little bit about what you do outside of the bakery.

This is something the corporate market tries to re-create, but after you grow to appreciate the sense of community of a local coffee shop, having your name scrawled on the side of a Starbucks cup holds little value.

One of the things that Wayne Bell mentioned about his designs for the BonnerBell line was that he gets inspiration from the girls who shop at The Mustache, where his pieces are sold. This connection to community allows for an interactive creative process to take place between, not only designers and clients, but between bakers, farmers, writers, musicians, artists, artisans and anyone who participates in the local community.

Such collaboration is what it takes to make a scene.

Behind our independent businesses are real people who share, uphold and perpetuate the values of our community.  They also offer creative and exciting niches that allow people to express themselves.

Melissa Arens at Mayapple Salon mentioned something that really stuck with me. She said, “Expression empowers. Fashion creates a scene.”

People often think of fashion as a strictly materialistic or superficial commodity, but being fashionable is just as diverse as our culture is — because if we look at fashion and social trends in our community as an extension of ourselves, as a means of expression, it becomes much more meaningful.

Five months ago, when Occupy Wall Street swept the nation, “act locally, think globally” became a common phrase. If we shed the heavy political connotations from that phrase, if we ignore even the economic implications of supporting local businesses, we can begin to understand the kernel of what it means to act locally and think globally.

Politics and economics are intangibles. They are concepts, agendas and invisible influences; predictions and symbols of value, stamped onto a piece of paper or wired into a checking account.

During our interview, Lisa Sharp, owner of Nightbird Books said, “I will never get rich,” but as long as she can sustain her vision of a community for those who love the written word, she’s content.

In the same way, by participating in our local community, we define and sustain our local vision of a healthy, sustainable world.

From the grassroots level, Fayetteville is looking pretty darn good.


Categories: Commentary