Arts on Main in downtown Van Buren expanding programs ‘rapidly’

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 569 views 

With the Adult Art Competition exhibit opening July 14 and auditions set for its youth theater performance at the end of the month, Arts on Main in Van Buren is continuing to grow and work to bring arts to as many people in the Fort Smith-Van Buren region as possible.

“Basically we have more than tripled our programming and expanded so rapidly. We have the space and ability to do so much more now than we did,” said Coralee Young, community relations manager for Arts on Main. “First and foremost we are about living life through the arts. We want to provide art experiences for the community.”

When the Center for Art and Education, which has served the Van Buren area since 1976, opened its new 17,000-square-feet building at 415 Main Street in 2022, it opened as Arts on Main and also took on the King Opera House at 427 Main Street, making its campus 20,000 square feet of space for all forms art, including theater arts and culinary arts.

Since that time, it has expanded its offering to the community to include adult art classes, arts and crafts, culinary experiences, children and family experiences, pottery and ceramics and theater events.

“We have a Season of Entertainment through the King Opera House. We have children’s theater, and we are starting our adult theater program in December,” said Bill Ratcliff, executive director.

The adult theater program will open with “The 39 Steps” Dec. 8-9, and is hoping to put on two productions a year with hopes of expanding, Ratcliff said. The children’s theater program is starting young thespians very young this year with 4- through 6-year-olds participating in rehearsals for “The Rainbow Fish Musical” July 31 through Aug. 12. The youth theater program for third through 12th grade will stage “Into the Woods, Jr.” Oct. 13-14.

Entries in the Adult Art Competition almost doubled this year with 135 submissions, compared to the 69 last year, Young said. While the exhibit opens Friday and runs through Sept. 23, an artist reception is scheduled for 1 to 4 p.m. July 23 with the awards ceremony scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

“We’ve had 11 summer camps for kids at the Crawford County libraries and Boys and Girls Clubs,” Young said. “And we’ve had teen cooking camps and teen pottery camps and many programs for kids of all ages.”

Pottery, culinary and adult art classes continue to grow too, Young said.

“We are trying to offer all kinds of classes to raise creativity,” said Ratcliff, who had served as the manager of the King Opera House since 2022, added director of operations of all of Art on Main in December and became the executive director March 1 when former executive director Jane Owen retired.

He said participation in classes and programs has continued to grow steadily since the new facility opened with some classes still small and others “packed out.” With mostly small fees attached to the classes, the programs continue to make a profit, Ratcliff said.

“Would we be happy with a couple extra $100,000 in our pocket? Absolutely. But our programs are all in the black, we are able to pay our expenses and cover our salaries,” he said.

Young noted that the center has an endowment that covers most of the fees for the building, and donations and membership fees help cover other expenses. She also noted that the center is also supported by government, foundation and corporate grants.

“Our biggest challenge is just getting the word out to everyone,” Ratcliff said. “We have had to adjust how we advertise, doing more on streaming services, and of course social media. … We want everyone to know what we do, so we can bring art to everyone.”