Jeff Schomburger's Guest Commentary

This article can be read in the Sunday, June 9 edition of the Northwest Arkansas Times, or by visiting NWA Online.  


My family and I have lived in Fayetteville for 10 years and I have served on the Walton Arts Center Board for the past nine, including the last four years as chairman.

Growth at the arts center has been tremendous since its inception, and the past few years have been particularly exciting. The amount of discussion I’ve heard about the Walton Arts Center recently is particularly empowering as it underscores the widespread passion and commitment we all feel for it.

Our vision is to create a quality of life in Northwest Arkansas that is second to none by drawing worldclass arts and entertainment to our region. As we grow, our donors and patrons continue to ask for more programming options. From a business standpoint, we want to ensure Northwest Arkansas, and WaltonArts Center specifi cally, can get the same type of entertainment as Kansas City, St. Louis or Tulsa. We need more space to make this a reality. Our board made a deliberate decision to pursue a strategy of regional facility growth to meet these needs. Renovating Walton Arts Center on Dickson Street is the linchpin of that strategy as this facility is the cornerstone of our organization. We host nearly 350 events a year at WAC, and we see that number growing significantly in the future. I was pleased that at our last board meeting we passed amotion authorizing staff to begin the capital campaign for our $20 million-plus renovation of Walton Arts Center’s Fayetteville campus.

We will see a complete transformation in the next few years on Dickson Street.

We also made a decision to proceed with building a new Arkansas Music Pavilion.

The AMP is a project I have been particularly passionate about. People have asked me, however, how it fits into our plans.

We purchased the AMP nearly three years ago for two reasons: 1) large-scale popular concerts are the No. 1 unmet entertainment need in Northwest Arkansas, and if WAC manages it, we ensure we can program complementary acts and meet community demand; and 2) concerts are profitable. WAC is a nonprofit organization and every year, we raise nearly 50 percent of our annual budget from donations. Whenmoney comes in from AMP concerts, we can use that money to support our most important programs in the community - like engaging more than 50,000 school students in art programming and presenting our 10-by-10 arts series, for which tickets are only $10.

As excited as I am about the AMP, some people have told me they felt uninformed about the process around our decision to locate the AMP at Pinnacle Hills in Rogers. For that, I am sorry. I value constructive feedback, as does our staff , and changes are under way in response. As a nonprofi t arts organization, we rely on broad-based community support and our goal is to always be open and transparent. We shared Mrs. Johnelle Hunt’s gift of land with our board back in May 2012. Our facilities and executive committees met many times over the past 12 months to discuss the AMPand guide staff in the due diligence process. Recent funding for the project was secured, prompting immediate consideration by our full board. We feel confident with our decision.

But we recognize our community wants to be more engaged. In response to this, we will work to expand our communication and engagement eff orts.

I hope you will watch for public input sessions (some have already occurred) on both the WAC expansion and the AMP. Check the Walton Arts Center website for more continuous updates on the planning process, and look for proactive summaries coming out of our board meetings. If you have other ideas for how we can better communicate, I invite you to contact me.

Fayetteville is WAC’s home and, as we grow, will remain our operating headquarters.

With the majority of the arts center staff and 12 of the 20WAC board members living in Fayetteville, we value the character and artistic integrity that makes this community uniquely ours.

We recognize the support of our partners - the city of Fayetteville, the University of Arkansas and visionaries who made Walton Arts Center a reality more than 20 years ago. All of our growth strategies are predicated around ensuring Walton Arts Center remains the best performing arts center in Arkansas and beyond.

My family loves Walton Arts Center and Dickson Street. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to serve on the board and I look forward to exciting new arts endeavors in Fayetteville and around Northwest Arkansas.