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I was pretty floored when I heard from our curators that they were going rogue in developing their next exhibition by traveling cross-country to get to know artists in their studios.


Why would such an idea be so shocking to me? I think in part we’ve become conditioned that establishments such as museums often define art based upon the valuing of art auctions, private collections, and biennials. So it was refreshing to see curators take action and say to the establishment “Let’s be authentic and hear from the artists on what is art!”


Fast forward to the exhibition that evolved from that effort, State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, which features more than 220 artworks, 102 artists from all across the US, not just New York and LA.  This exhibition goes beyond just the number of objects and the names. To me, it is actually a journey for the viewers and for the artists to be amongst each other as they explore a spectrum of art mediums and offer up their opinions on current society.


Given the depth of this exhibition, we museum educators couldn’t wait to capture this moment by offering the State of the Art Symposium, Crystal Bridges’ first public symposium, on November 14 and 15.  We’re very pleased that 14 State of the Art artists have accepted our invitation to share their thoughts on what is important to them in their everyday environments—from nature, to home life, to the community.


The State of the Art exhibition is the first of its kind for Crystal Bridges, and probably in the world. It has certainly set a precedent in exhibition research, and made a clear statement that Crystal Bridges is determined to connect with people and places nationally. This public symposium serves as a link between what’s happening nationally to what’s happening locally.


You may not know it, but there are tons of people in Northwest Arkansas (all around you, if you live nearby) that are doing pretty cool art shows, making art, helping the community, and advocating to support the arts in schools and on the streets.  Here are a few examples:



  • Kat Wilson and Sarah Leflar turned a backyard structure into an artist exchange program of exhibitions called Bottle Rocket Gallery.
  • For almost five years, a group of local artists have been dedicated to running one united gallery, the Fayetteville Underground.
  • Springdale has one of the longest-running multi-disciplinary art centers in NWA, the Art Center of the Ozarks which is leading Springdale into a trendy place of culture with their recent events, including the Wrecking Ball Warehouse party and the Sensory Iconoclast food/public art program.
  • Bentonville’s new 21c Museum Hotel is quickly becoming a social hub for local artists to experience the latest in contemporary art.


If you are interested in the arts and culture in our community, I encourage you to join us for our inaugural public symposium. Of special interest is the Open Platform session (from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on November 15) that showcases local perspectives from artists and art organizers in the region, as well as several artists from around the nation whose work appears in State of the Art. This session includes discussion and debate on the “state of art” in NWA and where we envision our community’s future.  This is a great opportunity to network and dialogue with other creatives in the area and across the nation!


Here’s a sneak peek at some of the regional participants in NWA session, with a special thanks to the very savvy Executive Director Samantha Sigmon from the Fayetteville Underground.


Ben Flowers received an Artosphere Partner Grant for his Envirofountains: place-based ecological sculptures. He is now working on Backrub, a series of collaborative public installations and participatory events at the DIY venue Backspace. Flowers also volunteers his time as a board member at the Fayetteville Art Alliance.

Kat Wilson is an Arkansas-based photographer as well as a co-founder and co-director of Bottle Rocket Gallery in Fayetteville, Arkansas. A non-profit gallery, Bottle Rocket shows artists from outside Arkansas whose work can be described as controversial, confrontational, or in some way challenging for the viewer. The mission of Bottle Rocket Gallery is simple—to create access for people in Northwest Arkansas to see the work of artists whose work, although important, would not otherwise be shown in this area.

Sabine Schmidt is an award-winning photographer, writer, literary translator, and educator. Schmidt serves as president of the board of Fayetteville Underground, is past vice president of Art Amiss, and is a member of the Kansas City Artists Coalition, the Arkansas Arts Council Artist Registry, the Arkansas State Committee Registry of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, and the Eureka Springs Artists Registry.

Erika Wilhite is founder and Executive Artistic Director of the Artist’s Laboratory Theatre of Fayetteville, AR. The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre is dedicated to creating intimate and surprising performance experiences through the process of experimentation with form and content, and through community outreach. Artist’s Laboratory Theatre is currently producing The New Now, a long-term performance project that explores the impact of technology and social media in our world today, and Sunday Night Service, a weekly performance series at Maxine’s Taproom to be aired on KUAF this Fall.

Eve Smith is the Director of Visual Arts at the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale, Arkansas. She has a degree in studio art from the University of Arkansas. Smith is listed in the National Museum of Women in the Arts Registry, co-curator of Sensory Iconoclasts (a partnership with Arts Center of the Ozarks and Crystal Bridges), and is an arts educator with students as young as 18 months of age.

Dayton Castleman is an Arkansas-based artist, educator, and curator. He currently manages 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville, where he lives with his wife and their three children. Castleman has participated in collaborative projects and studio spaces with other contemporary artists in Philadelphia and Chicago, and occasionally curates exhibitions out of his home.

Sam King is an artist/musician from Fort Smith, Arkansas. King co-edits MW Capacity, a website devoted primarily to painting in the Midwest, and co-directs Lalaland, a DIY arts and music space. King’s work is exhibited nationally and regionally. He resides in Fayetteville, AR, where he serves as Assistant Professor for the University of Arkansas Department of Art.

Samantha Sigmon is currently the Executive Director of the Fayetteville Art Alliance (known as the Fayetteville Underground), a regional artist-centered non-profit. She also directs a collaborative DIY arts and music venue in downtown Fayetteville called Backspace, is a board member of the New Design School, and serves on several art and local business committees.