Arts, Assembled: New programming nurtures creative capacity

Arts, Assembled: New programming nurtures creative capacity

On Feb. 1, it was announced that NWA Fashion Week and the Arkansas Arts and Fashion Forum (AAFF) were no more. The two organizations merged to create the new Springdale-based Interform — a nonprofit arts organization self-defined as “the mutual expression of art, fashion and community.”

The metamorphosis actually frees the creative team from some of the constraints of, say, having qualifiers like “fashion” or “week” in the organization’s name, CEO Robin Atkinson reveals. The broader vision will allow focus to extend to further means of creative production, while maintaining the high-level fashion program that has grown into a community institution.

“We are an arts organization that also has a fashion focus, as much as we are a fashion organization with an arts focus,” Atkinson puts it simply.

From the outside looking in, though, Interform — and its debut community program Assembly — seem anything but simple. And, Atkinson admits with a laugh, if the concept for the new body suffers from anything, it’s the perception of doing too much.

But when you get right down to it, “the thing we’re dedicated to more than anything else is professionalizing talent,” Atkinson explains easily. “We want people in Arkansas to have professional skills that can help expand our creative landscape.”

Designer Brandy Lee’s work through Interform’s EMERGE fashion designer residency program responds to “Nick Cave: Until” at the Momentary last year. Lee is the program’s second designer-in-residence. Designers from season one will be highlighted in a May 29 Runway event kicking off the monthlong arts experience, Assembly, in downtown Springdale during the month of June. (Courtesy Photo/Katie Driscoll)

That goal manifested Arkansas’ first designer residency program, EMERGE, late last year through AAFF. One regional designer was chosen for the in-residence position and collaborated with a cohort of 10 other regional designers. The group was mentored by, and attended workshops with, visiting industry professionals in the first program of its kind in the state to support designers and incubate the local fashion industry through increasing education and professional development opportunities.

By the time EMERGE II, the program’s second season, commenced in the spring, the residency was under the Interform umbrella. On May 29, a runway event down the center of Emma Avenue in Springdale will highlight designers from the program’s first season in a spectacle that will kick off a monthlong arts experience.

“The model that it’s built on is an art biennial, so it’s really built like an exhibition that’s meant to be experienced over the course of more than one day,” Atkinson says of Assembly. “The easiest [explanation] is it’s a bunch of art shows all happening at one time.”

The event is also the culmination of a four-month curatorial training program, adapted through Interform following a similar model as EMERGE, and also a first for the state.

The purpose of the programs, Atkinson says, is to expand the skill set of cultural producers in the state — to provide a bigger toolbox for the talent already working here. Likening the training to a trades course, Atkinson says creators will achieve greater efficiency, professionalism and knowledge in multiple areas of curation and arts event production without having to commit to “a full lifetime of rigorous study in the arts space.”

“For me, it’s really about putting the means of production into the hands of people who have been historically left out of these production apparatuses,” Atkinson shares. “It’s saying, ‘Look, the people over here, what they’re doing isn’t that special. The things the curators and the museums are doing isn’t that complicated. It’s not that revolutionary. Here’s the secret.’ I want you to be able to do it for your community. I want you to be able to do it for your practice, for your friends, for the people who live near you and work with you.

“If we really want to talk about inclusion, let’s teach the people how to do the thing that we’re not letting them do — the thing that’s keeping them out of the conversation.”

Little Rock designer Bruce Davis, founder of 22nd Element Clothing and Accessories, was the inaugural designer-in-residence for Interform’s EMERGE residency program, started in the fall. Davis received one-on-one mentorship from visiting industry professionals, along with group workshops with the program’s cohort of regional designers. Davis also shared his expertise with the cohort and participated in group critiques, which were just as important to the program, Interform CEO Robin Atkinson says. “It’s about bringing people from diverse backgrounds in to talk about one topic together, which then everybody’s sort of having big ‘aha’ moments from their interactions with everybody else.” Interform debuts its similar curatorial training program to the community with Assembly. (Courtesy Photo/Granddose)

For the inaugural Assembly, six young curators, including a member of the Interform team, were chosen to work alongside Interform leadership in selecting artists, handpicking artworks, coordinating exhibition spaces, creating a theme and installing their exhibitions. More than 50 local and regional artists will be featured in 13 exhibitions across downtown Springdale throughout the month of June.

“They just did such an incredible job of really thinking about what they were doing and being responsive to what they saw, and being responsive to their community,” Atkinson enthuses. “And because they’re all artists themselves, they were so thoughtful and respectful to the art. It was a really valuable experience.”



WHAT — A monthlong series of community events, public performances and exhibitions

WHEN — Opening night May 29 with public preview and Girl Gang Market opening at 11 a.m.; EMERGE Runway at 6 p.m.

WHERE — Runway down Emma Avenue; exhibitions and performances at various venues in downtown Springdale

COST — Limited tickets to Runway event remain, $500 for table of 4; exhibitions free to visit


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