FAYETTEVILLE — Fayetteville needs to broaden its definition of arts if it wants to grow the arts and culture scene, according to a consultant.
“You already have a lot of assets here,” Kendall Peterson with ThereSquared told the Arts Council on Wednesday. “One of our goals is to take a look at the very broad arts community. We’re not just talking traditional arts like dance, music, theater and visual arts. We’re talking culinary, microbrewing, TV, film, graphic design — all the different ways people can be engaged in the arts.”
Members of the resident-led Arts Council sat down for the first time with consultants Jill Stilwell of Stilwell Cultural Consulting and Peterson with ThereSquared, both in Colorado. The City Council hired the consultants in November for $188,900 to come up with an arts and culture plan for Fayetteville.
The final plan is due to come out in October. To develop it, the consultants will research and analyze the city’s cultural landscape, assets and spaces, resulting in an inventory and map, according to the request for proposals. The consultants also will research the city’s history, demographics and regional growth projections.
They also will study comparable cities with arts and culture plans and report what they’ve done successfully to use as policy guidance. They will analyze the city’s needs, opportunities and community priorities when it comes to art, identifying any gaps or areas that need improvement.
The consultant team will host a number of public input sessions and discussions with representatives of arts-related organizations and major institutions in the city, as well as online surveys. Coming up with a public information campaign to inform residents about the plan’s development and engagement opportunities also is included in the contract.
The long-range plan the consultants will create will cover the next 10 years. It will include long- and short-term goals for the city to accomplish in the arts.
The consultants will recommend ways to implement the plan and how to pay for its implementation. A set of recommended policies will guide how the city should handle public art. The plan also will include an evaluation component to outline how success should be measured.
A draft of the plan will go through the Arts Council and the Parks, Natural Resources and Cultural Advisory Board before heading to the City Council for final approval. The public will be able to comment on it during those public meetings.
Stilwell and Peterson on Wednesday asked each member of the Arts Council what they feel makes the city unique to get a start on developing the plan. Responses included the city’s music scene, its walkability, the charitable and welcoming nature of residents, the presence of major corporations such as Walmart and connection to the outdoors.
It took about an hour for the word “funky” to come up.
Arts Council member Bob Stafford, who also serves on the City Council, said people already can’t afford to live in the city and as a result the city is losing artists to neighboring cities. He said he would like to see some kind of live/work space in the city for artists, possibly in an arts district.
“Fayetteville is rich in arts and culture,” he said. “We have the bones; I’d just like to see some meat on those bones. It could be what we are, but more, and supported and fostered.”
The topic of artists being properly compensated for their work came up several times. Chloe Bell, Arts Council chairwoman, said many artists feel they’re underpaid and taken advantage of for their efforts. She also cautioned against an overabundance of events that could take attendance away from each other.
“There’s so much happening in this area, and there’s a conversation about whether our events and art institutions are cannibalizing each other. Is there an oversaturation? I don’t necessarily think it’s that. I just think we need to diversify how we’re presenting the work to the community.”
Rogers became the first city in Northwest Arkansas to have an arts and culture plan in 2022. It was developed by city staff along with WXY Architecture and Urban Design in New York and the regional Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange.
The guiding objectives of the 68-page plan are strengthening community and celebrating Rogers’ unique character, promoting economic vitality and quality of life, and shaping an inspiring artistic environment. Cultural drivers in the city are public art, wellness and culinary art, and music and performing arts. The plan breaks down immediate, short-, medium- and long-term goals for each area.
The exchange has been working with Rogers, Fayetteville, Springdale, Bentonville and Siloam Springs as part of its Municipal Arts Alliance. The alliance initiative is trying to put arts and culture at the center of regional planning, according to the organization’s website.
The alliance was created to address a shared need among the cities for dedicated time, space and resources to learn and work together to promote the arts, said Lucas Cowan, the organization’s director of cultural policy.
The exchange developed a preliminary plan for Fayetteville to use as a basis to come up with its larger arts and culture plan. The 17-page report provides a snapshot of arts and culture in the region, as well as specific action items the city could consider when coming up with the larger plan.
The idea of cities planning for the arts just as they would with other municipal functions, such as urban planning, downtown development and transportation, has become commonplace nationwide, said Georgia Gempler, program manager of Health and Wellness at the National League of Cities. The league is a national organization comprising municipal leaders focusing on quality of life issues.
Major cities started developing arts and culture plans in the 1990s, and the trend has really picked up in the last 20 years, Gempler said. Research has proven the economic benefits of investing in the arts, she said.
Nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences generated $151.7 billion in economic activity across the country in 2022, according to a recent study from national nonprofit Americans for the Arts. Of the total, $73.3 billion in spending by arts organizations leveraged an additional $78.4 billion in event-related spending by their audiences, the study says.
The impact of investing in the arts is far reaching, supporting 2.6 million jobs, generating $29.1 billion in tax revenue and providing $101 billion in personal income to residents nationwide, according to the study.
A city’s role in the arts should be to provide opportunities and money for artists to do their work, Gempler said. Cities with arts councils, such as Fayetteville, can use the wide perspectives of members to determine the most appropriate kinds of art to pay for with taxpayer money, she said.
Artists need to be paid for their work, and the arts are a crucial economic sector to help a city thrive, Gempler said.
“City governments have a really important role in fostering an environment that’s welcoming to the arts and culture,” she said.