Ninth member resigns from Walton Arts Center board amid drag decision

A crowd gathers on Saturday, June 18, 2022, before the 2022 Northwest Arkansas Pride Weekend parade along Dickson Street in Fayetteville. Several members of the Walton Arts Center board have resigned amid a decision to prohibit drag performances for minors at this year's pride festival. (File photo/NWA Democrat-Gazette/Hank Layton)

FAYETTEVILLE -- A ninth member of the Walton Arts Center board has resigned.

Shelley Simmons resigned Tuesday, a center spokeswoman confirmed. Simmons joins eight other members in resigning from the board: Casey Hamaker, Anne O'Leary-Kelly, Jody Dilday, Mervin Jebaraj, Cal Rose, Lia Uribe, Shabana Kauser and Elecia Smith.

The resignations came soon after the Walton Arts Center said it had concerns over a policy regarding parental attendance and would not host any drag events for minors during the Northwest Arkansas Pride Festival and Parade to be held June 24. Northwest Arkansas Equality, the nonprofit group that organizes the festival, said it would move its youth zone to the Fayetteville Town Center.

The Walton Arts Center board has 23 members. Six members are appointed by the city, six are appointed by the University of Arkansas and 11 are appointed by the Walton Family Foundation. One seat was open before the controversy started, according to a listing on the center's website.

Simmons was appointed by the Walton Family Foundation. The city or university appointed all the other members who resigned.

NWA Equality in a news release said parents and guardians are invited to attend the festival's youth zone together. Story readings will include community members, some in costume, reading age-appropriate books to children and their parents or guardians. The teen zone will be for teens only, but with a designated area for parents and guardians, similar to a high school dance, according to the release. The policy was the same for the teen zone last year.

The Walton Arts Center said in a statement it had concerns over safety and the policy about parents and guardians in the youth zone. The center also expressed concern over how videos or photos of the youth events may be used in a political context to attack the LGBTQ+ community.

The story was updated to correct the group that nominated Simmons.