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Creating Brightwater

Home Region

Creating Brightwater: A Cultural Destination for the Entire Food Experience

Author Karen Minkel
Karen Minkel

Home Region Program Director

The aroma rising from the kitchens of the recently unveiled Brightwater: A Center for the Study of Food, in Bentonville, Arkansas, is wonderful. But how we got here is a story rich in details.

Brightwater is a world-class food learning and cultural center. Through its unique holistic programming, it offers academic and career training in cuisine and the culinary arts; food systems and service; traditional and artisanal food crafts; and entrepreneurial development. One of its four classroom kitchens was even specifically designed around the study of the reduction of food waste. 

“We’re different, we’re affordable and we’re not apologizing for that,” said Glenn Mack, Brightwater’s executive director. “We’re a community venue just as much as we are a culinary school. Our global understanding, regional roots and community engagement make Brightwater a cultural destination for the entire food experience.

In Northwest Arkansas – a region known for the rise of multiple Fortune 500 companies, and the creation of an American art museum in 100 acres of woods – Brightwater was intentionally molded as a complement to these regional assets. Unprecedented growth and a flourishing arts scene have empowered a culinary movement that continues to inspire and raise our quality of life. But, even as the first seeds of that movement were planted seven years ago, leaders, organizations and other stakeholders across the region were working to support it for the long term.

The idea for Brightwater was hatched through the development of a comprehensive regional food strategy and complementing the City of Bentonville’s downtown masterplan. By partnering with nearby NorthWest Arkansas Community College to transform its young culinary program into a world-class institution, this was about more than producing a pipeline of highly trained professionals necessary to support our food scene. It was about creating something that had the potential to fundamentally change culinary arts education in the U.S. 

Local representatives and expert consultants traveled the country to study and experience the best culinary programs and organizations – large and small. Property previously occupied by a Tyson Foods processing plant was secured. Glenn, who returns to Northwest Arkansas after living in more than a dozen countries and running several respected culinary programs, was hired to lead the initiative. And the idea of not only building Brightwater, but housing it within a larger downtown market concept, featuring a craft beer brewing operation, local butcher and other artisans became reality.

“Never in my life have I been part of a project where everyone has been empowered to think so creatively and so expansively,” said Karin Endy, a consultant who was part of the Brightwater planning team. “From the central tenets of Brightwater, to the idea of situating it downtown and within a commercial setting – this is a new level of thinking.

“One of the most difficult things about the entire project was finding someone like Glenn, who was willing to step outside of what the industry has always done,” she said. “Someone who shared the vision and passion this region was going after.”

Brightwater ties the culinary arts to downtown community development, which ultimately creates a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

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