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BRIAN CHILSON

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bipartisan caucus for the arts in the Arkansas legislature: Can it be? It can, and it is, thanks to the efforts of Arkansans for the Arts, a nonprofit that has used research to show that economic prosperity and the arts — all the arts, including writing, floral design, fashion — go hand in hand. You don’t need research to see that Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art has been a huge shot in the arm to Northwest Arkansas. But it doesn’t hurt that Arkansans for the Arts, founded in 2014 in an effort not to become the last state in the union to have a grassroots arts advocacy organization, can offer up data gathered by the national Americans for the Arts to show that arts education improves student graduation rates and that the arts industry brings in new jobs and tourist dollars. For its first three years, Arkansans for the Arts took part in a study partially funded by the Windgate Charitable Foundation on arts advocacy and the impact of the arts on education in 10 states. Once that was done, Garbo Hearne, chairman of the board of the nonprofit, said, “We realized we needed to get on top of our game of advocating, to be a force … for the creative economy and the arts in Arkansas.” Hearne, who has seen firsthand how the arts can help transform a community with her gallery, Hearne Fine Arts at 1001 Wright Ave., saw that Tennessee’s arts advocacy nonprofit was forming a legislative arts caucus. So Arkansans for the Arts called on the “drum major for the arts” in Arkansas schools: State Sen. Joyce Elliott (D-Little Rock). They presented her with the numbers: The arts industry in Arkansas has had an economic impact of $2.7 billion and created 34,000 jobs, according to a 2015 analysis. As good as those figures are, the job total doesn’t include part-time work, so it underrepresents the total impact, Arkansans for the Arts says. Elliott was convinced, and the caucus was formed. “The beauty of this caucus is it’s bipartisan,” Hearne said. The 17 members of the caucus — 10 Republicans and seven Democrats — represent the Arkansas Arts Council’s eight districts. Republican members are Sen. Scott

Flippo of Mountain Home, Rep. Jana Della Rosa of Rogers, Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View, Rep. Craig Christiansen of Bald Knob, Sen. Ron Caldwell of Wynne, Sen. Mat Pitsch of Fort Smith, Rep. Sarah Capp of Ozark, Sen. Breanne Davis of Russellville, Rep. Les Warren of Hot Springs and Rep. Carol Dalby of Texarkana. Democrats include Elliott, Rep. Monte Hodges of Blytheville, Rep. Deborah Ferguson of West Memphis, Rep. Reginald Murdock of Marianna, Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville, Sen. Eddie Cheatham of Magnolia and Rep. Vivian Flowers of Pine Bluff. Arkansas’s record of arts funding is less than stellar; Arkansans for the Arts hopes to convince the legislature that investing in the arts will grow the economy and keep our native creative people in Arkansas. The nonprofit has ideas: A 1 percent construction set-aside for art for public building projects, as Ohio has done. Support for cultural arts districts that offer affordable space for housing and studios. License plate sales to support arts in the schools. At the caucus’ meeting in March, this big idea was floated: Giving the arts a seat at the table, literally, at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Arkansans for the Arts is working with students, too: The University of Central Arkansas in Conway has formed an arts advocacy organization under the guidance of art professor and Associate Dean Gayle Seymour, Hearne said. Students will learn how to lobby: “They’re going to know what the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] is, what the Mid-America Arts [Alliance], the Arts Council, [ask] where does the money go? And how to interact with legislators,” Hearne said. That will train a new generation to urge policymakers to see the arts as good for the state and not a luxury. Soprano “Beverly Sills said art is the signature of your civilization,” Hearne said. “When everyone is gone, your art will tell your story.” Arkansans for the Arts is a member-supported organization. To join and learn more about advocacy and the creative economy, go to arkansansforthearts.org. — Leslie Newell Peacock

GARBO HEARNE OF ARKANSANS FOR THE ARTS: PROMOTE THE CREATIVE ECONOMY

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