Stacy Hurst: Heritage Tourism Benefitting State’s Economy

by Talk Business & Politics staff ( 54 views 

Editor’s note: Stacy Hurst, a former Little Rock city board member, was named director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage in January 2015 by Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

From the Arkansas Delta to the Ozark Mountains and all of the regions in between, our beautiful state offers its residents and visitors a rich cultural and natural heritage. At the Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH), it’s our mission to seek out, preserve and present the legacy, lore and abundant life that makes this state great.

From historians to scientists to curators to clerks, the work done daily at DAH’s four museums and three resource agencies has one common goal: preservation of our heritage. And an added benefit of that work is the impact we have on the state’s economy.

According to a U.S. Cultural and Heritage Tourism Study, the creative industry in Arkansas employs nearly 27,000 individuals and generates $927 million in personal income for Arkansans. Creative enterprises are the state’s third largest employer — after transportation and logistics and perishable and processed foods, the study found.

Stop by one of our museum gift shops and you’ll find any number of Arkansas-made crafts and Arkansas-related items that spotlight the creativity of Arkansans. You could also take a trip around the state to visit historic sites and town squares and you’re sure to find even more.

The study also revealed that nationally, nearly 80% of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural and/or heritage activities while traveling, with cultural and heritage travelers spending an average of $994 per trip. This group contributes more than $192 billion annually to the U.S. economy, the study showed.

Tourists who spend more money on cultural and heritage activities will also travel farther to get the experiences they seek, the study found. We want them to come to Arkansas.

For an example of how far people are willing to travel for heritage tourism, you just have to take a look at the Delta Cultural Center guestbook. Each year, people flock to Helena, for DCC’s educational programs, annual events and Delta blues music attractions, like the King Biscuit Blues Festival. In addition to cities from around the United States, the museum’s guestbook is often signed by guests from as far away as Australia.

As is the case with most capital cities, Little Rock is a cultural and entertainment hub, including three of the four DAH museums.

At the gateway of the River Market District is the Historic Arkansas Museum. Stepping onto the grounds is like stepping into the state’s pioneer past. Living history demonstrators dress and cook as our ancestors did.

A few blocks away is the Old State House Museum, a wonderfully maintained structure from Arkansas’s political history. In addition to several permanent exhibits that tell the stories of the state’s earliest leaders, a visitor might catch a Civil War re-enactment on the front lawn.

The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center is the department’s newest facility. The state-of-the-art museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, interpreting and celebrating African-American history, culture and community in Arkansas from 1870 to the present. This treasure of a facility informs and educates visitors about African-American achievements – particularly in business, politics and the arts.

Our three resource agencies – the Arkansas Arts Council, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program and Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission – work tirelessly in the background. However, the impact they make on the state is in the foreground for many Arkansans even though they aren’t aware of it.

For example, the Arts Council helps fund artists and art education around the state; the Natural Heritage Commission helps protect the state’s biological diversity; and the Historic Preservation Program watches over our historic structures and sites.

As DAH’s new director, I am committed to our mission and I encourage every Arkansan to take time to visit one of our top-notch facilities, a natural area or historic site. You can learn more about what we do at