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Crystal Bridges: Growing Community Relationships Through Listening and Programming

Women in colorful floral dresses holding hats outside dancing

In 2019, Crystal Bridges formed a new Community team within the museum to focus on bridging the gap between the arts and our surrounding communities of Northwest Arkansas. In this post, community fellow Gabby Trevino and senior manager of public programs Sara Segerlin write about the team’s recent projects, a vision for the future, and a way for you to share your thoughts.


Listening to the Community

Art in the Park event

Since late summer, the Community team at Crystal Bridges has been developing relationships with Springdale, Rogers, and Lowell communities to gather input from the citizens through community listening sessions. The goal is to listen and get to know the needs and interests of our local communities. Our multilingual team (Spanish/Marshallese) is made up of professionals who have been working in our local communities in different capacities including arts programming, language learning, and policy change.

The team has currently held 100 community listening sessions with community leaders, as well as public listening sessions at local libraries, cafes, and restaurants wherein the community can drop in and talk about their experiences living in their cities.

Some of the questions include: “Do you feel a part of your community?”, “Do you feel welcome?”, “What does your town need?”, “Is art important to your community?”, and “what kind of art projects would you like to see in your town?”

People painting at Art in the Park event

From the information we have gathered in listening sessions so far, art is a form of expression that can be translated in many different ways. It can mean different things to different people, which is where the beauty of art lies.

For example, a meeting with the Marshallese Educational Initiative led to a great conversation about art within the Springdale community. Many people are not aware of the reason the Marshallese people are here (the nuclear legacy left on the Marshall Islands as a result of the testing of the atomic bomb) and how the community could be educated on Marshallese history and other issues affecting the islands through art.


Participate in the Community Listening Survey!

If you would like to include your thoughts to the community listening survey, please fill out the questionnaire.


Inspiration from artist Hank Willis Thomas

Hank Willis Thomas at his survey at the Portland Art Museum. Courtesy of the Portland Art Museum.

Hank Willis Thomas at his survey at the Portland Art Museum. Courtesy of the Portland Art Museum.

Art raises morale and improves quality of life. Cultivating spaces of creativity and inclusivity allows for citizens to feel a deep connection and sense of purpose. To quote the artist Hank Willis Thomas, “Art is a great equalizer; it brings people together, regardless of how different they might be from one another. It serves as a unifier.”

The artist’s exhibition, Hank Willis Thomas: All Things Being Equal… will open at Crystal Bridges in February 2020. During this time, the artist and Crystal Bridges will explore civic programs that encourage participation in democracy by hosting four Town Halls on the Four Freedoms in February/March 2020, each completely free and open to the public (times and locations TBD).


Growing Community Relationships

Art in the Park event

Art in the Park event

Crystal Bridges sees these efforts as an iterative process, evolving and growing with communities and towns in the years and decades to come. Recently, the team hosted two Art in the Park programs that featured local artists of music, dance, and visual art, along with soccer games and artmaking at Lake Atalanta in Rogers and Luther George Park in Springdale. The team has been thoughtful of the sustainability of this work in the community, and its longevity of continuous events/programs that bring people together and across race, ethnicity, gender, class, faith, age, and abilities.


This post was written by Gabby Trevino, community fellow, and Sara Segerlin, senior manager of public programs and community engagement.