Big Ideas for Arkansas 

Suggestions from readers and a variety of experts on how to make Arkansas a better place to live.

In what's become an annual tradition, the Arkansas Times recently solicited suggestions from readers and a variety of experts on how to make Arkansas a better place to live. We present their ideas here and hope you find them as inspirational as we do. If any especially strike a chord with you, help make them happen. Unlike years past, when some of the big ideas we featured were more provocative than feasible (such as re-routing the Arkansas River to bring Little Rock and North Little Rock together with a shared park), all of this year's Big Ideas could be achieved. Many are works in progress; those that aren't only lack the right mix of advocates to be realized.

Give art jobs to teen-agers
By Leslie Newell Peacock

John Gaudin has so many ideas for North Little Rock it's a wonder his head isn't the circumference of Verizon Arena. The man who has spearheaded numerous arts-related developments in Argenta has embarked on yet another: The Art Connection, his plan "to get kids off the streets and into art and art jobs."

So far, it's working. The 20 high school students selected for the inaugural program are working three nights a week at an enviable job: They're painting, with instruction from North Little Rock artist Angela Green and under the direction of Pammi Fabert, whose vision and energy is ideally suited to Gaudin's. Fabert has used the typical teen-age job of flipping hamburgers as a metaphor, telling the students "these paintings are your hamburgers." Students have to arrive at their classes, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, on time; they'll get docked if they're late and if they don't take their job seriously, they'll lose it.

If that sounds less like work and more like fun, consider this: These students had huge success at their first exhibit at November's Argenta ArtWalk, all selling something and some selling all their work. That means they have to keep producing.

The program is about more than money, of course: It's about putting at-risk kids in a situation in which they can see the results of work, take pride in it and learn to be self-sufficient so they can succeed in the adult world. Fabert has seen one of her shyest artists blossom, acting as host to the hordes who attended their opening.

Gaudin's inspiration came from another big idea: the Artists for Humanity paid apprenticeship program in Boston founded two decades ago. The more than 200 teen-aged participants in that program earned nearly $800,000 last year, according to its website. "It's an incredible model," Gaudin said. After seeing how the Boston program worked, Gaudin said he and fellow philanthropist Harold Tenenbaum "were determined to launch the program" in North Little Rock. They got financial commitments both public and private, renovated space at 204 E. Fourth St., hired Fabert and went to North Little Rock's high schools to find interested students. Sixty-seven students interviewed, but so far the program only has funds for 20. Gaudin said the program sought a diverse demographic from all over the city.

Next summer, Art Connection students will have summer jobs in art-related fields, Gaudin said, such as mural-painting. With a year's example to show, director Fabert will seek out new investors to grow the program, which she would like to see statewide.

Start a Maker Faire
By Leslie Newell Peacock

John Gaudin has another idea up his sleeve: He wants to bring the maker movement to North Little Rock. The Argenta Innovation Center, in the same building that Art Connection occupies, would serve as a collaborative space for young entrepreneurs who would be focused on making their ideas tangible. Gaudin has applied for a Maker Faire license so that someday he can host such a fair, where creative types display their inventions, in North Little Rock. Think 3D printers, robots, life-sized Mousetrap games, colored fire, a Gaudi structure recreated in toothpicks, a subwoofer powered by a bicycle (the "stompodium") — all featured in a recent Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif. Gaudin anticipates that Art Connection artists and the makers next door will bounce ideas off one another, a ping-pong game of creativity and another score for Argenta.

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