Crystal Bridges biggest among delights of decade

Crystal Bridges biggest among delights of decade




Well, we couldn’t let the teens end and the ’20s roll in without looking back, could we?


The Big News

Bernice and Bryan Hembree — the duo behind Smokey and the Mirror — were accustomed to throwing house concerts to showcase musical talent moving through Northwest Arkansas when, one spring weekend in 2010, they found themselves with more acts than their house could contain. So they asked their friend Jerrmy Gawthrop, then the chef at Fayetteville restaurant Greenhouse Grille, if they could host a one-day musical festival there. And just like that, the Fayetteville Roots Fest was born.

“There were a lot of people from the community that came out and really enjoyed it,” says Bryan. “They told us that this is something that was missing from Fayetteville, and that they wanted to see it happen here. They encouraged us to think a little bigger and expand our horizons. So, in 2011, we did ramp it up, and it was a two-day festival. And then we started ramping it up from there.”

The trio’s efforts have ballooned into a week-long music and food celebration that has garnered international attention and attracted world class talent like Mavis Staples, John Prine, Guy Clark and Gillian Welch; for one week during the summer, Fayetteville reigns as the epicenter of the folk-rock/Americana/roots music universe.

Other Milestones

• The Walton Arts Center launched Artosphere, a multi-day event that “celebrates art, music and nature with exciting performances, activities and events that the whole family can enjoy.”

• Erika Wilhite and a group of like-minded artists created the Artist’s Laboratory Theatre, a “community-based, site-specific theater in Fayetteville dedicated to expanding the audience’s role in live theater,” and produced their first show, “Bombs, Babes and Bingo.”


The Big News

After more than six years’ anticipation since the announcement of a new world class art museum opening in the middle of the country, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opened in Bentonville on Nov. 11, 2011. Founded by philanthropist and heiress Alice Walton in 2005 as a nonprofit, the museum — designed by lauded architect Moshe Safdie — opened with the missions of exploring what it means to be an American through art and celebrating the natural world.

“When we landed on the scene, we were labeled a disrupter,” Executive Director and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Rod Bigelow told Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Jocelyn Murphy. “I think that’s part of our DNA and our culture is that we want to continue to disrupt these discussions and have a bit of a different perspective in the field. Early on in our life, there was a lot of criticism about who would come to see art in Arkansas, and a lot of discrediting the quality of the experience or where it was. It’s good to look back on that now.”

Other Milestones

• Walton Arts Center purchased the Arkansas Music Pavilion, still located on the blacktop outside the Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville at the time. A $4 million upgrade expansion was announced, but it was delayed as issues with the lease agreement at the mall location stalled planning.

• TheatreSquared earned national recognition as one of only 10 theater companies nationwide to receive the 2011 National Theatre Company Award. The honor is presented by the American Theatre Wing, founder and presenter of the Tony Awards.

• The 2 1/2-year-old Fayetteville Underground art collective — one of the entities that contributed to the launch of Fayetteville’s First Thursday — was re-branded as the Fayetteville Art Alliance with a new governing board.


The Big News

Sometimes an announcement is the biggest news of a year — and in this case, it was a big announcement. In August 2012, Silver Dollar City announced a $10 million addition coming the next spring to the Branson theme park. Outlaw Run promised to be unique — the only wooden coaster to offer a double barrel roll; the world’s steepest drop on a wooden coaster; the world’s only wooden coaster to twist upside down three times; and second fastest wooden coaster in the world at 68 mph. Coaster enthusiasts from all over the world were thrilled!

Other Milestones

• Opera Fayetteville debuted on the arts scene in January 2012 with its production of Mark Adamo’s “Little Women.”

• In June 2012, the GoodFolk House closed its doors after 22 years of concerts. The intimate music venue on North Block Avenue in Fayetteville was the brainchild of musician and music promoter Mike Shirkey.

• The Northwest Arkansas Prison Story Project debuted in October.

• Rogers Little Theater — now Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory — produced the world premiere of “Checks and Balances,” a short play by Oren Safdie, son of Crystal Bridges Museum designer Moshe Safdie, in November 2012.

• NWA Fashion Week debuted March 10, 2012.

• Arkansas Music Pavilion lost its home at the Northwest Arkansas Mall and temporarily moved to the Washington County Fairgrounds for its biggest season so far.


The Big News

The Fort Smith Regional Art Museum expanded to about eight times its previous size with its January 2013 opening at a new Rogers Avenue location. The museum was born in 1948 through the efforts of the Arkansas Association of University Women. In 1960, the Vaughn-Schaap House was purchased, and in 1968, the Fort Smith Art Center was incorporated. The move from the historic home of about 2,000 square feet to a 16,000-square-foot building donated by Arvest Bank was the culmination of some six years of effort.

Other Milestones

• In June, D. Andrew Gibbs retired after 20 years as chairman of the University of Arkansas drama department. Michael Riha was named his successor.

• In August, “The Spiritualist,” Bob Ford’s drama about a British spiritualist, had its world premiere at TheatreSquared.

• In September 2013, the Arts Center of the Ozarks and Crystal Bridges Museum showed off the results of the first “Sensory Iconoclasts” partnership pairing artists and chefs.

• In October 2013, the Fort Smith Symphony celebrated its 90th birthday.

• Also in October, John Burroughs became director of the Rogers Historical Museum upon the retirement of Gaye Bland. Burroughs resigned at the end of 2018.


The Big News

After beginning life as a tent in a parking lot in 2005 and a temporary move to the Washington County Fairgrounds, the Arkansas Music Pavilion debuted its next era as a $12 million dollar, fully contained structure on June 7, 2014. Following the donation of land near Interstate 49 — formerly Interstate 540 — by businesswoman and philanthropist Johnelle Hunt, and a $2.5 million contribution from Walmart, the new Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion found its new, permanent home in Rogers.

The new venue brought more seating — nearly 10,000 between the fixed seats under the canopy and the general admission lawn area — and greater performance and technical capabilities than any of its previous homes. The increased space allowed AMP seasons moving forward to host top-tier names the past venues couldn’t accommodate. The venue had a bigger season than expected, hosting more shows than planned at the season announcement, drawing nearly sold-out crowds for several big names and hosting the Latin Grammy Awards for 2014.

Other Milestones

• Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art debuted its internally curated, groundbreaking exhibition, “State of the Art” on Sept. 12, 2014. The exhibition comprised 227 works from 102 artists across the country, amassed through visits to nearly 1,000 artists’ studios nationwide. Online news source Huffington Post called “State of the Art” the second-best art exhibition of the year and in less than three months, it was the museum’s most-viewed exhibit to date.

• The museum also acquired a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home in January of 2014. The Bachman-Wilson House was taken apart at its New Jersey location and construction for reassembly began at the end of the year.


The Big News

The first round of tickets for the inaugural Bentonville Film Festival May 5-9, 2015, was sold over the course of a single weekend — better than even its co-founders Trevor Drinkwater and actress Geena Davis could have imagined. In addition to a slate of some 50 films — which were required to have cast or crew members who were either women or minorities — the event brought to Bentonville panel discussions with industry leaders, a concert series and star power that included Rosie O’Donnell, Robert DeNiro and Bruce Dern.

Other Milestones

• The Scott Family Amazeum opened its doors on July 15, revealing 50,000 square feet of space where kids can explore a homestead cabin and farm, shop at a replica Walmart Neighborhood Market and more.

• The $15.5 million Windgate Art and Design Building opened for fall classes at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith campus, thanks to the single largest donation in school history. The 58,000-square-foot facility brought the studio art and design programs together under one roof, as well as housed gallery space for student work and a professional gallery on the first floor.

• Rogers Little Theater began its 30th season in September with a new name, Arkansas Public Theatre at the Victory, a reflection of the size, scope and innovation of its productions and a chance to pay homage to its historic home.

• Also in September, the Unexpected, a street art festival, premiered in Fort Smith with eight artists from seven countries creating 11 murals in a week.

• The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Bachman-Wilson House opened to the public in October.

• In December, it was announced that the Wakarusa music festival hosted annually on Mulberry Mountain in Ozark would not return in 2016. Festival-lovers had speculated Wakarusa might be canceled when Pipeline Productions, the company that organized the festival, unexpectedly canceled two of its other festivals earlier that year: Thunder on the Mountain, set for June 26-28, and Phases of the Moon, scheduled for Oct. 16-18, both at the same location.


The Big News

On a cool Saturday in November, visitors to the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville had the unique opportunity to explore the performing arts center literally from top to bottom at the grand reopening celebration. In conjunction with the venue’s 25th anniversary, the WAC reopened on Nov. 19 after a 16-month renovation, which included one year of a “hard hat season.”

The $23 million renovation and expansion resulted in easy to spot changes — like the building’s facade and beautiful new lobby, the Walker Atrium — as well as significant technical and space improvements to accommodate larger and more complex tours. One of the most significant aspects of the renovation was the ability to utilize two performance spaces at once. Before, Starr Theatre — the black box theater facing West Avenue — was used as a storage room up to 100 days out of the year when larger productions came to town.

“This is a community institution. It’s been here for 25 years and is part of the fabric of the community,” Vice President of Programming Scott Galbraith told What’s Up! ahead of the opening. “[The reopening] can’t help but feel like a welcome home!”

Other Milestones

• Northwest Arkansas celebrated 2016’s Miss America more than anywhere else. Savvy Shields was not only the first Miss America from Arkansas since Elizabeth Ward in 1982, she was a graduate of Fayetteville High School and was a student at the University of Arkansas at the time of her crowning. She is Northwest Arkansas’ own Miss America.

• The Offshoot Film Festival changed its name to the Fayetteville Film Festival and celebrated its most successful year yet. The new name came also with a new mission statement of focusing on Arkansas filmmakers.

• The inaugural Inverse Performance Art Festival brought performance artists from across the globe to Northwest Arkansas for an unprecedented festival for the region. New work was presented and a space was curated to foster conversation and garner inclusion for the often misunderstood medium.

• In early October, artists from Fayetteville institution the Fayetteville Underground — managed by the nonprofit Fayetteville Art Alliance — staged an exodus from the gallery over governing disagreements. The artists formed the group Fenix Fayetteville with a pop-up exhibit, and the Fayetteville Art Alliance continues on with new artists and community partnerships.


The Big News

House of Song Ozarks, the Bentonville-based outpost of musician Troy Campbell’s organization that originated in Austin, debuted in 2017. Campbell’s concept was created to help a diverse group of international musicians and writers meet and collaborate on new work. “You get to hear not only [the musicians’] stories of where they’re from, but also their experience of collaborating, and going on a walk with someone on the trails and talking about their perceptions of America or Arkansas,” Campbell told Features writer Jocelyn Murphy in a 2017 article. “For me, that just creates a story. I really want people to feel welcome, and I think they rise when you create a nurturing environment.”

Other Milestones

• The Museum of Native American History hosted its first Native American Cultural Symposium, an “extended weekend conference that exists to create space for conversations between today and the past. We seek to honor heritage while finding creative ways to amplify contemporary Native American culture into today’s ever-changing society,” according to the organization’s website.

• Northwest Arkansas Audio Theater launched their first production, and the theater company continues to produce radio dramas that have stood the test of time.

• Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art landed the “Chihuly: In the Gallery and in the Forest” exhibit.

• “There are so many great local performers, and I want to give them a space to create,” says Missy Spears Gipson about creating the theater company Pilot Arts.

• The Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s arts and culture guide What’s Up! moved from the Friday paper to the Sunday one.


The Big News

In 2018, the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History partied like it was 1968. But it took a lot of hard work to get there. The museum in downtown Springdale celebrated its 50th birthday on Sept. 7, and to mark the occasion, the staff spent five years planning and then completely revamping the exhibit hall themselves on a budget that would have been tiny in 1968 — just $83,000. Director Allyn Lord said she and the staff were all committed to one thing — “staying true to our mission, telling the stories of the everyday men, women and children who make history every day.”

Sharing “The Big News” designation is the opening Dec. 13 of the Rogers Historical Museum’s new home in the Hailey Building, a 1947 Art Deco brick structure at 313 S. Second St. “I challenge you to find a more interactive museum anywhere,” said its director then, John Burroughs, not just in computer screens, but in train bells that ring, a simplified switchboard where kids can call around the children’s area, a slide inside a facade of Rogers Public High School and even an original concrete chair from Monte Ne, finally rescued from display outdoors at Frisco Park and moved to the museum.

Other Milestones

• Celebrating 50 wasn’t the only excitement for the Shiloh Museum in 2018. Thirteen years of effort came to fruition in the summer, when the Shiloh Meeting Hall opened. “The hall is the oldest standing public building in Northwest Arkansas,” said Allyn Lord, director of the museum. “The local Odd Fellows Lodge donated the 1871 building and its contents to the city of Springdale — and thereby the Shiloh Museum — in 2005, and we opened the first floor as meeting space on June 30.”

• The University of Arkansas Theatre unveiled in April the ambitious renovation of the UA Global Campus Theatre on the Fayetteville square. “It will be the most state-of-the-art, digitally equipped black box theater in the state of Arkansas,” theater chairman Michael Riha said of the renovated space, which includes an 18-foot lighting grid, a sprung floor, two five-person dressing rooms, a production booth, an upstairs balcony for orchestras or actor entrances, a box office and a storage space.

• Playwright Oren Safdie returned to Arkansas Public Theatre in November for the premiere of “Things to Do in Munich.” “The [theatrical] love affair began when Rogers Little Theater presented a reading of ‘Private Jokes, Public Places’ while I was in Bentonville for the opening of my father’s museum,” explained Safdie, whose father, Moshe Safdie, designed Crystal Bridges. “The subscribers and the entire community were so welcoming and appreciative of my work — it’s kind of a playwright’s dream.”

• In November, the Walmart AMP announced a $13.9 million expansion and a new five-year partnership with concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment. The expansion will increase the venues’s capacity from roughly 10,000 to 11,000 meaning more acts may consider performing there, as some entertainers will not perform at venues that don’t seat more than 10,000 people. Additions will also include a new box office, a covered plaza at the top of the lawn that will add 15,000 square feet of viewing and event space, tiered seating at the front of the lawn for 1,200 people and more. The partnership with Live Nation, who the venue has worked with since 2014, means the promoter will have the preferred rights to promote live music events at the AMP and will continue bringing top-tier acts to Rogers.

• And in 2018, Fayetteville residents started talking about designating an arts corridor, intended to “incorporate recreational elements, public art, streetscaping, pedestrian pathways and open gathering spaces, integrating natural and urban landscapes.”


The Big News

In November 2016, TheatreSquared revealed plans for its new theater: 50,000 square feet, two performance spaces and state-of-the-art scene and costume shops were but a few of the features the design team promised the public. In 2019 they delivered in spades, and the public got their first look when “Shakespeare in Love” debuted as the premiere production in the new space. “It’s like walking around in your dream,” said Artistic Director and theater co-founder Robert Ford of the new facility.

Other Milestones

• Preacher, farmer and folk artist Ed Stilley, who created hundreds of homemade guitars with the engraving “True Faith, True Light, Have Faith in God,” passed away at the age of 88.

• The Walton Arts Center announced a Broadway season that was very of-the-moment. “Our audiences are always clamoring for the latest and greatest to come directly from Broadway,” Scott Galbraith told reporter Jocelyn Murphy in March. “And typically we’re able to get one, two, shows a year that are in that category — that are brand new from the season before, recent award-winners or in their first year of touring. This year, we have an abundance of them.”

• Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art had a banner year: At the time of publication, the museum was on track to break attendance records (nearly 5 million patrons have crossed the threshold in the eight years the museum has been open), mounted several groundbreaking exhibits like “Men of Steel, Women of Wonder” and “Crystals in Art: Ancient to Today,” and acquired exciting new work from a diverse roster of artists.

And Looking Ahead


Silver Dollar City

On Aug. 13, 2019, Brad Thomas, president of Silver Dollar City Attractions, announced a $23 million addition to the park in 2020.

Mystic River Falls, designed by the park in partnership with Swiss firm RES — or Ride Engineers Switzerland — and Barr Engineering, will include the tallest raft ride drop in the Western Hemisphere, Thomas said.

“You will laugh. You may laugh so hard you snort — and you will certainly get wet,” he said.

Passengers in round boats will ascend an eight-story tower, travel along 180 feet of waterway elevated six stories and splash down a 45-foot waterfall.

The adjacent Rivertown area, just behind the Riverfront Playhouse, will include a new barbecue restaurant, Rivertown Smokehouse, adding another $4 million to the construction tab. Thomas said a team traveled to the best barbecue restaurants in the country to choose the menu for the 400-seat facility.

Also on the calendar for 2020 is the theme park’s 60th anniversary “Diamond Jubilee,” celebrating its founding May 1, 1960. Since the park’s 50th anniversary, there’s been $100 million invested in Silver Dollar City, Thomas said, including Outlaw Run and Time Traveler roller coasters.

The Momentary

Plans to turn a downtown 63,000-square-foot building that originally housed a Kraft cheese plant into a state-of-the-art performing and visual arts center were announced in 2016, and, in February of 2020, this sister space to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will throw its doors open.

“At the Momentary, we’re able to blur the lines between genres and art forms by bringing visual, performing and culinary arts all under one roof, allowing us to present contemporary art in a new way and showcase how art can be a part of everyday life,” says the organization’s executive director Lieven Bertels. “We are inviting artists to explore and cross the traditional boundaries between art forms and genres.”

The Momentary’s first event will be the exhibit “Time Being,” which their website describes as a festival that “will offer dance, music, and theater experiences by artists from around the world including Courtney Barnett, FM Belfast, BANDALOOP, and Kristin Worrall, as well as pop-up performances.”

“‘Time Being’ will provide a sampling of what’s to come and celebrate the Momentary opening by highlighting artists working today across different genres of music, featuring work by a performance-making pastry artist, a skateboarding-meets-contemporary art video work, a vertical performance group, and more,” Pia Agrawal, curator of performing arts, said in a recent press release.


The Walton Arts Center will debut a new festival in April that seeks to elevate the intersection of arts and the rich cultures (hence the “x”) that make up the mosaic of Northwest Arkansas. Born out of the desire to ensure every part of the community sees itself reflected in WAC’s content, organizers consulted and collaborated with community organizations to incorporate more culturally specific programming.

Each year, a different culture will be highlighted with a weeklong celebration of that culture’s performers and performing arts. The inaugural Mosaix Festival April 20-25, 2020, explores the sights and sounds of India.

“We have a challenge here that most performing arts centers have, which is we don’t see the individual cultural communities on a regular basis,” shares Vice President of Programming Scott Galbraith. “And when you ask why, it’s because they don’t necessarily see themselves represented here.”

With the goal of breaking the cycle of disengagement, WAC organizers decided to tackle the issue head-on by proactively programming on a regular, consistent basis. The other important piece of that, Galbraith notes, is not to do it in a vacuum.

“We said, ‘Let’s go to the community. Let’s talk to the community. And, more importantly, let’s listen to what it is that they’re specifically interested in.”

Advisory partners from the community helped direct the programming efforts and now the inaugural festival will come to fruition in April, with the finale event featuring a conversation with comedian and TV personality Hasan Minhaj.

Categories: Cover Story