Art, With a Side of Nature — Art is Placed Center Stage in a National Park

by Zachary Powers

photos courtesy of Hot Springs Area Cultural Alliance

Hot Springs is an art town – no two  ways about it. It’s home to great arts organizations like The Fine Arts Center of Hot Springs, Hot Springs Area Cultural Alliance, and Low Key Arts. Hot Springs also hosts world-class events like monthly gallery walks, film festivals, a weekly poetry night that hasn’t missed a Wednesday in 27 years, and numerous music festivals – from classical to blues to whatever beautiful thing Valley of the Vapors is. Each event is unique and features talented artists from around Arkansas and, moreover, the world. But it’s just one small town and there’s only 365 days in a year. There’s no way it can host events for every art form known to the human experience.

Enter the Hot Springs Area Cultural Alliance’s Arts & the Park.

Open to any and all art forms, this eight-day event plays no favorites. If you create or perform any kind of art, they want you there showcasing your passion. The 2016 Arts & the Park lineup includes poetry readings, studio tours, lectures, music, theatre, film presentations, circus arts, workshops, book signings, a talent competition, and more. The festival closes with Art Springs, the two-day outdoor festival at Hill Wheatley Park featuring artists’ booths, artists’ demonstrations, a children’s art wall and live performances on the festival stage. It has a little something for everyone.

As the executive director of a small performance art organization in Hot Springs (Red Door Studios), I am very excited to have a show be part of Arts & the Park for a second straight year. Though Hot Springs is an art town, I would not call it a theatre town. It’s just not part of our everyday dialogue. Being a part of the festival allows Red Door Studios, the Pocket Community Theatre, The Muses Creative Artistry Project, and other groups to reintroduce (or in some cases introduce) people to performance art and show that theatre is alive and well in Hot Springs.

Last year Red Door Studios produced the play “Derby Day” by Arkansas-born professional playwright Samuel Brett Williams during the festival, and we  were pleasantly surprised by the positive feedback, support, and appreciation we received from Arts & the Park organizers and patrons.

This year, Red Door Studios called for submissions of one-act plays from Arkansas natives. 28 plays were submitted by 22 different Arkansas playwrights – seven of which were selected to be produced as “Arkansas One-Acts: Playwright Showcase

2016” at Low Key Arts during the festival. In the true spirit of Arts & the Park, we are showcasing local talent – with playwrights, actors, directors, and crew – and we have a little something for everyone (Except the kids. Leave them at home for this one).

In addition to Red Door Studios’ production, The Pocket Community Theatre is producing “Love Letters”  –  a Pulitzer Prize finalist written by A.R. Gurney, who is also famous for Sylvia and The Dining Room – on Sundays at 2:30 PM at 170 Ravine Street. And, the Fine Arts Center of Hot Springs is presenting “Starstuff Story Time Theater” – a family friendly interactive story experience that encourages audience participation – on Saturday, May 7 at 1:00 PM at Adair Park.

Arts & the Park is a celebration of art. It is integral to our lives. It surrounds  us  and affects us in ways we are not aware. Television, architecture, social media, food, music, literature – all are products of an artist’s vision. But we don’t often see it that way because our reaction to other’s creations feel so personal that we almost take credit for it ourselves. The next time you’re in a good mood, consider the source. Retrace your steps. Did you wake up this way, or was it something you heard on the radio? Did you inspire yourself to take on the day, or did the book you read the night before instill that inspiration? Or was it that painting you saw someone post to your virtual “wall” or was it that inspiring monologue by the street performer on the corner? Or was it the trail you hiked last week or was it the mountain blanketed with lush hardwoods?

Cole McCaskill, Downtown Development Director of Hot Springs said, “We have a heightened consciousness about art and nature in Hot Springs. I think our proximity to Hot Springs National Park and The Ouachita National Forest are to credit for that. Arts & the Park deliberately activates all corners of Garland County terrain. Many events are centered downtown, like the Plein Air Paint Out in the National Park and Art Springs, the outdoor art and music festival in the heart of the city. You can also enjoy many of our scenic highways to visit artist’s personal studios, as part of the Studio Tours on April 30th and May 1st.”

Arts & the Park is also a celebration of artists– many of which have day jobs because the reality of life doesn’t stop. Many of these artists spend their hard-earned pay and precious time creating and sharing their art with the world – or whoever will take the time to be their audience — with little chance of an actual return on investment, because they understand that making their voice heard and holding that mirror up to life is essential for our continued survival as a culture and society. At Arts & The Park, everyone has an opportunity to be center stage and everyone has an opportunity to be the audience.

Arts & the Park 2016 takes place from April 29 to May 8 at various locations throughout Hot Springs. Call 1-800-SPA-CITY or visit www.hotsprings.org for more.