CACHE Weaves Cultural Web: Goal is supporting ‘artists, arts organizations and arts patrons’

CACHE Weaves Cultural Web: Goal is supporting ‘artists, arts organizations and arts patrons’

When the Walton Family Foundation commissioned a cultural study of Northwest Arkansas in 2015, they discovered something surprising: Though the area was already rife with well-known cultural institutions like Crystal Bridges Museum, the Walton Arts Center and TheatreSquared, Northwest Arkansas is a community hungry for more. Young professionals and parents expressed a yearning for additional nightlife options. As a society growing ever more diverse, there was an expressed desire for a cultural landscape that reflected that diversity. And, above all, those already working in the arts and culture field indicated that — in order to maximize growth — more cohesion and communication was necessary among the arts organizations, both big and small, in Northwest Arkansas.

Enter CACHE, the one-year-old regional arts services organization funded by the Walton Family Foundation and housed within the Northwest Arkansas Council. CACHE — the acronym for Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange — was designed, according to a news release, to “elevate and support all members of the region’s arts and culture ecosystem, whether they’re artists, arts organizations or arts patrons.”

The CACHE website lists a six-prong approach to supporting the arts scene through diversity and inclusion, entrepreneurship, talent attraction, health care transformation, economic development and workforce development. CACHE wasted no time in getting started: Allyson Esposito, a former senior director of arts and culture at the Boston Foundation, took the reins in July 2019 with ideas already percolating for how to build the organization from the ground up.

Jesse Elliott, CACHE’s new director of creative ecosystems, was most recently the founding director of the Bohemian Foundation’s Music District, a city block-sized space dedicated to the development of the Fort Collins, Colo., music scene.
(Courtesy Photo)

“I think the vision for this organization is being a part of a community where the arts make a difference to every other aspect of life,” Esposito said in a Sunday Profile article in this newspaper last month. “We don’t think about the arts as ‘on high’ or the arts as a particular discipline. We’re really talking about creativity, which is something that we all have within us and is inherent in everything that we do, including business and innovation and all of the things that are going on.

“If we can start to talk about creativity as inherent in the way that we experience people, in the way that we economically develop, the way we grow and the way we spend time together, that’s really the core and central goal. We have all the raw materials here. It’s an incredibly rich cultural region.”

A 2017 study, in fact, found that the arts and culture industry in Northwest Arkansas brought in $131 million in economic activity in 2015.

If part of CACHE’s mission is to act almost like a public relations firm for the region’s art organizations at large, look no further than their work with the Kennedy Center’s Art Across America program as an example of their success thus far. When the famed national arts organization came looking for a way to highlight Northwest Arkansas artists, CACHE’s director of creative ecosystems knew the right talents to tap to put together an hour-long program.

“Jerad Sears runs a really cool thing called City Sessions, and it’s similar content,” says Jesse Elliott, CACHE’s director of creative ecosystems. “So I really just said, ‘Hey Jerad, can you put together a group of artists that is representative of the amazing diversity that we have in the region as far as genre, culture, background, geography, all of that?’ Because I think often, when people do think of Arkansas or Northwest Arkansas, they think in a pretty limited way about what music exists here. And, of course, that music is here — that tradition and culture and heritage are awesome, and we love celebrating that. But we also [wanted to] give people a real slice of what’s actually going on.”

As a result, a performance by Northwest Arkansas musicians Honey Collective, Jasper Logan, Pura Coco and Willi Carlisle was streamed live on the Kennedy Center Facebook page on Sept. 8, reaching thousands of viewers across the country.

Esposito has high hopes for 2021.

The witty rap “Wash Your Hands” performed by BAANG (Jeremiah Pickett) is a highlight of OZCast Episode 1, featuring pandemic-appropriate lines like, “You can touch my heart and soul, but first wash your hands, baby.”
(Courtesy Photo)

“In ‘21 we hope to continue to build on this work and grow our main projects — we are in talks about the possible launch of a regional public art office, partnering with the city of Fayetteville to support their cultural planning efforts, and launching an experimental artist hub in Bentonville,” she says.

Here’s more information about some of the major programs and initiatives that have been keeping the CACHE team busy this year.

Arts and Culture Bridge Fund

The arts industry was one of the hardest hit by the global pandemic, as theaters, art galleries and concert halls around the world shut their doors mid-March. Ten months later, the future of arts programming is still uncertain. CACHE distributed $500,000 aimed at helping local arts organizations survive the pandemic, ultimately awarding 24 grants, some totaling as much as $20,000.

A news release says many of the organizations CACHE directed money towards served the most vulnerable populations in Northwest Arkansas.

Grant recipients included Ability Tree, an organization that provides recreation, education, support and training for families impacted by disability; Arkansas Coalition for the Marshallese; Art Feeds, which creates programming that empowers students through visual, creative and expressive arts; and Fayetteville Roots.

Esposito says a second round of funding is under way now.


Though this digital variety show was in the works pre-pandemic, it certainly could not have come at a better time. These professionally produced videos give audiences the chance to learn more about the region’s most exciting artists — all without leaving the comfort of their own homes.

“It’s featuring creativity in all of its forms, every kind of art form — from tattoo artists to cellists and beyond,” says Esposito. “It’s going to be about 15 or 20 episodes per season, and we think it’s a really exciting, updated, relevant model for what putting work online in these crazy times looks like.”

It’s also a paycheck for the artists — both in front and behind the camera — at a time when that can be hard to come by.

Music Ecosystem Strategy and Action Plan

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CACHE Weaves Cultural Web
Goal is supporting ‘artists, arts organizations and arts patrons’
Art Feeds, an organization that creates programming that empowers students through visual, creative and expressive arts, was a recipient of a CACHE Arts and Culture Bridge Grant. Pictured is a mural they created last year by partnering with Lee Elementary in Springdale.
(The Free Weekly/David Gottschalk)

When CACHE hired British consulting company Sound Diplomacy to do a deep dive into the Northwest Arkansas music industry, one of the surprising bits of information uncovered was that the music ecosystem produces $389 million and is responsible for 3,972 jobs in the region.

Using the report, CACHE has identified key opportunities to target over the next few years to expand the industry, including establishing a full time staff dedicated to the development of the music industry; activating cities to strategically support music; increasing diversity; creating economic opportunities for musicians through the creation of grants, residencies, exchanges and workshops; creating more art spaces; and attracting more music-related businesses and building educational partnerships to create “pipelines of local skills and creativity.”

The report came out the day before the pandemic caused global shutdowns, but CACHE hasn’t let that timing stop them from doing what they can to promote the music scene of NWA, including hiring Elliott — a nationally regarded musician himself, and builder of music scenes — to lead this body of work for the region.

Cultural Planning

“Through support from CACHE, the city of Rogers established the first full-time municipal arts and culture-focused job in Northwest Arkansas,” according to the CACHE website. In addition to that support, CACHE has worked with the city of Rogers to develop a long-range cultural plan that will help the city devise public art, arts and culture programming and park activation.

“CACHE has helped facilitate Rogers’s cultural planning process, which will result in the first city-led arts and culture strategic plan in Northwest Arkansas (expected summer 2021),” says Anna Watson, the first person to hold the new position of arts and culture coordinator in Rogers. “CACHE also connects the local arts community (artists and arts organizations alike) to grant opportunities, which is beneficial to the broader arts ecosystem.”

Categories: Music