by Danny R.W Baskin
A recent study1 showed the arts brought in $131.2 Million in economic activity in Northwest Arkansas last year. This is in no small part due to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Additionally, the University of Arkansas got a massive grant for its newly rebranded School of Art. The Mid America Arts Alliance started an Artist 360 grant specifically for artists working in the region, and the national nonprofit Artspace has begun planning for 4 distinct live/work spaces for artists. Even a few residencies are starting to emerge.
But with all this wonderful movement, there seem to be gaps. Contemporary art galleries seem strangely absent in the area. Even with big business and the well paid workers that come with it, buyers and collectors seem to be absent as well. With rising rents and multiple downtowns, it’s difficult to give creative new gallerists affordable space to put on experimental, contemporary shows, especially when no one is buying. Two local art spaces closed down just this month.2 Without these galleries opening up, artists and collectors are driven to show and spend in other major cities nearby with more established gallery scenes like Kansas City or Dallas, and to grow a healthy, well rounded art scene, we need actual artists living, working, and producing in the area.
These gaps, while often cyclical and difficult to overcome, do have approachable solutions. For one, we need more curators, more shows, and cheaper rent. Open calls need to be advertised wider and longer, to get away from the stagnant nepotism that people often settle into. Business owners and city government need to actively seek out artists for collaborations and vice versa. Criticism also grows a healthy sense of accountability and professionalism, raising the quality of local shows. To grow a healthy art market, we need to showcase healthy art of all kinds. To raise the bar, we must raise it ourselves and to gain a steady art market in the Northwest Arkansas region, the bar must be raised.