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Bentonville concert series a lift for Northwest Arkansas creative economy

by Mary Jordan | July 5, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.
Raquel Thompson known as "DJ Raquel" performs, Sunday, June 27, 2021 at The Momentary in Bentonville. The Momentary is offering free live music featuring NWA artists, July 27 through Sept. 26 through its Courtyard Concert Series. This is a new step for the creative space, which has to date primarily focused on out-of-state artists. Check out nwaonline.com/210628Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

BENTONVILLE -- Northwest Arkansas' creative economy is getting a boost through the Momentary's Courtyard Sessions concert series following a year of venue closings and programming restrictions because of the covid-19 pandemic, coordinators say.

The series began June 27 and features free, live music by Northwest Arkansas artists from 4:30-7 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 26 in the Momentary's Arvest Bank Courtyard, said Pia Agrawal, curator of performing arts.

The Momentary is a multidisciplinary contemporary art space owned by Crystal Bridges opening in February 2020 in the former Kraft Foods plant downtown.

The concert series is the venue's latest effort to invest in local artists and the region's creative economy, Agrawal said.

"We want to be a space of discovery," she said. "The Momentary is both a place to see your favorite artists playing in one of our many performance spaces and to find artists that are totally new to you."

The creative economy is a vital part of the region's growth and includes arts and culture venues and activities that contribute to Northwest Arkansas' economy, according to Arts and Economic Prosperity, a report published in 2017 by Washington-based nonprofit Americans for the Arts.

Nearly 1.8 million people attended arts and culture events in Northwest Arkansas in 2015, according to the report.

Event-related spending by attendees totaled $63.7 million in Northwest Arkansas in 2015, excluding the cost of admission, or roughly $35.89 per person, according to the report. That's slightly higher than the national average of $31.47 per person and almost double the $19.54 per person spending in the region documented in 2010.

The study is done every five years and documents the economic contributions of the nonprofit arts industry across the country, according to the report. The sixth iteration of the study was postponed one year because of the pandemic and will be published in June 2023 based on 2022 data, said Inga Vitols, a spokeswoman for Americans for the Arts.

The study defined Northwest Arkansas as Benton and Washington counties and was the only Arkansas region included in the 2017 report.

Information on how the pandemic has impacted the creative economy isn't yet available, Vitols said, but event coordinators and artists say they're beginning to feel the effects of featuring live music events locally once again.

Investing locally

Investing in local artists is a growing trend in the region, said Jesse Elliott, creative ecosystems director with Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange. The exchange is an arts services organization run by the Northwest Arkansas Council that's partnering with the Momentary to offer the Courtyard Sessions, he said.

"Everybody is really thinking about how to reinvest locally," Elliott said.

The pandemic accelerated an emphasis on local artists that began before the pandemic, he said.

"All indicators that we have is all the funders and the artistic communities are really excited to kind of have this renaissance moment," Elliott said. "There's been a bunch of talent around, and now it's just a matter of connecting it more often with these types of venues and with these type of opportunities."

Tyron Jamison, 27, of Springdale will be performing Sunday at the sessions, he said.

Jamison has been performing as DJ Tywalker since 2015 and describes his work as being "in the moment."

"My goal for each and every event is to grab the crowd and take them for a musical ride," Jamison said. "You may hear your favorite song that's trending now, you may hear your favorite song from high school or college, maybe even some of the songs your parents would listen to frequently as you were a child."

Work was scarce during the pandemic, he said.

"Weddings were the type of work that withstood the pandemic the most," Jamison said. "All other events pretty much came to a halt due to the lockdown guidelines on public spaces."

The Momentary's concert series presents a great opportunity to work, but will also serve as a means of potentially securing future gigs for the artist, he said.

"The location of the event is perfect, and I've only heard good things about the area," Jamison said. "I feel this event will bring great visibility to my work and how I perform."

Ripple effects

The artists are paid for their performances, Elliott said. There's also a spillover effect for the creative economy in the form of event spending by participants attending the event, he said.

"We love to spend money on food and drinks and being together celebrating," Elliott said. "Music and the arts give us a platform or reason to do that."

Concert-goers can purchase items at the venue's Rode Bar and the Momentary Food Truck.

Visitors to the area attending such events are beginning to affect Bentonville's creative economy as well, said Kalene Griffith, president of Visit Bentonville.

"We feel confident that the Momentary free concerts and upcoming music events will have a positive economic impact," she said. "On average, we see over 50% of participants at our larger events come from out of town, helping to drive additional hotel stays and restaurant business."

Music scene

The initial concert in the Courtyard Sessions series featured indie-pop duo Auralai of Bella Vista and electronic dance music DJ Raquel of Bentonville. More than 200 people attended, Agrawal said.

"The first concert of the series was so much fun," she said. "It was really energizing to see guests enjoy the music, enjoy food and drink from local food trucks."

The Momentary is also offering a free Live on the Green Concert Series featuring the signature sounds of indie artists and stars alike from 7:30-9 p.m. Fridays on the Momentary Green, according to the venue's website.

The concerts began Friday and will be offered through Sept. 24, according to the website.

Future performances include hip hop artist Baang and the jazzy rhythm and blues music of singer-songwriter Catie Waters on Friday , Agrawal said.

"We look forward to welcoming all to our space for more music. But more than that, we look forward to becoming a part of our community's everyday life as we reopen and gather together once again," she said.

The free concert series won't be the last opportunity for the Momentary to invest in the local creative economy, Agrawal said.

"We have some ideas brewing for later this summer that will let visitors experience performance all over our campus," she said. "It'll be a really cool way to explore some unique nooks and crannies of the Momentary through performance."

Stephanie Russell known by her stage name as "Auralai" performs, Sunday, June 27, 2021 at The Momentary in Bentonville. The Momentary is offering free live music featuring NWA artists, July 27 through Sept. 26 through its Courtyard Concert Series. This is a new step for the creative space, which has to date primarily focused on out-of-state artists. Check out nwaonline.com/210628Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Stephanie Russell known by her stage name as "Auralai" performs, Sunday, June 27, 2021 at The Momentary in Bentonville. The Momentary is offering free live music featuring NWA artists, July 27 through Sept. 26 through its Courtyard Concert Series. This is a new step for the creative space, which has to date primarily focused on out-of-state artists. Check out nwaonline.com/210628Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Yuliya Day of Bentonville (from left) plays with Ella Day, 5, Sunday, June 27, 2021 at The Momentary in Bentonville. The Momentary is offering free live music featuring NWA artists, July 27 through Sept. 26 through its Courtyard Concert Series. This is a new step for the creative space, which has to date primarily focused on out-of-state artists. Check out nwaonline.com/210628Daily/ for today's photo gallery. 
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Yuliya Day of Bentonville (from left) plays with Ella Day, 5, Sunday, June 27, 2021 at The Momentary in Bentonville. The Momentary is offering free live music featuring NWA artists, July 27 through Sept. 26 through its Courtyard Concert Series. This is a new step for the creative space, which has to date primarily focused on out-of-state artists. Check out nwaonline.com/210628Daily/ for today's photo gallery. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

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