My siblings and I were not surrounded by fine art as children, but we were exposed to the concept of creating something beautiful by watching our grandfather build cedar chests and spice cabinets in his workshop. I still remember the smell of the studio where my grandmother covered his pieces with Rosemaling and tole painting.

It was with this appreciation of the beauty of utilitarian objects that I was raised. The perfect finish on a bread box and the careful stitches in the quilts on our beds, these things were not just necessary – they were art. I just didn’t know it yet. 

As my own children have grown, it has been a joy and a privilege to be able to take them through the spaces at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art and let the works hanging on the walls and standing on the lawns pose silent questions challenge perspectives. Perhaps, paraphrasing Andy Warhol, art is something that people don’t need. Or, perhaps it is exactly what we need.

When the call went out inviting people to be a part of the opening weekend celebration at The Momentary, I didn’t hesitate to respond. Not only because I love to perform, but also because this moment, this year, feels heavy. I think we are desperately in need of a reason to come together as a community and celebrate something outside of ourselves. Right now, art, in all its forms, is necessary.

I believe in the power of being part of something beautiful that will pose questions, challenge perspectives, and most of all – encourage us to look each other in the eye and see the human looking back. 

“The world we live in is so full of pressure, it’s a radical act to step back and recognize simple moments of empathy.”   Erika Chong Shuch

Rehearsals began with a tentative communal experience of creating a dance with a few dozen strangers at an event on the Momentary grounds last fall. Everyone shared a communal feeling of awkward enthusiasm. There were a lot of hesitant smiles and expressions that seemed to communicate something like “Oookay, then.” It also rained.

We were led by Rowena Richie, Erika Chong Shuch and Ryan Tacata – the creators behind For You, a theater project based in San Francisco that, as Chong Shuch’s website explains, “brings together diverse groups of strangers” to create performances based on specific individuals and locations. Are you unsure exactly what that means? Now you understand the “Oookay, then” expressions mentioned earlier. Basically, it means what is being performed here in Northwest Arkansas this weekend will never be seen again.

In our next rehearsal, held in early January in a large storage building behind the 8th Street Market, I and seven other local art enthusiasts started digging into personal stories we each brought to the performance. At the original gathering, attendees asked to write down “Firsts” in the form of a few sentences. It might be the first time someone rode a bike, the first time they saw their baby, or the first time they ate black olives.  

As performers, we brainstormed several firsts of our own to read aloud during the rehearsal. The For You team selected the Firsts that could be translated into a visual story, and from there, we worked in small groups to determine choreography for each of our chosen Firsts.

Several hours of work went into that first formal rehearsal, and at the end of our time together we had laughed, cried, collaborated and commiserated, and developed choreography that tied all of our stories together into one whole that will be presented on opening weekend Feb. 21 and 22.

Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable. 

George Bernard Shaw

With the opening of The Momentary and State of the Art 2020, the “crudeness of reality” is invited to take a very large seat. Something extraordinary is taking place in Bentonville. As you can imagine, a tremendous amount of hard work has been done by the professionals involved in the planning and construction of the building, the curation of the collection and the design of the opening weekend event. 

But the most extraordinary part of this weekend might have happened in that warehouse. In the warehouse, complete strangers looked each other in the eye and put aside any differences we might have on social media, or in the voting booth, or on Sunday mornings in the South, in favor of finding commonality. We listened to each other’s stories, recognized ourselves in them, and created art. 

Welcome to the Momentary.

Laurie Marshall is a writer, artist, improv actor, wife, mom of three, beginning cyclist, nature-bather, slow fashion disciple and woman over fifty who uses more swear words than her grandma did at her age. You’ve probably seen her around.