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You know that old story that artists of all stripes tell? The one about a lack of resources and fickle audiences and no support from venues? The Arkansas Community Arts Cooperative (ACAC) knows it by heart, but after years of struggling with those pressures, the non-profit finally seems poised to affect a change in the local cultural scene.
The ACAC's stated mission is “to provide opportunities and resources to artists and the community including those who would otherwise not have access to them.” So far, in a little more than eight years of existence, that's meant that the group's painted a mural in North Little Rock, offered a number of “community skills” workshops (on subjects ranging from breakdancing to papermaking) and hosted various art and fashion shows and concerts.
In 2007, the co-op moved into its first permanent space, in a building on South Main. A year later, it received a three-year grant from the Arkansas Arts Council to hire a part-time director and relocated to the former Gallery B building on South Rodney Parham, where it could host concerts and events without bothering neighbors.
Still, even with a permanent space and the money to pay for a part-time director, the ACAC hasn't exactly flourished. A string of directors have come and gone. Membership has hovered around 120. And the programming, with some noteworthy exceptions, has rarely changed from year to year.
Enter Leigh Wood. The 30-year-old Little Rock native took over in October with experience that includes co-founding Art Amiss in Fayetteville and fund-raising for two public radio stations. In relatively short order, she's recruited an impressive and diverse new slate of board members, set an aggressive goal for fund-raising and attracting new members and taken steps to repair the co-op's reputation as little more than club built around a self-promoting number of longtime members.
“I have to let people know that the ACAC is not a clique-y thing or an inclusive thing,” she says. “That rather, it's an awesome thing, where you can make any weird idea you have for throwing a party or starting a workshop or whatever happen.”
To that end, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, the ACAC hosts a programming meeting open to all members (Wood says prospective members can join at the meeting), where ideas for upcoming events will be discussed.
Already, Wood's converted the space into a full-time gallery, which debuts a new artist every first Friday of the month. (The gallery arrangement can also accommodate other events, though until the group can secure enough volunteer support, the building rarely remains open beyond events.) And several new board members talk of passion projects they're working on developing. Graphic artist Jose Hernandez, who's new to Little Rock after spending his teens and early 20s living throughout Mexico and the U.S., hopes to start a mural workshop. And filmmaker and attorney Nick Rogers wants to see the ACAC stage plays and host filmmaker roundtables.
Wood acknowledges that talk of ideas will do little to attract new members. She has to prove the ACAC to the community with better programming. Next up: a first Friday opening around 7 p.m. Feb. 5 for Hernandez. His graffiti culture-influenced social art looks like nothing anyone else is doing locally. More calendar information is available acacarkansas.wordpress.com.
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