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August 26, 2021 - By Joy Reed Belt

Gran Tourismo - Mango (TerraTrike)

This past weekend I visited my old stomping grounds in Arkansas. It would be an injustice to say that the area bordered by Fayetteville and Bentonville has changed since I was a lowly graduate student at the University of Arkansas and a fledgling teacher in both Bentonville and Rogers, Arkansas. The entire area has been transformed! We should all thank Alice Walton and the like-minded advisors she recruited to change those sleepy communities into a cluster of art Mecca’s. Years ago, while teaching English, Speech, Drama and Debate in the area, I was aware that there was an appetite for art, but I never imagined that the entire area would become saturated with art, not even after visiting Crystal Bridges a few times over the years.


Joan Brown, "Self Portrait with Fish and Cat," 1970, Oil Enamel on Fiberboard, 96 x 48 in. (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

Will Barnet, The Closed Window (Self Portrait), Oil on Canvas, 26 x 28 in. (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

Rosa Rolanda, "Autorretratro (Self-Portrait), 1969, Oil on Canvas, 15 3/4 x 11 3/4 in. (Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

As a Board Member of Harding Fine Arts Academy Foundation, one of my responsibilities is to assist our school in raising money for the renovation of its current 100 year-old historic structure in Oklahoma City into a facility that supports and enhances our mission as an arts integrated high school. Several years ago, Alice Walton was instrumental in renovating an old church in downtown Rogers, Arkansas into the home of the Arkansas Arts Academy, also an arts integrated high school. So, a field trip seemed like a good idea. A fellow Harding Board member drove us to Arkansas. An architect, who has participated in the growth of northwest Arkansas, he tried to prepare me for what I was about to experience, but I was, and still am, surprised, energized and amazed.


"Infinity Mirrored Room" by Yayoi Kusama

(Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art)

While I prefer the promise the Harding Building offers as a “place maker,” the curriculum at the Fine Arts Academy in Arkansas made me long to be young again so I could apply for admission. In addition to several levels of “Guitar’, ‘Sound Design for Video Games’, ‘Film and Theatre,” the Academy offers a Fashion Design curriculum in collaboration with the Parsons School of Design. And who wouldn’t want to study Core Curriculum subjects like Math, Biology, and History when they’ve been amplified, enriched, and reconceived by the integration of the entire family of arts. The main takeaway from my visit to the Arkansas Academy was that buildings need to be creative. They need to have the ability to adapt, change, and inspire if they are to serve a creative population. 


D.J. Lafon, "Standing Figure (Self Portrait)," Oil on Canvas, 28 x 20 in., $4,200

Behnaz Sohrabian, "Forever Red (Self Portrait)," Oil on Canvas, 48 x 48 in., $1,800

Of course, while in the area, I revisited Crystal Bridges and enjoyed some of my favorite works of art that are held in their collection. In addition to Iris Arpel, who I wrote about last week, Kayoi Kuysama is one of my role models. In fact, when I bought my crossover, it was christened “Kayoi.” Crystal Bridges had one of her “Infinity Rooms” on exhibit. Stunning!!! There were also several appealing self portraits on display that reminded me of some we have in the gallery. In addition to all the “art” in Northwest, Arkansas, I also saw more bicycles than I have ever seen in one area…and people were riding them! After mentioning to my travel companion that I have been thinking about getting a Granny Trike, he insisted on taking me to the third largest bicycle shop in the United States, located in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Immediately upon entry, the owner of the shop told me he didn’t sell Granny Trikes, adding that it was the last thing I needed. He recommended I try a recumbent bike. I loved how they looked. It was as if I was in a room with some cool abstract wall sculptures that had not yet been hung. So, I began hanging a “Recumbent Exhibition” in my head. I am not in the least athletic. As I child I never owned a bike. In fact, if you ever see me with a tan you can be assured it came from my refrigerator light. Nevertheless, I enjoyed riding various bikes around the indoor track and celebrating the creativity of some very talented bicycle engineers and designers. I concluded that when those bicycle makers were young, they were fortunate enough to have parents, mentors, and teachers who understood and believed in arts integration before it became a thing.

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