ROGERS -- The city is at the beginning of a long-term cultural planning process that will help shape its presence in Northwest Arkansas.
The planning will assist the city as it transitions from a small town to a big city, said John McCurdy, city director of community development.
"If we do it right, it could be really great," McCurdy said.
Rogers has grown by about 22% from 2010 to 2019, with its estimated population increasing from 56,109 to 68,669, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The cultural planning process will result in the creation of a master arts and culture plan that identifies key challenges and recommendations for how to address them, said Anna Watson, city arts and culture coordinator.
"It really builds upon a strong foundation and a strong culture that already exists in Rogers," Watson said. "It's about celebrating what's possible, where we're going and building on places that need more support in the community."
Creative spaces such as museums, music venues, restaurants and shops in the city grew 193% from 2014-2018, according to a 14-month study by Minneapolis-based nonprofit arts developer Artspace that concluded in January 2019. The growth was the most among the studied cities of Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale.
"We want to really understand the challenges and the local culture that exists and how we can complement it," Watson said. "It's very heavily focused on research, community input and Public Art Commission input."
The ultimate goal is to attract and retain talented people to allow the city to continue to thrive and grow with a diversified economy, while allowing Rogers to maintain its character within the region, McCurdy said.
"A lot of things happen as a result of a more vibrant arts and culture program within a city," he said. "Each of the cities in Northwest Arkansas has its own identity, and we don't want to lose that."
The city took a significant step in the cultural planning process by hiring Watson as its first arts and culture coordinator in April. She said she immediately began researching and examining cultural planning case studies in cities such as Austin, Texas, and Washington.
"That was used to inform how we would approach the guiding framework with the Public Art Commission," Watson said. "That data collection is ongoing."
The commission will look at the models and resources for other cities to help Rogers' efforts, said Kelli Roberts, Public Art Commission chair.
The commission is in the early stages of the process, Roberts said, but has experienced a lot of emphasis on diversity, equity and inclusion.
"We're all really invested in getting this right and laying a cultural foundation that really has actionable items and vision," Roberts said. "We want the most vibrant, thriving cultural environment and scene in Rogers, and we take that seriously."
The city will collect data from the community through surveys, town halls and geographic information system mapping in early 2021, she said.
Information will be incorporated into a cultural plan that Watson said she anticipates bringing to the City Council for approval in May.
The city isn't waiting for a completed plan prior to taking steps forward, however, and approved its first arts and culture budget of $430,000 on Dec. 8, Watson said. The budget funds include $100,000 for initial work on the city's Alleyway Revitalization Project, $150,000 for music contracts for downtown concerts and $80,000 to enter into a consulting relationship with Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange, or CACHE.
The additional $100,000 of the budget will be used to support events such as Frisco Fest, Christmas parades, farmers markets and other legacy events for the city, she said.
CACHE is a regional arts service organization formed in 2019 by the Northwest Arkansas Council to act as the central regional agency committed to connecting, supporting and developing the region's arts and culture community.
Rogers approving an arts and culture budget is particularly noteworthy, said Allyson Esposito, CACHE executive director.
The Alleyway Revitalization Project will take place between First and Second streets from Cherry to Maple streets, McCurdy said.
The design for the project is anticipated to be done by New York-based WXY Architecture and Urban Design by September, he said.
Work on the alleyway has to be done to maintain water and sewer infrastructure in the downtown area, McCurdy said, which also serves as a cultural development opportunity for the city.
"We have an opportunity to resurface the alleyway in a better way and to relocate some of the trash and everything else," he said. "The idea there being to relocate dumpsters and resurface the alleyway, add lighting and amenities with artwork so that the alleyways become a comfortable place for pedestrians."
The overall cost of the project is unknown at this time, McCurdy said, but the city has received a Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program grant for the project from the Walton Family Foundation.
The $336,250 grant was approved by the City Council in July, said Kathryn Heller, Walton Family Foundation home region communications officer.
"The downtown Rogers alleyway project will create a unique destination that enlivens the neighborhood and connects a thriving historic district," said Meredith Bergstrom, program officer with the Walton Family Foundation. "It will also provide opportunities to work with the creative community and celebrate local culture in a way that engages the entire region."
The $150,000 slated for music programming was the biggest desire expressed by the community through the Artspace study, McCurdy said.
"That's the first time that they have ever seen live music be the No. 1 unmet demand in one of their market analyses," he said. "Whatever we do, we're confident live music will be a big part of it."
The city's relationship with CACHE could be particularly influential on the city's arts and cultural planning, McCurdy said.
"We provide the leadership and process expertise of cultural planning," said Kelsey Howard, CACHE program director.
Howard said CACHE is in a position to foster a cohesive vision in the region and has access to regional and national resources and expertise that cities may not.
"We are uniquely positioned to be that unifier and that encourager for cities to recognize the importance of cultural planning, to build that vision that's unique to each city, but also to reinforce that this is what's happening regionwide and there is unique strength in that," she said.
The $80,000 budgeted to allow CACHE to act as a consultant for the city's arts and cultural development is a move Fayetteville is also examining, said Susan Norton, Fayetteville chief of staff.
"It is my intention that the city of Fayetteville will become partners with CACHE as regional consultants," Norton said.
Terms for that partnership will be forthcoming when the city hires a cultural planning director, she said.
"I see this unique position as a complement to many of our long-range planning goals that support a growth strategy for creating an inclusive and culturally vibrant community," Norton said. "Fayetteville's director of cultural planning will provide leadership and collaboration to identify and celebrate our many cultural assets, particularly those that have the potential to provide a sense of belonging for current residents and newcomers to our community and region."
The City Council has not yet approved funds to hire the director, but Norton said she anticipates being able to bring the proposed position before the council for approval in the second quarter of 2021.
Inquiries about hiring a cultural planner for Springdale went unanswered by the city, and Shelli Kerr, Bentonville Comprehensive planning manager, said Bentonville has no plan to hire a cultural planner at this time.
Howard said CACHE is focusing on two cities at a time through its cultural planning efforts.
"We fully anticipate after Rogers, we'll really focus on Fayetteville," she said. "After Fayetteville, we'll see."
The organization continues to look at the region as a whole and anticipates long-term impacts for Northwest Arkansas from Rogers' cultural planning efforts, Howard said.
"The arts and culture of a city is what makes people have place attachment. It's what makes people contribute to their communities and stay. It's what makes the quality of life increase. It's what helps to uplift and to bring greater focus to underrepresented voices from historically repressed communities," she said. "This is what brings our communities together."
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Information on Rogers’ current development plans, standards and ordinances is available online at https://www.rogersa….
Mary Jordan can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @NWAMaryJ.