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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: Artistic Tourism

Spring marks the start of a new tourism season for many travelers who come to Arkansas for our great outdoors. But recently, more and more visitors are drawn indoors to our state’s arts venues, as well. Arkansas’s cultural scene is also in its spring season, attracting people from across town and across the country.

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville opened many people’s eyes to Arkansas’s arts community. Shortly after it opened in November of 2011, critics the world over touted its international significance. That significance quickly became evident through the museum’s attendance numbers. While initial estimates were that 250,000 guests would come to the museum in its first year of operation, the final count was 604,000. All that interest brought profits for area hotels, restaurants, businesses and other arts organizations. New developments are planned for Benton County to accommodate the additional visitors. As far as tourism is concerned, Crystal Bridges has indeed been a masterpiece.

While interest has drawn visitors from all over the world, the museum has also expanded the arts interests of many Arkansans. Its collection continues to grow, and special exhibitions are regularly scheduled - like the Norman Rockwell exhibit currently running through May 27. Many other arts organizations in Arkansas provide similar offerings on a smaller scale for residents and tourists alike.

For example, Little Rock is building its Main Street arts corridor downtown, while just across the river, North Little Rock continues to develop the Argenta Arts District. It is this kind of community development that adds to the cultural attractiveness of both cities.

The arts improve a community’s quality of life. They encourage creative thinking and are an agent of social inclusion. They aid communities in efforts to attract economic development and in giving newcomers a fuller sense of being at home in a new environment. The more we foster the arts in our communities, the better off we all are.

New arts venues and programs are adding this type of growth and enrichment throughout Arkansas. The Fort Smith Regional Arts Museum unveiled its brand-new, state-of-the-art facility in January. In 2011, Stuttgart welcomed the Grand Prairie Center, a new setting for the performing arts. In 2009, the Museum of Contemporary Art opened its doors in the newly renovated Ozark Bathhouse in Hot Springs.

Long-time staples of Arkansas’s arts scene continue to inspire patrons. For example, this summer, the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock will be one of four institutions in North America hosting an art collection from the world-renowned Kenwood House in London.

Arkansas’s arts venues are becoming an integral part of The Natural State and its reputation. Just as we enjoy Arkansas’s natural beauty outdoors, we are also the beneficiaries of the beauty that the arts can inspire in us, as well. This year, I encourage you to be a tourist of the arts in your own communities and throughout the State.