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Poetry Lift-Off Brings Variety to Great Hall

Houston Hughes
Photo by Marc F. Henning
College Night "Le Carnaval des Couleurs" event on Saturday

Houston Hughes Photo by Marc F. Henning College Night "Le Carnaval des Couleurs" event on Saturday

Houston Hughes Photo by Marc F. Henning College Night "Le Carnaval des Couleurs" event on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

Houston Hughes
Photo by Marc F. Henning
College Night “Le Carnaval des Couleurs” event on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

Local poet Houston Hughes has found a number of meaningful ways to rediscover the art collection and architecture of Crystal Bridges through spoken-word performance. Over the past few years, Hughes has served as host for several poetry events at Crystal Bridges, including a poetry slam writing workshop, a one-night slam, a college evening, and an open-mic night. His willingness to explore the resources at the Museum and cultivate a homegrown audience has sparked a template for other local artist to follow. This summer, Hughes’s poetry role at the Museum took to the outdoor trails, where he presented Poetry Lift-Off,  an evening series of experiential spoken word in the Skyspace. On August 5, the culmination of Hughes’s teamwork in the community takes place inside the Museum’s Great Hall with the Poetry Lift-Off Series Finale. We asked Houston to shed some light on this ongoing project for today’s blog post.   –Sara Segerlin, Senior Museum Educator

To live in Northwest Arkansas is to understand what it is to be stuck between mid-size-city amenities and small-town comfort. What joy to be able to indulge our most base desires—retail chains in which to submerge in seas of kipple, and bars packed to street-spill with distorted guitar riffs and skinny jeans—and then drive 15 minutes on any road but the interstate and find a nature sanctuary in which to rest before diving back into the muck! But this dichotomy comes at a price —namely, an ache for urban culture, but a lack of sufficient local do-ers and pay-ers to bring big-city dreams to fruition. We are just large enough to cultivate great local entertainers, but not large enough to ensure those entertainers gather the audiences they deserve.

Last SaturdayIt’s that problem which we attempt to fix with the Last Saturday Variety Show by bringing together multiple under-served art forms to create a fast-paced, free event. On any given night, you’ll catch bellydancers, jugglers, acrobats, comedians, musicians, magicians, poets—each of them bringing a small segment of our audience in—and each audience member in turn discovering new acts they may never have run across otherwise. And we slowly build up a regular audience too; one that has a reputation for being attentive and supportive, and for rewarding great performances. The hope is that by consistently giving performers a new audience, and giving the audience new art, audiences will cross-pollinate and result in ever-larger followings for local artists.

Crystal Bridges is working to solve the same problem, though from a different angle. The beauty of the Museum is that it exists to serve not Northwest Arkansas as it is, but as it could be (and eventually will be). It is a cornucopia of potential overflowing with possibilities, a lighthouse on the beachhead of culture, beckoning Arkansas to risk traversing the unknown waters between here and there. And, thanks to their continued efforts to connect with the local arts community, Crystal Bridges managed to link up with Last Saturday and work together to create the next step forward: a show with the variety and local arts focus you’ll find every Last Saturday in Fayetteville, but the stage and support necessary to make everything more grand, to give the huge talent we have the huge stage and huge audiences it deserves.

Photo by Marc F. Henning College Night "Le Carnaval des Couleurs" event on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

Photo by Marc F. Henning
College Night “Le Carnaval des Couleurs” event on Saturday, April 5, 2014, at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark.

On August 5th, the Great Hall at Crystal Bridges will play host to the apex of this collaboration with the Poetry Lift-Off Season Finale, a variety show highlighting the very best acts in Northwest Arkansas. One after another, they will perform: first, a belly dance and cirque group made up of professional choreographers; then, a collection of multi-disciplined artists with a mixture of aerials, magic, and acrobats; then finally, a competitive juggling duo who have won multiple national juggling championships. Peppered in between these acts we’ll have select poems from local performers, chosen as the best new pieces performed this year at Last Saturday. And throughout the whole night, a rockabilly band will provide our soundtrack. All in all, this show represents what may be the greatest collaboration of local artists in Northwest Arkansas, a cross-genre medley of performance art and experimentation in the most sublime of settings. Hopefully, those who attend will leave not just entertained, but convinced of the need to participate actively in supporting our amazing local arts scene.

— Houston Hughes

The Finale of the Poetry Lift-Off Series highlights these local acts: Juggology : Juggling Cabaret Fayetteville:  Aerials, magic, acrobatics Orenda: Bellydance Silvershakers: music band Poets:  Doug Shields, Stormy Sky, Chris Helms, Audrey Lebert, Piper Sage, Kaia Hodo, Cleo Faulkner, Molly Sroges, and Houston Hughes.

Linda DeBerry
Senior Copy Editor / Publications Manager

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