UCA Expands its Footprint as Creative Hub for Central Arkansas
In its latest economic impact study, Americans for the Arts, a national advocacy organization, found that the arts and culture industry generated $166.3 billion in economic activity in 2015.
Fine art makes communities richer. It is essential to lives and businesses and a significant driver of the economy — a concept that is too often overlooked.
“We often think of the arts as something extra, but they are key. Creative people stimulate innovation and strengthen competitiveness in the global marketplace,” said Gayle Seymour, professor and associate dean in the University of Central Arkansas College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHSS). Seymour serves on the board for Arkansans for the Arts, a state chapter of Americans for the Arts.
The study explores various regions across the country, including northwest Arkansas. There, the arts and culture sector generated $14.3 million in local and state government revenue and supported 4,647 jobs.
“It’s not just artists who are generating this income, it’s all the people who love the arts,” Seymour said. “Think about people who spend their money in restaurants and hotels, park their car and hire a babysitter. There are all kinds of stimulation in the economy that stem from the arts.”
In central Arkansas, the Windgate Center for Fine and Performing Arts is scheduled to open in fall 2022. It will strengthen UCA’s position as a leader in the arts community and make Conway an artistic anchor for the region.
With UCA’s close connection to Conway and other surrounding communities, the center will amplify and improve the art scene and increase tourism while serving as a laboratory for student collaboration. Luckily, the impact of UCA’s investment in the arts expands far beyond our campus.
“We believe that community development facilitates economic development. And a key part of community development is quality of life,” said Shelby Fiegel, director of the UCA Center for Community and Economic Development and the Community Development Institute. “Art plays a huge role in that quality-of-life piece.”
In the past, jobs at industrial plants and factories were major attractions for cities. Today, with improved technology and mobility, people are drawn to areas with other amenities, including the arts, Fiegel said.
The Windgate Center will include a 450-seat concert hall, a 175-seat black box theater and an art gallery, all of which will be connected by a wide corridor to allow mobility for large equipment from one facility to another.
“The location of the building is going to be a front porch for the campus in both a literal and figurative way,” Seymour said. “We want the public to also see this as a resource for them as well. It’ll be a game-changer for our community.”
Bryan Massey is professor and chair of the Department of Art and Design in CAHSS. Massey, a skilled sculpture artist, understands how much art enriches our understanding of the world around us.
“A lot of people look at a rock and see a rock,” Massey said. “But I can look at it as something more. My job is to take away everything that doesn’t belong and create a sculpture.”
There are so many opportunities that exist for people with an art degree, Massey said, because art is in everything, from the design of bridges and buildings to clothes and landscaping.
“You have to know you want to do it and have a passion for it,” Massey said. “I tell my students to start with the solid foundation of the principal elements of what art is. Then you can build on that as you begin to find your own creative voice and style.”
Many of his students have found great success in the fine arts, which is one reason CAHSS has one of the strongest art programs in the country. In 2019, UCA became the first university in the nation to start a student chapter of Americans for the Arts.
Seymour, an art historian, said that UCA has prioritized the arts since its founding in 1907; indeed, one of the seven initial departments was dedicated to the arts.
“None of this happened magically. We stand on the shoulders of great visionaries and leaders. Because of them, it’s our duty to see even further and make them proud,” Seymour said.