Psychologist Sheri Simon decided she needed to carry on with a family tradition. Her mother and grandmother had both been painters and she wanted to be one, too. When she was a child, her mother made signs for volunteer efforts and she aided in those efforts. As an adult, she started with water colors and then moved on to other kinds of paint. Exhibiting and selling her artwork was tough at first, but now she relishes, Simon told Talk Business & Politics.
Simon was a first time exhibitor at the Delta Visual Arts Show held in Newport in June. The Little Rock native had never heard of the arts show until she applied to be an exhibitor and she was pleased with how her work was received.
“I always knew I could do it,” she said of becoming an artist. “I knew this was something I could do and so I did it.”
This year’s Delta Visual Arts Show was the 11th version and several significant changes were made, Newport Economic Development Commission Executive Director Jon Chadwell said. The show was moved from February to June, it was expanded from one day to two, and the number of musicians that participated increased. The net result was that the number of artists, authors, and musicians rose from 220 to 245, and thousands of visitors flocked to Jackson County’s largest city, he said.
Quantifying the economic impact the arts show has on the city and region is difficult, but adding an extra day, and holding it at a time when the weather is warmer helped, he said. It’s estimated that about $250,000 is spent on the artwork at the show based on the sales tax receipts that are submitted, he added.
“I think it went really well this year … we had a lot more artists,” Chadwell said. “It’s a big part of our economic plan. Tourism-related events help our local economy. It also helps to improve the quality of life for our citizens.”
The original intent was to build an innovation hub, a place where artists, entrepreneurs, business people, and others could go to develop ideas. Local officials hoped this hub would produce viable artists who might then go and start their own studios in Newport. Jackson County was envisioned as an art “Mecca,” Chadwell said.
A nonprofit organization, Downtown Revitalization and Improvement Volunteer Effort, DRIVE, contacted the Clinton School of Public Service to determine the best way to find funds for the innovation hub. The organization suggested the city start a successful event and it would improve DRIVE’s chances to receive state and federal grants to pay for the hub.
The first year, the show had 17 artists and 180 visitors attended. Local leaders were pleased with the turnout. Little did they know the show would double the number of artists and visitors each year until the last couple of years, Chadwell said.
It costs about $17,000 to pay for the event, and at least 150 volunteers help with setup. Part of the cost is covered through an auction held each year in the fall. Artists don’t have to pay a fee to attend the event, but many donate pieces of art.
Newport and surrounding Jackson County have been fighting significant economic headwinds like many other communities in the rapidly depopulating Delta. Jackson County’s population dropped 6.6% from 2010 to 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The county has an estimated 16,811 residents.
The median household income in the county is $32,783, more than $10,000 below the state average and more than $20,000 below the national average. More than 22% of the population lives at or below the federal poverty line.
During the past few years, several changes were made to broaden the show’s appeal. The author’s corner was added two years ago and last year musicians were invited for the first time. While the musical offerings were expanded this year, Chadwell hopes that the artistic appeal of the show is broadened every year. It has become one of the signature tourism and cultural events in the Delta Region, he said.
Another reason why the art show is important?
“We’re rich in heritage and culture and we want to share it,” Chadwell added.
Simon, and her husband Michael, enjoyed the show and the new contacts they made in this part of the state. There’s a good chance they may come back in 2020.
“We will see,” she said with a smile.