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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/FLIP PUTTHOFF MURAL IN THE MAKING Austin Cashelle of Austin, Texas, paints a mural in June in downtown Bentonville on the Ramo d'Olivo building on South Main Street. The mural replaces a large mural of a sunfish on the building that was showing its age with chipped and fading paint. Cashelle expects to finish the mural this week if the weather cooperates.

A new regional arts service organization has taken a step to expanding access to arts, culture and heritage in Northwest Arkansas by hiring an executive director.

Allyson Esposito will lead the yet-to-be-named group. She's the former senior director of arts and culture for The Boston Foundation, a nonprofit community organization in Boston.

"On my recent trips to Northwest Arkansas, I immediately felt the cultural vibrancy of the region and was blown away by the scale of ambition and possibility," Esposito said in a news release. "I experienced a rich array of cultural traditions, inspiring artists working in all mediums and forward-thinking, groundbreaking institutions."

Esposito is excited to learn more about the people and organizations who make Northwest Arkansas an exceptional place to live and visit, according to the release. She plans to create policies and systems that support the region's creative culture for years to come.

The need for the local arts organization was initially recognized by the Walton Arts Center and later reinforced by a study done in 2015 and paid for by the Walton Family Foundation, according the release. The Northwest Arkansas Council will support the development of the arts organization.

The Northwest Arkansas Council is a private, nonprofit organization working to advance job opportunities, talent recruitment, physical infrastructure and quality of life in the region.

The foundation commissioned the study as part of its 2020 Home Region Plan to examine cultural needs, according to the release.

"This organization will be a key partner for the Northwest Arkansas arts community, and it was important to develop this vision through a thoughtful process," said Joe Randel, Walton Family Foundation senior program officer. "Those steps included studying different models from around the country, ensuring the local arts community had a voice during the ideation process and taking the time to find a perfect fit for the leadership position."

The organization will focus on leadership development, regional communications, professional development, small-scale grants and advocacy, according to the release. The group will also create a strategic plan to attract and retain artists and cultural organizations of all sizes and disciplines.

Karen Minkel, Walton Family Foundation Home Region Program director, said the foundation is committed to elevating and supporting every member of the Northwest Arkansas' arts and culture community.

"Whether they're artists, community-based cultural groups or art institutions, this new organization will help ensure all these elements thrive," Minkel said.

Martin Miller, TheatreSquared executive director, said the new organization will help create an environment in which area arts organizations can communicate and collaborate as they never have before. He said TheatreSquared would've benefited from such an organization when it began 14 years ago.

"It was a more challenging time to emerge, because you really felt like you were putting your place together," he said. "You had to assemble your community, and you had to make the case for why you should be there."

Fostering a greater level of collaboration can only help the area arts community, said Matthew Herren, Symphony of Northwest Arkansas director.

"Our growth in the recent past has been almost entirely through partnerships and collaboration," he said.

Having such a creative environment in place would mean establishing a support system for emerging and established organizations to the benefit of the arts community as a whole, Miller said.

"Northwest Arkansas needs to keep investing in arts, culture and quality-of-life amenities," Nelson Peacock, president and CEO of the council, said in the release. "Allyson's leadership and focus on advancing the arts is a critical component of our strategy moving forward. The organization she'll be establishing will promote regional collaboration to benefit local artists and the entire region."

NW News on 07/12/2019

Print Headline: Regional organization to connect Northwest Arkansas arts community

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