Fayetteville leads state in ‘Artistic Innovations’ grants

Inmates at the NWA Community Corrections Center listen during a Prison Stories Project performance.

Flyer staff photo

Two new feathers were added to the local arts scene’s cap this summer. Fayetteville arts organizations garnered the only two Arkansas grants recently awarded by Mid-America Arts Alliance.

The alliance awarded a $4,000 request to NWA Prison Stories Project and a $15,000 request to Walton Arts Center’s Bear State of Mind under its Artistic Innovations matching grant program, which is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

In all, 20 regional artists and arts organizations received grants totaling $252,644 from the program, which aims to encourage the spirit of experimentation and exploration by engaging artists in the creation of new works throughout the region.

NWA Prison Stories Project
Led by local storyteller Kathy McGregor, NWA Prison Story Project is a four-month workshop in which 12 incarcerated women examine storytelling through literature, poetry, songwriting, film and personal essay. The end result is a staged reading by local actresses of a script adapted from the inmates’ writings. One performance is held inside the prison for the entire inmate population, and another is held outside the prison for the general public.

Bear State of Mind actors perform for 2nd graders at the New School last March.


McGregor said the grant will help produce Prison Stories 3 and 4 over the next year and comes just in time for the upcoming semester of classes which begin this month.

“Erika Wilhite, our theatrical director, and Katie Nichol, our writing director, have volunteered their time for the past two sessions and it pleases me greatly to be able to pay them a stipend for the countless hours they put in to the project,” said McGregor. “We will also now be able to pay the actresses that perform staged readings, and will be able to purchase most of the supplies that we will need for the two sessions covered in the grant.”

Bear State of Mind
Bear State of Mind is an original production created by the Walton Arts Center and partners Trike Theatre, playwright Ashley Edwards and songwriter Shannon Wurst. Designed for Kindergarten-2nd grade students, the play uses music, drama and puppetry to tell the story of Bear, who, when separated from his family, travels through three of Arkansas’ geographic regions meeting new friends and uncovering native wildlife, folklore and state symbols.

The staging of the play makes the most of kids’ natural tendency to move and wiggle. The children are seated on the floor in a circle, beneath a setting very much like a large shade tree. As the story unfolds around them, the children turn their bodies to follow along with the play’s action. Bear State of Mind returns in September in WAC’s Starr Theater.

Grants were awarded to the following artists and arts organizations:

NWA Prison Story Project – Fayetteville, AR
Walton Arts Center Council, Inc. – Fayetteville, AR

Chad Freidrichs – Columbia, MO
Unicorn Theatre – Kansas City, MO
Circus Flora – St. Louis, MO
Dance St. Louis – St. Louis, MO
Sarah Paulsen – St. Louis, MO

Bryan Cook – Oklahoma City, OK
Oklahoma City Theatre Company – Oklahoma City, OK
Romy Owens – Oklahoma City, OK

Anti-Defamation League: Plains State Region – Omaha, NE
Kent Bellows Studio & Center for Visual Arts – Omaha, NE
Watie White – Omaha, NE

Olivia Chacon – Austin, TX
Forklift Danceworks – Austin, TX
Ana Maria Maynard – Austin, TX
Jason Neulander – Austin, TX
VSA Texas – Austin, TX
The Bridge Club Collaborative – Huntsville, TX
DiverseWorks – Houston, TX