Walton Arts Center Expands Access to Theater

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Walton Arts Center Expands Access to Theater across Northwest Arkansas

Peter B. Lane

President and CEO, Walton Arts Center

Buzz has swelled around the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, the past few weeks. That’s what happens when you unveil 18 months of renovation and expansion work, designed to take our performing arts experiences to the next level. But, while we’re proud to continue bringing acts you'd expect to see in Chicago and London – from The Nutcracker to The Book of Mormon – to Northwest Arkansas, we’re about so much more than just a shiny performing arts building.

Our mission is to connect and engage people through inspiring arts experiences. It's about creating access and opportunity for everyone – and a big part of that is taking what we have to offer beyond our own walls. 

For example, with support from organizations like the Walton Family Foundation, we’ve been able to start our Arkansas History Through the Arts (AHA) program. We collaborated with Trike Theatre, a company based in Bentonville, Arkansas, which specializes in empowering youth through theater, to create Digging Up Arkansas, 150 years of our state’s history compressed into a 45-minute performance, tailored for third through fifth graders. Since 2010, Walton Arts Center has taken Trike and Digging Up Arkansas to nearly 50,000 students, sharing the history of our state across all 75 Arkansas counties.

The seeds planted through engagement opportunities like these – that’s where the magic happens. It allows kids to dive into something they’re learning about through a different lens. It's beyond the textbook and the classroom. We’re already developing AHA productions for additional grade levels.

Why is it important to invest in programming and engagement like this? Because everyone learns differently. This is another entry point into the arts and art appreciation for kids across our state.

“This group exceeded my expectations,” said Linda Teague, principal at County Line Elementary in Branch, Arkansas. “The performers and the pacing of the program were excellent. For our small school with high poverty, this program provided students with a theater experience they won't soon forget.”

And we are not stopping there. Through a partnership with the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., we’re able to help teachers across Northwest Arkansas integrate the power of art into how they teach. I’m talking about language arts, social studies and science teachers – not just art teachers. We even provide professional development by world-class teaching artists to educators, and lend support and resources to our resident companies, TheatreSquared, Community Creative Center, the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas and others.

As Northwest Arkansas continues to become a destination for art, we see it as our responsibility to help create the access and opportunity necessary to enrich lives. The ability to incorporate art into our lives – far beyond the stage – is extremely important. What we’re accomplishing is truly remarkable; we are part of a movement that is changing the cultural landscape in our region.

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