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Checking In with the 2021 ASAP Program Artists and Agencies

Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside.

The Arts and Social Impact Accelerator Program (ASAP), overseen by Crystal Bridges, cultivates partnerships with social service agencies and local artists in Northwest Arkansas. At the beginning of 2021, three local artists (Kholoud Sawaf, Octavio Logo, and Kalyn Fay Barnoski) paired with three local agencies (Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese (ACOM), Ozark Regional Transit Authority (ORT), and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) to begin a multi-year program of arts-based engagements that addresses community needs through creative collaborations and meaningful partnerships across sectors. At the end of the program, each partnership will share lessons learned and provide a toolkit to inspire the field of socially engaged art in Northwest Arkansas.

Since the beginning of the year, the three artist/agency pairs have been holding listening sessions and community events to better understand the needs of their audiences. This research has informed the arts-based projects that each pair will pursue this fall.

Below, find a recap of each pair’s efforts and their plans for the rest of 2021:

Kholoud Sawaf and ACOM: Amplifying Marshallese Stories

Theater artist Kholoud Sawaf and Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese (ACOM) Executive Director Melisa Laelan have been working together this year to raise awareness about the Marshallese story in the Northwest Arkansas community, helping to preserve the culture and wisdom of the community’s elders, empower and engage Marshallese youth, and discuss policies affecting the community. 

Earlier this summer, Sawaf and Crystal Bridges participated in a gathering and cultural exchange with ACOM’s youth apprentices, elders, pastors, doctors, craft-makers, and general consulate. The youth apprentices performed traditional dance, songs, and the Marshallese anthem. A dinner followed, which offered an invitation and official opening of the partnership between Sawaf and Marshallese community members to begin working together and across languages.

“ACOM is excited to explore an artistic approach to tell our story,” said Laelan. “This is a very unique and a new way for social equity in our work, however, we feel strongly that the visual delivery of a strong message will be more powerful.”

Members of the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese meet with Crystal Bridges staff for a gathering and cultural exchange.
The Fall Project: The Canoe Project

The Canoe Project will have two components. First, members of the Marshallese community will build and carve a canoe on-site at Crystal Bridges between October and November. The canoe’s wood will come from a dead tree in the museum’s North Forest. This installation will help tell Marshallese stories and will serve as a symbol that explores the depth of the Marshallese journey and culture. The team will also host an opening and closing ceremony with Marshallese performances (details coming soon). Second, a digital component will document the process of building the canoe and will also serve as a way to shed light on social issues within the Marshallese story and culture.

Kalyn Fay Barnoski and UAMS: Connecting with UAMS Students and Staff

Kalyn Barnoski and UAMS representative Lauren Haggard-Duff have been working together this year to develop an art-based solution to address uncovered social concerns within the UAMS Northwest campus in Fayetteville. 

Barnoski spent time on the UAMS campus to observe and interact with UAMS personnel and students, including observing a virtual interprofessional education event. The medical school also held a week-long, art-based listening session where UAMS personnel and students viewed and contributed to an art installation while interacting with Barnoski. 

“During the first half of the ASAP program, I felt that we were able to build strong relationships, a reciprocal trust and understanding, between myself, UAMS, and Crystal Bridges through self-locating our own experiences and finding where they intersect,” said Barnoski. “I believe that through spending time reinforcing the importance of relation-building in the beginning of this partnership, we were able to interact intentionally and have important dialogue with participants in our art lounge initiative in late spring. 

According to Haggard-Duff, this listening session event revealed that the UAMS Northwest faculty and staff desire more connection with one another and between departments.

Kalyn Fay Barnoski at UAMS Northwest campus.
The Fall Project: “Woven Together,” an Art-Based Weaving Project

After many brainstorming sessions among partners, Barnoski, Haggard-Duff, and team determined an art-based weaving project would provide a safe space for reflection and promote a sense of belonging, increased empathy, and intersectionality among participants in the project at UAMS. In addition, the pair will host a virtual panel discussion on empathy and healthcare in October (details coming soon). The weaving series will culminate in November and December with a UAMS campus-wide celebration honoring staff. Local artists will attend and a text-based public artwork exhibited on UAMS’s building will be unveiled.

“As we move forward with programming this fall, I look forward to creating collaborative artwork and a publication based on invested dialogue with the UAMS community, platforming decentered narratives within the medical field, and helping facilitate relation building between UAMS faculty, staff, students, and administration,” said Barnoski.

Octavio Logo and ORT: Reimagining Public Transit in Northwest Arkansas

Octavio Logo and ORT representative Joel Gardner have been working together this year to meet people where they are in the community and learn how they use the public transit system. Logo spent time at ORT attending bus safety training sessions with staff and getting to know the bus drivers.

In June 2021, they hosted a program called Where To, a pop-up art experience inviting visitors to share their thoughts and experiences about local public transit. At Hillcrest Towers, in collaboration with the Fayetteville Housing Authority and local artists Joelle Storet and Tina Oppenheimer in Fayetteville, visitors joined Logo in creating a temporary mural on the side of an ORT bus. They also shared a writing activity to help inform the future of Northwest Arkansas’s public transit. A similar event was held during the Frisco Festival in August. 

“By embracing this non-traditional approach to meeting people where they are at, ORT has learned that we can gather real suggestions for improvement from real people in spaces where they are comfortable,” said Gardner.

Octavio Logo paints the side of a bus at the Where To event. Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside.
Photo by Ironside Photography / Stephen Ironside.
The Fall Project: Where To Next? 

Logo, Gardner, and team will host several more Where To events around Northwest Arkansas in October and November with the hope of developing temporary art installations on the side of transit buses. Octavio is also launching an Instagram series to discuss innovative modes of transportation from ancient times to today. Dates and locations for these public events are forthcoming.

Later this fall, we will check back in with the artist/agency pairs as they execute their fall projects. Check back soon for more updates!