By Alli Lemon
The surge of art programming in Northwest Arkansas is not news to residents of region. Since the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in 2011, visitors and residents of the region have enjoyed access to world-class art and artists, across a broad range of public platforms.
Alice Walton, of Walmart fame, has made bringing the visual arts to Northwest Arkansas her life’s work. Most recently, The Walmart Foundation donated $120 million to establish The School of Art at the University of Arkansas. Artist, Curator & Director of Exhibitions Marc Mitchell, who took the helm of the University of Arkansas’s Fine Art Gallery in 2015, has put the funding to incredible use, bringing in weekly visiting artists like Trenton Doyle Hancock and Dana Frankfort. Artists generally give public lectures or performances in addition to studio visits with the university’s MFA students.
Crystal Bridges’ upcoming exhibition, Men of Steel, Women of Wonder, explores our national beguilement with superheroes. Featuring over 70 artists, the exhibition explores American values as portrayed through the superhero. Assistant curator for the museum, Alejo Benedetti, who spearheaded the exhibition says, “This is the first show of its kind—the first to look at the art world response to these two iconic superhero characters. This show looks at how artists use Superman and Wonder Woman to talk about social politics, American identity and humanity itself. And we know all these characters from out daily lives, so the show is widely accessible, but will provide a lot of new ways for visitors to engage with these characters.” The exhibition runs February 9th to April 22nd.
The museum also offers exceptional ongoing programs for the community, including lectures, performances, classes, and continuing education for K-12 teachers. Music lovers are treated to seasonal concert series, which takes place on the museum’s extensive grounds. A stage dropped into the middle of a fairy-tale wood and lit with twinkling lights is the perfect place to spend a summer’s eve. The museum also offers the Amazeum to its visitors, a state-of-the-art children’s museum.
A shady path to Bentonville’s City Square connects museumgoers to The 21C Museum Hotel Bentonville. The museum-hotel’s exhibition, The Future is Female, will be on view through September of 2019. The show brings together a broad range of female artists from around the globe. A standout of the show is Zoe Buckman’s Champ, 2016—a neon sculpture of the uterus featuring boxing gloves for ovaries. After walking through the exhibition, guests can step across the lobby and enjoy cocktails at The Hive. The restaurant features a beehive-inspired installation, Buzzkill, by artist Johnston Foster; Executive Chef Matthew McClure was a James Beard Award semi-finalist in 2018.
Fayetteville’s Town Square is equally lively. Weekly farmers markets and Thursday night art walks are mainstays of Fayetteville life. Businesses and galleries stay open late the first Thursday of every month to exhibit and show off local art and eateries. Art Ventures, one such gallery, also offers public live-drawing classes and affordable studio rentals.
Northwest Arkansas seems well on its way to becoming a top vacation destination for art lovers and – with companies like Art Space investigating moving into the area – it’s only getting better for residents as well.
Alli Lemon is an artist living and working in Northwest Arkansas.