Cultural Muscle

A month ago, the Walton Family Foundation offered money to Fayetteville’s Walton Arts Center if it would build a second, larger auditorium 35 miles north in Bentonville, rather than enlarge itself into a complex a la Lincoln Center, with an accent. The idea had merit in some ways — the growth of the northern part of the area plus a major museum is going up there — but otherwise a folly, explored in Brick, with faults in audience-building and economics. Last week, interestingly, was the deadline set by the center for communities, property owners and others to submit their own expansion plans.

Northwest Arkansas Newspapers reported the most polished proposal came from a team effort of the city of Fayetteville and the University of Arkansas, summarizing that as follows:

“The Fayetteville-UA proposal was one of 25 site expansion ideas the Walton Arts Center received by a Monday deadline involving locations in Benton and Washington counties. Proposals from individual landowners largely amounted to offers to sell property to the arts center. Other chamber or municipality proposals offered multiple options for land and public support.”

Fayetteville’s proposal was a detailed package proposing a specific land-use design for the existing location, as well as three alternate concepts that could be considered. It was also the only proposal offering up the potential for funding totaling $33.4 million, according the proposal documents. The funding would come in the form of donated property, construction investment in future public parking facilities, street improvements and the construction of a $6 million multiuse theater, among others. The UA also offered the use of Bud Walton Arena and Razorback Stadium for performances.”

The online newspaper Fayetteville Flyer reports:

… the University of Arkansas has offered to make Bud Walton Arena and Reynolds Razorback Stadium available for Walton Arts Center programming. With seating capacities of 19,000 and 69,500, respectively, those facilities would add possibilities for large concerts that the city says could draw audiences from as far away as Dallas and Kansas City. Such performances would provide an additional revenue stream for the performing arts center complex.”

(The full UA-city brief can be seen as a PDF as published by the Flyer, which has no fee wall.)

Take that, Walton Family Foundation!

Is that unfair? Poking a bully with a stick is fun. The way to do this is have another bully standing with you. UA has bulldozed level the playing field, and complicated the issue with logic and clout. Perhaps Bentonville would be ideal site for a 2,200-seat theater for larger performances — those middlebrow Broadway extravaganzas based on animated movie musicals, with that stage lit only 60 nights a year and a foundation to cover the losses.

This would leave the 1,200-seat “theeeatah” with the highbrows and lowbrows of Dickson Street. Unless the WAC goes with the Fayetteville-UA plan of adding facilities adjacent to the current site. That’s what it’s offered all along.

Bud Walton Arena and Reynolds Razorback Stadium sit empty nearly every day. That’s UA’s new stick.

They’re open for a couple dozen basketball games and a half-dozen football games. Both get used for the two-day, annual Wal-Mart Stores Inc. shareholders and associates meetings. Commencement is in the arena. For years both structures largely stay empty. Other universities put shows in theirs, rock concerts and community events.

Nothing ever has moved UA to open Bud Walton Arena and Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Until now.

UA Chancellor Dave Gearhart says: “You want to buy land, hire designers, go through public comment then take years to build an auditorium too large for the area? Let me show you my pants. See that chain and ring? Has keys to every building on campus. I can unlock places  with 19,000 and 69,500 seats. Hellooo, U2, hey, Brad Paisley, wanna play Fayetteville?”

The university had the keys all along.

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