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Influential Arkansans 

We highlight more than 50 who shape our state.

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Several years ago, the Arkansas Times began publishing a Big Ideas issue, an annual showcase of ideas that would make Arkansas a better place to live. It's always an inspiring endeavor, a rare opportunity for cynical editors to focus on promise rather than shortcomings.

In that spirit, we decided to survey some of the people behind the ideas and initiatives that are shaping Arkansas today. We used the idea of influence as an organizing principle, but rather than focus solely on the power brokers and business titans who carry the greatest weight, we considered a wide range of fields and communities, regardless of their size. In other words, this isn't the same list of impressive businessmen you've seen before. It's far from comprehensive, but still (we hope) broadly representative of what makes Arkansas hum. We considered people in fields that are small and obscure, such as Scott Stewart of Slabtown Customs, a leader in Arkansas in the so-called tiny house movement sparked by people who want or need to live more simply, and Larry Pillstrom, who leads a company his father founded that manufactures the world's preeminent snake-handling tongs. That they sit side-by-side in the issue with the likes of Buddy Philpot of the Walton Family Foundation, which pumps millions into education in Arkansas, and Hope native Chad Griffin, who leads the aptly named Human Rights Campaign in efforts to protect and extend gay rights, seems like an honest representation of Arkansas's talent and ideas.

We're hosting a weekend later in September in honor of these men and women who've left their mark on Arkansas. On Sept. 21 at the Old State House, we're throwing a cocktail reception for the public to mingle with the honorees (purchase tickets here). The following day, at the Old State House, the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Central Arkansas Library and the Clinton School for Public Service, we're hosting the Arkansas Times Festival of Ideas, where nearly 20 of our influential Arkansans will offer presentations and demonstrations in sessions free to the public. It'll be like our own version of TED Talks. See more details here, and save the date!

KORTO MOMOLU
Fashion design

"I'm a go big or go home kind of girl," Korto Momolu said, on showing up at the 2008 Project Runway audition with three models rather than three garments in a bag. She earned a spot on the show's fourth season, where she was named runner-up and the world learned that "Korto" (pronounced cut-toe) means generous cuts, tribal prints, bright colors and startling zippers. (Mayor Mark Stodola also proclaimed Nov. 13, 2008, Korto Momolu Day.)

Momolu was born in Monrovia, Liberia, where her grandfather lived communally with nine wives, and her parents' government positions afforded her Canadian boarding school and parties with the children of dignitaries. But in 1990, Momolu and her family fled the violence of the Second Liberian Civil War. As refugees in Canada, the family that once owned a village began dressing from a charity bin. Momolu found solace in her sketchbook, and ultimately, a woman from church loaned her the money for a local fashion college in Ottawa, Canada.

In 1999, Momolu met a military officer, moved to his hometown of Little Rock and married him. "I started having my own shows and branching out," Momolu said. "There was this space called The Art Scene. There were painters, sculptors, jewelry designers. I was the only fashion designer. ... On the weekends it was open to the public ... it was a huge start for me because we'd have Friday night art parties, and there'd be a fashion show, music over here. It was great for people to see the arts relating to each other."

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