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There Is No Art Without Agriculture: A Look Into Crystal Bridges’ Partnership with Communiversity

By Deeksha Shanmuganathan and Chloe Stoker 

On June 12,  young and curious minds from Central Arkansas entered the mysterious Northwest on a mission to learn. These young and curious minds attend Arkansas Lighthouse Charter Schools and are members of Junior MANRRS, a program designed to inspire students to study agriculture in college. This initiative is hosted by Communiversity—a collaboration between University of Arkansas Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The goal of our initiative is to introduce students to the broad range of opportunities available to them with a career in agriculture. When the students visit us at Crystal Bridges, we share that art is an agricultural product and that there are many ways to utilize an agricultural education. 

The theme of this year’s excursion was imagination, creativity, and exploration. Research has shown that play, imagination, and creativity have significant roles in the development of critical thinking and support new ways to think about finding answers to consequential social issues 

Upon the young scholar’s arrival in Bentonville, they stopped at the Scott Family Amazeum, where they engaged in fun hands-on activities. Play supports the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development of children and young people. 

After investigating science through play, the group came down the hill to Crystal Bridges where they explored Diego Rivera’s America. The scholars learned from Museum Educator JoAnn Murcho as she guided them through the gallery, applying critical thinking skills in an activity reflecting on how they understand art. Joanna Mentzer, manager of horticultural operations, further highlighted the connections between agriculture and Diego’s art. Diego Rivera’s art brings to life the agricultural systems and processes the scholars learned about on campus at the University of Arkansas.        

Diversity Equity Access and Inclusion Interns Deeksha Shanmuganathan and Chloë Stoker activated the gallery through a hands-on flower-making station. This activation made the gallery come alive with energy and excitement and brought the artwork in the exhibit to life. The scholars were quite proud of the bouquets of flowers they made! 


Following an intense afternoon of flower making and critical exploration through play, the scholars enjoyed dinner in the Great Hall and chatted with Executive Director and Chief Diversity Officer Rod Bigelow about the philanthropic mission of the museum. 

After dinner, the scholars explored the vast acreage of Crystal Bridges through a scavenger hunt designed by Samantha Best, landscape and outdoor experience manager. This activity was a real-world application of the intersections between art, architecture, nature, and agriculture. 


We want to give a special thank you to our Protection Services team for staying open late. The students ended their day with ice cream (shoutout to Joe LaCavera, director of culinary operations) before boarding their bus back to the University of Arkansas campus.  

It was amazing how this initiative impacted not only the students, but guests walking through the exhibition and on the trail. Young people in the gallery space broke the tension and seriousness that is often associated with cultural institutions and invited a spirit of wonder. We appreciated the opportunity to see the workings of a K-12 pathway up close— projects like these are proven to be successful in uplifting the lives of participants, elevating local communities, and building the future workforce.  

Along with the dedicated leaders of this program, we hope that these brilliant scholars can continue to further their education and engage thoughtfully with our community. Our collective future is dependent on the opportunities we provide for the next generation. There is no art without agriculture.