I recently found myself standing in a vibrant kitchen in Hillcrest and once again explaining what the Arkansas Arts Council does: We are a state agency that gives professional-development services and grants to artists and arts organizations.
The house, owned by an artist, advocate and curator, was filled with creatives who were celebrating the host’s retirement. Wood carved and painted birds hung delicately from the ceiling. The walls, some painted in bright colors, were decorated with original artworks and sculptures. An upright bass stood majestically in the corner.
Outside, young, emerging artists talked about their college projects, while older creatives gathered around a buffet to talk about the arts and to expand upon collaborative arts ideas. One artist talked about her trip to Mexico, where she delved into the art of textile. Another planned to return to traditional painting.
And, yet, even here, people who teach, support, collect and create didn’t know the Arkansas Arts Council provides free, professional-development workshops and grants. We’ve had our GetSmART! Learning Series workshops for years, but this year, we greatly expanded the program based on what creatives told us they needed.
So, in May, for example, creatives can learn about incorporating race, diversity and inclusivity into their writing; creating a business plan for starting an art business; preparing artwork for exhibitions or mailing to a gallery; and organizing, promoting and doing a live show. We teamed up with Mosaic Templars Cultural Center and CALS Children’s Library to sponsor an in-person workshop for children (7-13) interested in writing and performing hip-hop lyrics.
More workshops are coming this fall. And, we have matching grants of up to $500 for creatives who want to take a professional-development workshop, class or conference outside of us. The Sally A. Williams Artist Fund is always open, there is no deadline.
To top it off, the Arkansas Arts Council is among the first government agencies to take the leadership role in sponsoring Mid-America Arts Alliance’s Artist INC Express workshops, which are happening in Arkansas in May and June. These virtual, three-day workshops typically cost creatives about $200, but because we are sponsoring them, that fee is waived.
Why are we doing this?
The key, to me, is the Arkansas Arts Council wants creatives of all generations and genres to be successful and to help create a better Arkansas via the arts. If the individual artist is the backbone, the fundamental necessity of a bullish creative economy, then it makes sense for us, a state agency, to aggressively seek to provide needed services and build a more artist-friendly ecosystem.
To that end, we are building partnerships, workshops and programs that celebrate creatives and their artworks or crafts. In April, we announced James “Kimbo” Dryden, of Hot Springs, as this year’s Arkansas Living Treasure during the inaugural James Black’s Bowie Heritage Festival, a new festival celebrating Arkansas crafts. We plan to celebrate Mr. Dryden with a May 20 reception that includes pottery demonstrations, so we can highlight his mastery and his craft simultaneously.
Back at the retirement party, an arts professor said emerging artists, like his arts students, need access to business skills for the arts. He hadn’t heard about our free workshops but planned to let his students know. Just a few days earlier, another educator from a different university said the same thing.
Outside of academia, I’ve heard from dancers, musicians and visual artists who are excited about new workshops, but I know that creating programs and workshops is only half of the battle. It’s meaningless if creatives don’t show up and don’t take advantage of what we have to offer.
So, please spread the word: the Arkansas Arts Council is here. Apply for our grants, come to our workshops and join us at events that support creatives. We want to help you change the world with the arts.
Photo: Last month, Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra performed a rousing rendition of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” at the Center for Humanities and Arts Theater at the University of Arkansas-Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock. The event showcased extraordinary talent in Arkansas and a successful partnership between the two organizations.