Little Rock-based Windgate Foundation has established a $10 million endowment for the Eureka Springs School of the Arts (ESSA), according to a Tuesday (Dec. 1) news release.
The $10 million endowment will provide ongoing operating support for the nonprofit school of art and fine craft, which was founded in 1998 in the Northwest Arkansas city of about 2,000 people. In September, the Windgate Foundation established the endowment at the Arkansas Community Foundation.
The endowment will produce $400,000 annually in operating support after a required one-year waiting period. Most of the income generated from the gift is intended to replace annual grants that the Windgate Foundation has been making for years to the two-decades-old arts school. The remainder will add stability to the school’s annual budget. Also, the foundation provided a $400,000 bridge grant that will be given to the school at the first of the year.
“This is an exceptional and transformative investment in ESSA by a long-time and committed partner,” said Kelly McDonough, executive director of the school. “With this support, we can expect ESSA to mature into national prominence on par with blue-chip schools such as the Penland School of Crafts, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts and Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.
“This support further establishes Northwest Arkansas as an art – and artists’ – mecca… not just a nationally recognized destination for viewing and experiencing great art but also for making it,” she added.
The Windgate Foundation and the school have collaborated for nearly 15 years. Over the years, the foundation has supported multiple buildings and land purchases.
“Many years ago, we were pleased to hear that several artists were determined to establish a school to teach the arts, one that would be located in Eureka Springs,” said Robyn Horn, the Windgate Foundation board chair. “We are impressed with the tenacity of the ESSA’s founders, the professionalism and dedication of its staff and the wide range of opportunities the school has for students to come and learn how to make art. Our hope is to guarantee ESSA’s future, and to inspire others to join us in supporting an organization that has such a dynamic effect on artists. Our state is becoming one that supports the arts, realizing that its impact is economic as well as inspirational.”
The endowment will allow the school to shift its stance to a longer-term perspective and focus fundraising on scholarships and campus development. It also will help the school to hire and retain staff and develop programming through instructor recruitment. Ongoing fundraising efforts will allow the school to build and equip additional studios and facilities to meet growing demand and provide scholarships to a growing student body.
The school’s board of directors and staff have started on a strategic planning update and visioning process as it looks to the next 22 years and beyond. McDonough expects a significant focus on how to continue improving and developing the campus and existing facilities, growing the residency program enabled by residences built in 2020, hiring higher profile instructors, and expanding the free and subsidized programming, especially for area residents and families.
“This gift further solidifies the reputation of Eureka Springs as an arts destination and brings more attention to what our community and region has to offer,” McDonough added.
The Eureka Springs School of the Arts was founded by area artists and craftspeople – Doug Stowe, Mary Springer and Eleanor Lux. The long-time Eureka Springs residents remain active instructors and serve on the school’s board.
“I moved to Eureka Springs with the dream of starting an art school,” said Springer, noting that she had benefited from the mentorship of Louis and Elsie Freund who started the first art school in Eureka Springs in the 1940s. “One day in the late 1990s, (co-founder Doug Stowe) looked at me with my graying hair and said, ‘if we are going to do this, we had better do it now.’ So, we did. With the help of (co-founder) Eleanor Lux, we formed a board and became incorporated.”
Stowe said “it has always been clear that Eureka Springs was the perfect place for a school of this kind. Knowing that we were a well-established art community and all the major art schools were at great distance from us, we knew we had the whole of the Midwest needing what the artists of Eureka Springs had to offer. It seemed completely logical that we have an art school to serve our community and the region. There is so much more to do now that the future of ESSA has been made secure.”
The school has grown to include six dedicated teaching studios and on-campus housing for instructors and for an artist residency program. The school attracts students and instructors nationwide along with a core of active instructors and students from the area, the news release shows. Some of the workshops offered are woodworking, blacksmithing, painting, ceramics, jewelry making and leatherworking.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the school had to cancel in-person workshops but continues to offer virtual workshops. It offered nearly 100 workshops in 2019, compared to about 20 this year. In 2019, the school had more than 527 students and over 70 instructors from across the nation. The school has eight staff.
“Most artists wonder at some time or another how their own work will be regarded in future generations,” Stowe reflected. “Those of us who have been involved in the Eureka Springs School of the Arts have been carried to a mountaintop and can now see a very long way ahead. We also realize that the trust placed in us gives us greater responsibility.”