Art grounds local culture

By Melissa A. Palumbo
Delta Digital News Service

One of the oldest forms of expression, art comes in many different forms and can be found in just about any corner of the world. 

Many artists in the United States work independently, with one-third being self-employed according to a study done by National Endowment for the Arts; half work with private companies and studios.

Jonesboro-based artist Jacquelyn Nicole Young said art can be vital in the development of a community.

“It brings people together,” Young said. “People who would never speak to each other or give more than a moment’s glance suddenly have something big in common.”

Companies like Hobby Lobby sell ready-made art available in large quantities, so people who want to enjoy art at a low cost are able to do so. David Green, store manager of Hobby Lobby in Jonesboro, as well as the corporate office, had no comment on this.

The industrialization of art, beginning in the 1800s, led to wider, easier access to art for anyone to have in their homes. Because prints can be duplicated quickly at little cost, more people are able to obtain art in the 21st century than any other time in history, according to a paper done by J.N. Nielsen, an author that studies the politics of art. 

On the flip side, though, the mass production and growing industry mean a decline in employment and commission opportunities for local and independent artists.

Jonesboro brought art back to the roots of the city, though, with businesses making efforts to present and display the works, sounds and creations of local artists. 

The Edge Coffee House, located near the Arkansas State University campus in Jonesboro, rotates art done by local artists regularly. Sculptures, paintings, prints and much more can be found within the coffee shop.

The Edge buys art from the community of artists to display in the coffee shop as well as to display for sale. They plan to expand their art scene and allow artists to post their work for commissions once renovations are complete.

“Local art gives culture, plain and simple,” Brian Nobles, co-owner and operator for The Edge, said. 

Artists who choose to sell their work through galleries and displays create the piece first. Then, if a person wants to purchase that piece, both the artist and the business may get a cut of the profit. Commission-based jobs allow artists to work with clients to create something new and original. 

“Local art stimulates the economy and defines a community more than corporate,” Nobles said. 

Many businesses in Jonesboro support the local art scene by showcasing undiscovered artists – not just for fine arts, but also for musicians, singers and bands. 

Creegan’s Irish Pub, a bar in downtown Jonesboro, hosts live, local bands.

“Almost every night of the week we have live music here, that’s what we shoot for,” Danny Nanney, a bartender for Creegan’s, said. “It was $2 bottles and tacos when I started here — now people come in every night expecting good music, and we deliver.”

Arkansas-based bands and artists can perform live for the community and get their name out, Nanney said.

“A lot of folks here consider us the music capital of Northeast Arkansas,” he said. “But there’s a difference between supporting local music and shitty music, so you have to be good to play here.”

The bar has hosted a number of locally-famous bands, including Shugar Pills and Bera Bera, as well as individual singers, guitarists and performers. Nanney also said the crowd turnout goes up when local bands play live at the bar, especially on the weekends. 

Nathan Smith, a vocalist and bassist, performs with Conway-based band Bera Bera. He began playing music at 6 years old, and he said local music pulls communities together.

“When a local band is touring the area, there’s a really big turnout for those businesses,” Smith said. “People come out to see their friends, support local art and have a good time.”

Bera Bera has performed at Creegan’s as well as White Water Tavern in Little Rock, Backspace in Fayetteville and Bearden in Conway, as well as other venues around Arkansas. 

“It feels like we’re all together in this,” Smith said. 

Another local musician, Jo Fore of Harrisburg, said local art flourishing shows signs of a community doing “something right.” Fore has performed covers of many genres, from rock to jazz, all around the state, including at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. 

“Local artists showcase their unique talents cultivated by their hometown and bring a sense of elevated culture as well as revenue to the table,” she said. “As long as art has been around, it has been used to inspire and bring people together.”

Because art comes in many sounds, shapes, colors and feelings, strangers can find a common ground on which to stand and communicate. According to Young, no two artists see the world in the same light, which offers more perspectives in a community. 

“Art brings people to a bigger picture – seeing something as a whole instead of just one perspective,” Young said. “I think that can really help sculpt a community.”

Editor’s Note: Feature Photo by Melissa Palumbo