The Arts Find A Way

The Arts Find A Way

WAC and AMP continue serving community through crisis


Local reggae band The Irie Lions perform at the AMP’s new Choctaw Pavilion during Happy Hour on Sept. 11.
“All the bands have been positive and excited to support the cause. The sense of community is strong within our industry, especially in Northwest Arkansas,” shares AMP Vice President Brian Crowne. “There is definitely emotion involved as artists get to connect with fans again in person. Any since of normalcy is moving during these times.”
(Courtesy Photo)

Since our last check-in with the programming teams at the Walton Arts Center and Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion, things are looking up for the entertainment venues. Both WAC in Fayetteville and the AMP in Rogers have welcomed masked guests for a few small-scale events, while staffs still navigate reschedulings and future potential offerings.

The WAC hosted its first stage show of the season on Sept. 10 — almost six months to the day after the venue ended its 2019-20 season early in response to the spread of covid-19. Bonnie Bishop was originally scheduled to perform March 21 as part of the West Street Live Series in the intimate Starr Theatre. The singer/songwriter was eager to see her fans again and looking forward to her return to Fayetteville. Some 119 music lovers were equally excited to welcome her back.

“We did a survey of those West Street Live buyers, and we were very excited when, I believe, close to two-thirds to three-quarters of the audience came back and said, ‘Yes, we’re coming,’” Jennifer Ross, WAC director of programming, remembers of seeing if the show would even be possible.

“And, I’ve got to tell you, my parents are two of those people, and they’re so excited that they’re going to get to come out and see live music again after however many years,” she adds jokingly. “We’re excited to be able to offer it and be able to offer it in, hopefully, what will feel like a safe space because that’s our goal. We want people to be back in the theater and to enjoy live music, and to bring that bit of happiness back into people’s lives.”

The programming teams have been tracking consumer feelings and response from across the country, as well. Walton Arts Center has been surveying different segments of its audience roughly once a month during this period of extended intermission, reveals Jennifer Wilson, PR director. Those local metrics then feed into a national survey so staff can compare our local data against that of nationwide trends and concerns to get a big picture perspective of how audiences are feeling about returning to their seats.

Proceeds from events at the WAC and AMP support the venues’ Ghost Light Recovery Fund, which has enabled staffing and programming to continue during the time of intermission. Just over $916,000 of the $1 million goal has already been raised through donations and event proceeds. This reporter recently enjoyed a delicious signature cocktail before staying (socially distanced) for a movie under the stars.
(Courtesy Photo)

“We are constantly involved in that conversation,” Scott Galbraith, vice president of programming and executive producer, says of maintaining communication with other venues on how they are navigating covid. “Frankly, what keeps me lifted, is thinking about what can we do? How can we continue to serve the community? How can we continue to put arts and culture experiences in front of them, even in these times? And how do we do it safely? Because ultimately, that is guiding everything.”

The next opportunity to take in some auditory delights in Baum Walker Hall is Oct. 22 as Jontavious Willis brings his mastery of the blues to the WAC. A couple other shows from the 2020 season — Jayme Stone’s “Folklife” and “Fiddler on the Roof” — have been rescheduled for next year. But programming staff remain optimistic audiences will find a few more chances for live entertainment before the year is out.

Not quite “live,” but another way WAC and AMP are bringing people together is with the new Saturday Cinema series. What began on Sept. 12 with showings of “Blinded by the Light” and a recording of the London stage production of “Kinky Boots,” Saturday Cinema will continue through at least Nov. 1 between the two venues. (As programming remains in a constant state of flux, a definitive end date can’t be verified at this time. Stay up to date on movie announcements and additions at WAC’s website.)

The AMP has already hosted screenings of “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” over the past two Saturdays. Oct. 3 will be the final outdoor movie at the music pavilion with “Star Trek,” J.J. Abrams’ 2009 sci-fi prequel film of the iconic, synonymous television series.

When the Northwest Arkansas fall weather gets too chilly for movies under the stars, cinefiles can get their fix at the WAC as the films move inside.

Any performance at the Walton Arts Center with an anticipated audience of more than 200 people will be postponed until at least January, PR Director Jennifer Wilson reveals. But that still leaves some room for some wonderful music and chances to connect via the arts. Blues artist Jontavious Willis was to be part of the 2020-21 West Street Live series and now will perform in Baum Walker Hall, at limited capacity, on Oct. 22.

“We know how important it is for people to feel, to connect with other people that way, to hear stories that are uplifting and inspiring, to be in a room with others for that community experience,” Galbraith muses. “And we’re going to be doing it again, very, very soon. It’ll just be smaller scale for a while.”

The Walmart AMP isn’t just hosting movies at present. Though this isn’t the season staff expected to host in celebration of unveiling the AMP’s $17.2 million expansion and renovation, completed earlier this year, they are excited to fill the space with good music, drinks and company in smaller ways as summer fades into fall.

Happy Hour at the AMP offers a way for organizers to show off the venue’s new facilities while giving guests a place to gather, outdoors and socially distanced. The event continues through Oct. 10 with local music and comedy acts, signature cocktails, cornhole and a full food menu, all hosted in the brand new Choctaw Plaza at the top of the lawn.

“The idea was to give patrons band names they were familiar with and that would be very upbeat and festive. We need positivity these days, and all these artists will be very fun,” Brian Crowne, vice president of the AMP, says of Happy Hour.

“It just feels really special to program a show again and know that it is going to happen,” he goes on. “I’m so proud that we can give these artists an opportunity to do what they do and get exposure, and also some money in their pockets. Anyone working in our industry is appreciative of work. I also am happy to give our patrons an escape from reality again in the world of live music, even if just for a few hours.”

Happy Hour is made possible by, and also supports, WAC’s Ghost Light Recovery Fund — a name that refers to the theater tradition of leaving a single light, a ghost light, burning when a stage is dark to light the way for the next show. The fund was created to counter the loss of nearly a full year’s revenue and has allowed the two spaces to remain operational — and staffed — as they continue to serve the community during intermission.

As shows have been canceled or rescheduled, ticket holders are given the option to receive a full refund, or donate the full or partial price of their ticket back to the arts venue. Through these donations, WAC has already raised $916,000 of its $1 million goal.

“Which is phenomenal that that’s been able to happen, especially in the middle of everything we’re going through,” Wilson enthuses.

The fund enables WAC and AMP to host Saturday Cinema and Happy Hour, as well as the concert coming Oct. 22 to Baum Walker Hall, and proceeds at all such events will continue to directly benefit Ghost Light.

“If I could emphasize one point of that,” Galbraith notes, “it’s that all of the programs that we’re talking about, it’s almost mathematically impossible for any of these to pay for themselves, to break even. We can’t sell enough tickets or sell enough drinks to make some of these things pay for themselves. So the folks that are contributing to the Ghost Light Recovery Fund really are directly helping to provide these experiences for the community right now.

“More than 140 new donors — people who have not donated before — have given to the Ghost Light Recovery Fund. We are so grateful to know that there are more folks who are aware of how important it is to keep these experiences in our community and, in these times, are willing to dig a little deeper into their pockets to help make that happen for their neighbors. It just really moves me to know that.

“We were all stunned the other day when they said how significant the number of new donors was,” he adds, sounding awed. “We all gasped, I think, with delight and humility. Because in a way, that’s an endorsement of the work that we try to do. And it was very gratifying. Ultimately benefits the community, but I won’t lie, it was very gratifying.”



Saturday Cinema

WHEN — Saturdays through at least Nov. 1, times vary

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville and Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers

COST — $10-$15

INFO — 443-5600,



Happy Hour at AMP

WHEN — 4:30-10 p.m.

WHERE — Walmart AMP in Rogers

COST — Free, but limited capacity; table reservation, $25


Jamie Lou and The Hullabaloo, Oct. 1

Uncrowned Kings, Oct. 2

The Rosy Hips, Oct. 3

Dial Up, Oct. 9

Comedians Raj Suresh and Shawna Blake, Oct. 10

INFO — 443-5600,

Categories: Theater