Art in Rural Communities: The Batesville Area Arts Council

Bob Pest

My wife and I have lived in rural Arkansas for almost nineteen years.  Living in the middle of nowhere made me feel like Thoreau; I walked my dogs in the woods surrounding our cedar log home; watched the deer when they came into our yard to munch on the grass and drink from the bird bath;  and gradually learned to enjoy the music made by the large variety of birds in the area.

There are of course, things you miss when you move from the city to the country—live music;  fine restaurants; films that are not about zombies, fast cars, or blowing things up; and art.  Fortunately for the art lovers among us who live in and around Batesville, we have our own arts council.  The Batesville Area Arts Council Gallery may not measure up to the galleries in New York or Chicago, but it does an outstanding job of keeping the arts alive, attracting visiting artists for exhibits and workshops, taking art to the schools, and working with community organizations on a variety of projects.

I first learned about the Batesville Area Arts Council (BAAC) in 1988 when I worked with them to bring a number of arts organizations, including the Community Theatre and the Community Concert Committee, together under one banner. The arts council's gallery, currently located at 246 E. Main Street in the heart of downtown, provides a venue for artists and hosts exhibits by both local and visiting artists, gallery talks, workshops, and classes. The gallery is the only public within a forty-five mile radius.

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The council is deeply embedded in the life of the community; for example, they host the Friday Painters, a group of cancer survivors, care givers, and friends who meet at the gallery on Fridays for the purpose of using art as therapy.  They have four "mini-exhibits" of local art at the University of Arkansas Community College Library, the local Chamber of Commerce, Citizens Bank, and the White River Medical Center. They also provide an array of creative opportunities for area artists, such as the Historic Mural Project, which celebrates Batesville's early courthouses, and the Mosaics that cover the wall at the Pocket Park, also downtown.

BAAC has a long and proud reputation as providing one of the best Arts in Education programs in the state, partnering with two school districts, Batesville and Southside. [Photo 6] Working with the local schools, they bring talented artist/educators to work with both students and faculty, integrating the arts into a variety of curriculum areas. They have also introduced an "Art in the Afternoon" program for area students from ages 8 to 13 each Tuesday from 4:30 to 5:30 during the school.

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My own experience with the council involves regular visits to the gallery to view the latest exhibits; I am always especially attracted to the annual Young Artists touring exhibit and the Small Works on Paper touring exhibit sponsored by the Arkansas Arts Council. I also like to visit the gallery on Second Friday evenings. Second Friday is a monthly celebration of downtown when the businesses stay open late, live music is presented at the Simply Southern Music Hall, and BAAC hosts exhibit openings and special guest artists, as well as providing light refreshments for guests and visitors. As the co-founder and president of Ozark Foothills FilmFest, I am also impressed by the council's outdoor family films program throughout the summer months, held on the campus of Lyon College.

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Colleen Jackson, BAAC's recently retired executive director (and only paid employee) had a genuine passion for the visual arts. She is one of the hardest-working people I have ever met.  She worked with our small coalition of non-profit cultural organizations to elevate the quality of life in and around Batesville; one of her goals was to collaborate with those organizations, including the film festival, to develop an arts center that would include a gallery, a small screening room for film programs and community theater, classroom space for a variety of workshops, and a cafe for art enthusiasts, writers, and culture junkies to gather. Colleen's vision for the arts council and its gallery has been passed on to interim directors Carly Dahl and Paige Dirksen, both talented artists in their own right.

The council's mission is to enrich people's lives through the promotion and presentation of the arts and to serve as a unifying voice for the arts community. They demonstrate their commitment to their mission daily. Their gallery may not contain works by Willem de Kooning or Robert Rauschenberg, but it provides local and regional art enthusiasts with inspiring, comforting, and powerful art within easy reach. I know it feeds both my mind and my soul and it's only 30 minutes from my rural log home on a dirt road.

The Batesville Area Arts Council Gallery , located at 246 E. Main, is currently open Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and on Second Friday evenings.  Hours may  be extended under the new leadership.

For information call 870-793-3382 or email baac@suddenlinkmail.com.

 
Batesville, Workshops, Music
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