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story.lead_photo.caption The Arts Center of the Ozarks is visible Thursday, September 3, 2020, in Springdale. The Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange on Sept. 18 will take over ownership of the building at the corner of Grove Avenue and Main Street, according to a press release from the Northwest Arkansas Council. A grant from the Tyson Family Foundation is supporting the change, according to the release. Check out nwaonline.com/200904Daily/ and nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

SPRINGDALE -- A new organization is going to manage the Arts Center of the Ozarks building, it was announced Thursday.

The Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange on Sept. 18 will take over operations of the building at the corner of Grove Avenue and Main Street, according to a press release from the Northwest Arkansas Council.

"We are excited about this partnership and believe that doing this will open the physical space to broader use and encourage further partnership between the various organizations in the area," the center said in an announcement to patrons. "This will also allow the ACO organization to focus on developing and producing future programming without the additional task of managing and maintaining the building itself."

Bryan Gott, ACO executive director, said, "CACHE will not manage the ACO organization and its programming, just the building itself. The ACO organization is completely intact."

The building is being purchased by Grove Arts, an affiliate of the Tyson Family Foundation formed to help reinvent and rejuvenate the arts center in Springdale, said Nate Green, Northwest Arkansas Council communications director. The Creative Arkansas group will manage operations through an operating grant from the foundation, he said.

Details on the grant amount are not available at this time, Green said.

"Tyson is investing in the arts, which I know is greatly appreciated by all," said Brian Powell, Springdale City Council member, in an email.

This is an opportunity to reinvent the space into a modern-era arts center, said Allyson Esposito, executive director of the Creative Arkansas group, in the release.

The group wants to encourage community engagement by reimagining the space as a grassroots creative hub for Northwest Arkansas, according to the release.

The Creative Arkansas group was formed in 2019 and wants to expand the Northwest Arkansas cultural sector with a focus on building an inclusive, innovative and inspiring creative community, according to the release.

"The Tyson Family Foundation is proud to be a part of the evolution of one of the oldest arts institutions in Northwest Arkansas," Olivia Tyson, foundation president, said in the release. "As we strive to create an inclusive and accessible space for artists and arts organizations in our region, we want to express our appreciation for the individuals and families that have been pivotal in the success of ACO."

"This is a huge opportunity, and we hope that you will celebrate with us," Derek Gibson, ACO board president, said in the release. "The spirit of community theatre remains strong and the dedication of the ACO to its theatre family has not wavered. Our traditional summer musical will be back on stage in 2021."

Gott said in the release, "For more than 53 years, ACO has been one of the largest organizational champions of arts in the area – delighting the public through performances, exhibitions and outdoor festivals."

Joseph Farmer, executive director of the Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers, said he's delighted about the announcement. "We are looking forward to see what the changes will bring for our friends, family and neighbors in Northwest Arkansas."

Martin Miller, executive director of TheatreSquared in Fayetteville, said he's grateful for the efforts being made to increase access to the arts.

"Downtown Springdale is in many ways our downtown as well," Miller said. "We deeply share their vision for a more inclusive regional landscape for the arts."

Peter Lane, president and CEO of Walton Arts Center, agreed.

"We are excited to see more performing arts initiatives that add to the cultural fabric of Northwest Arkansas and increase the opportunity for all community members to access the arts and to have their voices and stories amplified," he said.

Changes at the ACO will positively influence the city's culture and inclusivity, said Samuel Rivera Lopez, a Springdale artist who is one of the organizers of the Creative Artist exchange group.

"I think it's a great effort from many community members to finally, not just assimilate, but integrate our community," he said.

The arts center will next move into a planning phase that will include taking some time to gather information from theater participants and the public, according to the release.

Rivera Lopez said they establish focus groups over the next couple of months that include city leaders, activists and artists.

The groups will work toward creating partnerships and relationships within the community so more people can understand what the arts center offers and to give feedback on programming, he said.

"The current intent remains to produce quality community theater," Gott said.

The ACO has been lightly staffed while closed during the covid-19 pandemic, Gott said.

"Managing staff has been working to first try and save the summer musical and then to evaluate the rest of the season we had planned to see where we might still be able to present programming," he said. "Beyond that, staff has been continuing maintenance of the facility and taking care of our extensive collection."

How successful efforts toward change in the Springdale arts community are depend on the level of community participation in the focus groups and future programming conversations, Rivera Lopez said.

"I hope my community is ready to take that initiative," he said.

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Individuals interested in participating in focus groups concerning Arts Center of the Ozarks programming should contact Samuel Rivera Lopez at samuelriveralopez07@gmail.com.

Source: Samuel Rivera Lopez

Mary Jordan can be reached by email at mjordan@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWAMaryJ.

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