It’s just a casual stroll through the historic downtown district of Russellville, but it’s also more than that. Storefronts are lit and doors are open. Hors d’oeuvres and drinks in hand, people from all walks of life visit each business for a look and listen to the cultural charms of art in the River Valley. And they are not disappointed. Though rural and sparse in population, the region is blessed with artistic talent of staggering diversity.
We weren’t sure about the best way to frame this story, but after just a few interviews it became clear that the best way to tell it was with words from business owners and artists that regularly participate.
Jeannie Fowler Stone — Artist
“Art, in all its forms, gives us a voice, and our community shines as bright as any other because of our collective talents. The Internet is a boon to independent artists, but the ability to actually immerse one’s self into the art scene is a privilege, and no amount of couch-surfing can offer the sound, the taste, the feel of a Russellville Art Walk, particularly the Christmas event where we are blessed to hear the joyful noise of the ATU choir, each caroler dressed in Victorian costume.”
“The Russellville Art Walks have transformed the cultural landscape in this town. No longer must parents take their children to Little Rock or Ft. Smith to experience culture. We are a vibrant community, alive with art. You do not have to be an artist to benefit from this. Come and be a part of our story. This is the legacy we leave for future generations. Besides, art is fun.”
Jeannie also shared a touching anecdote that spoke of the emotional power art wields.
“To tell you how much art impacts us, I will share a memory that I hold dear from a Christmas Art Walk years ago. I have a tradition of unveiling a new, huge Santa painting every year because of what happened with the very first Santa, a 30″x40″ heavily textured oil painting. I was showing it at the depot, and while I was admiring another artist’s work I caught sight of a young teenage girl approach my Santa. She literally got nose-to-nose with him and tentatively put out a finger as if to touch the raised fur on his cap. Our eyes met, and I smiled and nodded. Her finger gently touched the paint; her eyes lit up, and she smiled like a small girl. I’m sure it had been years since she’d believed in Santa, but that painting evoked that thrill for her, and as for me, well, my eyes teared up. For a brief moment, I was privileged to share with her an authentic human emotion. I will always remember that, and I always look forward to unveiling my new Santa.”
Brenda Dale Morgan — Artist
“I love Art Walk so much. When I first participated, I showed at the Depot. There I met Bill and Joanna Peters. They were so sweet to ask me to show in Peters Family Living. While showing there I met many wonderful fellow artists, one of them being Rita Goodman. When Rita and Dick opened Gallery 307 I began showing there. It has been a great way to meet fellow artists in the River Valley. In fact, until I started participating in Art Walk, I had no idea that there were so many wonderfully talented artists in our area. I have made lifelong friends that I am able to network with or just simply sit and talk about artsy topics that are of no interest to my husband. Of course I’ve met many other wonderful folks that are not artists but have a genuine love for the arts.”
Brenda is also enthusiastic about the up-and-coming artist in the River Valley.
“The most exciting thing for me is to see the youngsters coming through, some of whom may not have opportunities to see original artwork anywhere else. I absolutely love to see that spark in their eyes. Judging by what I’ve seen, we have many budding artists in our community, and that’s very exciting. So to sum it up, I’m thrilled that we have Art Walk in downtown Russellville. If not for Art Walk I would not have my art family at Gallery 307. I love those ladies and hope Art Walk will continue for many years!
Robb McKormick — Artist
“The Russellville Downtown Art Walk is one of the few places in our community where original art and music are sponsored, endorsed, enjoyed and displayed. This is one area where the River Valley rivals the big cities, partially due to the overstock of brilliant artists who choose to live locally and partially due to the great layout of the Downtown and their efforts to bring together and showcase a healthy artistic community.
Larger cities that have embraced artisans and become meccas for artists of all types — such as Austin, Texas, Seattle, Washington, & Santa Fe, New Mexico — understand the more fiscal truth behind the appeal: art and music equal commerce. Their appeal is universal.”
Robb sees growth in the local artistic community, but it is dependent upon local support.
“If Russellville were to fully embrace and get behind their artists in the same way as these larger cities have done, I think we would see an explosion of talent both generated from this area and drawn to it from many other places. Music and art is a relatively untapped resource of the River Valley in the departments of finance. The proven, growing success of the Downtown Art Walks might be the beginning of waking up to these ideas.”
Mark Masters — Artist
“I sometimes feel like I’m alone with my love of art, and the Art Walks show me that I’m not. There are other artists here, and people who are interested in seeing one another and each other’s work. I appreciate having a place to show, meeting and chatting with other artists and an audience that is interested in seeing our art. Good or bad, I get a strong reaction and in my opinion a bad reaction is better than none. The art community seems to be growing and the Art Walks are promoting this. I’m appreciative and look forward to seeing where they go in the future.”
Ryan Cutler — Arvest Bank Downtown Russellville
“It is a privilege and pleasure to be involved with the Art Walk, where Arvest can utilize our associates, facilities and customers to help inspire people to come visit the downtown area. Every Art Walk event has been well planned and very fun. It is great to see a town that I grew up in so heavily involved in a campaign to revitalize and restore the downtown area of our City. Art Walk provides a fun, family atmosphere where people can mingle through shops enjoying art and music, while at the same time bringing life into our downtown community.”
Kayla Cowell — Arvest Bank Downtown Russellville.
“I am not from Russellville so I was unfamiliar with the Art Walk, and Russellville Downtown. However, since working at the Downtown Arvest branch, I have been able to help with some of the Russellville Downtown functions. Through events such as the Art Walk people like myself who were unfamiliar with the area are exposed to local businesses and artists. The Art Walk is a great way to reach out to folks in the area and help promote shopping local and growing the Downtown area.”
Larissa Walker — owner of Southern Gypsy in Downtown Russellville
It’s about bringing people to the area, bringing people to your business to show people in the community what your business is all about. I know it’s been great for my business. I did really well during the last Art Walk. And of course serving snacks and meeting new people is great, too.
When the world has been taken over by technology you don’t get a lot of community anymore, you really don’t. So when you bring people to an area that’s vintage, you got all these cool old stores like my store, and you get all these people together with music and art, it’s just great. It’s great for the community.
Nick Hancock — Arvest Bank Downtown
“The Art Walk is about supporting the artists and businesses on the frontlines of local commerce. The foot traffic created by the Art Walk provides excellent exposure for all downtown businesses and helps to introduce the community to locally available goods and services. Lasting consumer relationships are key to the success of local business. Events such as the Art Walk serve as great catalysts for sparking those relationships and keeping money invested in the heart of Russellville.”
Chris George — owner of Joshua’s Fine Jewelry in Downtown Russellville
“It’s the most romantic free thing you can do in public. People work really hard to make this interesting. You’ve got new artists, different kinds of genres in the same place. Like for instance, we’ll have three or four artists and live music. Every time you come to an Art Walk you get something different.
Chris believes Art Walk offers something to the public that is increasingly rare these days: loads of entertainment and community bonding — for free.
How many things in the world can you do for three hours that are so jam packed with cool stuff that you can’t see it all. And it’s free. Chris also understands what Art Walk means to business.
If you get 400 people in your business over a three hour period, and they have a wonderful time, and you treat them like royalty, and you love on them and they love on you, that’s a good thing. I love Art Walk.
For more information about Art Walk visit mainstreetrussellville.com