Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
You might say that we like to party arty, those of us who enjoy a glass of wine and conversation surrounded by paintings and pots and prints. Or the more cultured might say, Vive le salon! There is a 20-year-plus tradition of art walks in Arkansas, some carried on all year, others on special weekends. You stroll, look at new work, and if you're lucky you meet the artist and hear him or her give a talk. Appreciation grows, the artist sells, everybody's happy. Here's a list of towns and times to devote an hour or two to art.
2nd Friday Art Night
Downtown Little Rock
5-8 p.m. monthly
Galleries in downtown Little Rock hang the work of names big and not so big, and this monthly gallery stroll — or perhaps troll would be a better word, since rubber wheeled trolleys provides transportation between the venues — puts them before the art-going public. Started seven years ago (when the Clinton Presidential Library opened), 2nd Friday Art Night's venues change monthly but you can count on the Historic Arkansas Museum, which has a gallery devoted to Arkansas artists; the Arkansas Studies Institute, which features work from all over the country; and Hearne Fine Art, which specializes in work by noted African-American artists. Each month those galleries are joined by various other venues hosting special art events. Restaurants participate as well, highlighting work by local artists and providing sustenance to the gallery-goers, lightheaded with culture and wine and cheese nibbles.
Argenta Art Walk
Downtown North Little Rock
5-8 p.m. third Friday of every month
North Little Rock's historic downtown is earning a reputation as an arts district, with galleries, a theater, public art and open studios, concentrated neatly in just a few pretty blocks. Greg Thompson Fine Art, in a beautifully restored space above Ristorante Capeo, features work by the nationally-known and Arkansas's top artists. Ketz Gallery and the Baker House Bed and Breakfast focus on work by Arkansans and the Thea Foundation, which promotes arts education, presents work by established artists and students alike. Viewers become doers at Argenta Bead Shop, which usually has a special craft activity, and artists show how they do what they do at ClayTime, Argenta Studios, THEArtists Gallery and Studios, Starving Artist Café and in front of the Argenta branch of the Laman Public Library. Independent artists show and sell up and down the street, and live music on Main pulls it all together.
Hot Springs Gallery Walk
Downtown Hot Springs
First Friday of every month
They're coming out! They're at the gate ... and that's how every Gallery Walk starts, as natives and vacationers alike hit Central Avenue at 5 p.m. the first Friday of every month. This venerable tradition across from Bathhouse Row is now its 21st year and can be credited in large part for the revival of the old downtown, which struggled after most of Central's beautiful historic bathhouses ran out of steam. (One bathhouse read the writing on the wall and became the Museum of Contemporary Art.) Yes, there are still rock shops and weird animal exhibits and the Wax Museum, but elevating the conversation a bit are Taylor's Contemporanea, just off Central, which features paintings and sculpture by artists from all over the region; American Art Gallery, Blue Moon, Gallery Central, Gallery 726, Legacy and others, which focus on Arkansas artists, and artist-owned galleries like Alison Parsons and Justus Fine Art. If you like horses, and paintings of horses, there's no better place to shop than downtown Hot Springs galleries during racing season at Oaklawn.
The square, downtown Fayetteville
Football isn't everything. It really isn't. This university town also has a thriving arts community, and it brings out the highbrows once a month to the square downtown. The largest venue, Fayetteville Underground, which has its own stable of artists, features contemporary work in all media from all over in its four galleries. First Thursday is keeping Fayetteville funky, as the town saying goes, as well as contributing to a regional arts reputation that will this fall include a venue up the road in Bentonville, where Alice Walton's Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art will be putting smiley faces on all lovers of great American art. FFT also has a great website to let you know what's happening: www.firstthursdayfayetteville.com.
White Street Studio Walk
4-10 p.m. Third Friday in May
The concentration of artists in Eureka Springs is said to be one out of every three residents of this picturesque and sometimes wacky town. Many of those artists live and work on Eureka's winding White Street, on the upper historic loop, and they open their doors to the public during the May Festival of the Arts. Not only do they show their own work, but they invite dozens of their colleagues in to share space to show and sell. Founders Eleanor Lux, a weaver, has a large lofty space filled with looms and soft sculpture and her beaded work; Zeek Taylor features his signature monkey watercolors; expect to see John Willer's oil paintings, along with jewelry, pottery, stained glass and more. This year the White Street walk celebrates its 20th year. Spring Street galleries host special day and after-hours events every Saturday in May.
Artist associations in several parts of Arkansas now have annual open studio weekends in fall. Here's the drill: You get a map from the association and drive around to see what's what. Off the Beaten Path (Sept. 16-18), is a self-guided tour of studios in Mountain View, Calico Rock, Pineville, Leslie and Fox; dozens of Arkansas artists and crafters open their studios for the Ouachita Art Trails in Mena (Oct. 7-9); the Round About Artist Studio Tour in Arkadelphia (Oct. 14-16) is sponsored by the Caddo River Art Guild and it, too, features dozens of artists. Read about all three at www.arkansasartiststudiotours.com.