Bentonville-based Walton Family Foundation is backing a new regional arts service organization in Northwest Arkansas.
The goal of the organization is to “expand access to arts, culture and heritage” in Northwest Arkansas. It will be developed at the Northwest Arkansas Council and led by executive director Allyson Esposito, who was formerly senior director of arts and culture for The Boston Foundation.
“We are committed to elevating and supporting every member of Northwest Arkansas’ arts and culture ecosystem,” Karen Minkel, Home Region Program director for the Walton Family Foundation, said in a news release. “Whether they’re artists, community-based cultural groups or art institutions, this new organization will help ensure all these elements thrive.”
The organization, according to the release, is a response to a 2015 study commissioned by the foundation as part of its 2020 Home Region Plan. The report recommended creating a central agency that would connect and support Northwest Arkansas’ arts community, a need that had been earlier identified by the Walton Arts Center in conversation with the arts community.
The organization’s focus is to build the system-wide capacity of the region’s arts and culture organizations through programming to support leadership development, regional communications, professional development, convenings, small-scale grants and advocacy. It will create a strategic plan to attract and retain practicing artists and cultural organizations of all sizes and disciplines. The organization will also showcase Northwest Arkansas as a premier destination for the arts, with the goal of encouraging additional public support, cultural tourism and economic development.
“On my recent trips to Northwest Arkansas, I immediately felt the cultural vibrancy of the region and was blown away by the scale of ambition and possibility,” Esposito said in a statement. “I experienced a rich array of cultural traditions, inspiring artists working in all mediums and forward-thinking, groundbreaking institutions.
“I am excited to learn more about the people and organizations who make the area an exceptional place to live and visit, and to help build policies and systems that support and amplify this creative ecosystem for years to come.”
Esposito is a professional artist, arts administrator, change management consultant and lawyer. She has also worked as director of cultural grantmaking for the city of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events; program officer for Mayer & Morris Kaplan Family Foundation; and consultant for Deloitte & Touche. A dancer and choreographer, she is the co-founder and former director of Chicago company, The Space Movement Project, and co-creator and former manager of Outerspace Studios. She is a current board member of NCCAkron and former board member of Dance USA. She is a graduate of Miami University of Ohio and the DePaul University College of Law.
“We are delighted to have Allyson at the helm of the regional arts service organization,” said Kassie Misiewicz, founder and artistic director for the Trike Theatre. “We believe she has the right leadership skills, positive temperament, entrepreneurial spirit and creative vision to further cultivate Northwest Arkansas’ vibrant arts scene. We know that Allyson will be a fearsome champion for the local emerging arts organizations and artists.”
Like the Walton Family Foundation, the Northwest Arkansas Council aims to advance quality of life in the region. In 2018, it unveiled its Greater Northwest Arkansas Development Strategy, which promoted the creation of a regional arts service organization to expand cultural opportunities and, in turn, retain and attract talent. In addition to serving as an incubator, the council will provide ongoing administrative support to the new organization during its development.
“Northwest Arkansas needs to keep investing in arts, culture and quality-of-life amenities,” said Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “Allyson’s leadership and focus on advancing the arts is a critical component of our strategy moving forward. The organization she’ll be establishing will promote regional collaboration to benefit local artists and the entire region.”