Walton Family Foundation enlists Artspace to build creative economy ‘roadmap’ in Northwest Arkansas

by Jennifer Joyner ([email protected]) 1,781 views 

The Walton Family Foundation has entered into a one-year partnership with the Minneapolis-based nonprofit, real estate developer and property manager Artspace to assess the arts community and market in Northwest Arkansas, including the availability of exhibition and performance space, in addition to studio area and affordable housing, according to a press release from Artspace.

The research, funded by a $400,000 grant, will provide “a roadmap” that will “help identify opportunities for arts-driven economic development activities” in Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville, according to the release.

Artspace will lead community engagement activities centered around arts-driven economic development, conduct a feasibility and market study for each focus city and tour prospective sites for development with community stakeholders, according to the press release. Work in Springdale and Bentonville has already begun, with a launch date for the first two feasibility studies the week of Jan. 29, according to Artspace.

“Artspace is honored to be conducting the feasibility and market studies in this unique part of the country,” Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace, said in the release. “The regional approach for the study is a compelling way to understand the infrastructure needs for the arts and creative sectors as a whole. We look forward to making recommendations based on community input and data.”

In addition to consulting services, Artspace develops property for artists to live and work. It has arts facility projects in operation or development in more than 20 states, representing 2,000 live-work units for artists and millions of square feet of community and commercial space, according to its website. The organization, founded in 1979, has offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Denver, Seattle, New Orleans and Washington, D.C.

“With 47 projects developed over the last three decades, Artspace has led an accelerating national movement of artist-led community transformation, representing a $653 million investment in America’s arts infrastructure,” according to the Artspace press release. “While embracing the value the arts bring to individual lives, Artspace has championed the once-radical idea that artists living in financial hardship and chronically underfunded arts organizations can leverage fundamental social change.”

The arts are a funding priority for the Walton Foundation’s Home Region program.

“The arts help drive the vitality of Northwest Arkansas downtowns,” Karen Minkel, Home Region program director, said in the Artspace release. “This study will identify gaps in resources currently available to artists who aspire to live and work in the neighborhoods they serve.”

The 2020 Home Region Strategic Plan calls for establishing the Northwest Arkansas region as an arts and culture leader, and in 2016 almost $7 million of Walton Foundation funding went to the arts in Northwest Arkansas, including $2.2 million to the performance art company TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, $1.9 million to Walton Arts Center Council in Fayetteville and $1.8 million to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

TheatreSquared is building a new facility in downtown Fayetteville, and the foundation has pledged $12.5 million toward the design and construction of it.

The Walton Foundation’s spending for 2017 has not yet been made available to the public, although the foundation announced continued support for the arts, including a $1.77 million grant through the foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence program to help establish a cultural arts corridor in downtown Fayetteville.

The investments fit into a larger goal of supporting economic development and preserving a “sense of place” in Northwest Arkansas, according to the Walton Foundation website.

Northwest Arkansas nonprofit arts and cultural events generated an estimated $131.2 million in economic activity in 2015, according to a 2017 report from Americans for the Arts of Washington, D.C. The report, part of the Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 project, attributed $67.5 million in direct spending by nonprofit arts and culture organizations in Benton and Washington counties and the remaining $63.7 million to event-related expenses made by their audiences, an estimated 1.8 million people that year, according to the organization.

Other national data shows that arts and cultural economic activity accounted for 4.2% of the U.S. gross domestic product, or $730 billion, in 2014, according to a report released this past April by the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The BEA measured total spending on all arts and cultural goods and services to be $1 trillion in 2014. The bureau’s report, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, looked at creative artistic activity, the goods and services produced by it, and the construction of buildings in which it is taking place. It covered performing arts companies and promoters, museums, architectural services, media, advertising and government.

Arts and cultural activity rose in 24 states, including Arkansas, between 2013 and 2014, showing an average nationwide growth rate of 2%, according to the BEA.

Artspace will host a public meeting in Springdale to discuss the city’s creative sector on Jan. 30 at 6 p.m. at the Arts Center of the Ozarks at 214 S. Main St. The organization will give a presentation on how artist spaces might fit into the downtown area, followed by a community discussion.

Artspace is seeking public input on the creative sector’s merits and what it is missing, in addition to feedback on potential arts facility sites for live-work housing, co-working spaces, galleries and other arts-related concepts, according to a press release from the Downtown Springdale Alliance.

“Key goals are to gain better understanding of the region’s diversity of creative people and organizations and potential steps toward creating sustainable, affordable spaces to support them,” according to the DSA press release.

Public meetings and preliminary feasibility studies, focusing on community input from one city at a time, are the first step. The second step, the Arts Market Study, will gather data about the market through a region-wide survey of space needs, according to the DSA.