This week's Governor's Column and Radio Address is delivered by Stacy Hurst, director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
Not long ago, I was in Hot Springs as the Arkansas Arts Council named the 2015 Arkansas Living Treasure recipient. It’s a big deal. This year’s honoree was Lorrie Popow, who is famous for her Ukrainian Egg Art.
I didn’t know there was such a thing as Ukrainian Egg Art. But then I saw Lorrie’s painted and carved eggs. Their designs and colors make each one gorgeous and unique. Just like Arkansas.
I tell this story because, as the still-new director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage, I’m reminded daily just how much the Natural State and its residents have to offer when it comes to culture, arts and heritage. Even though I’m a Pine Bluff native and a lifelong Arkansan, I’m still surprised by the wonders of our state, and the talented people living in it.
May is Arkansas Heritage Month, a perfect time for you to reacquaint yourselves with one-of-a-kind artists like Lorrie and the one-of-a-kind attractions and historic sites of Arkansas.
The other day, I was asked what has resonated most with me since I joined the Department of Arkansas Heritage. It didn’t take long to come up with an answer. It’s obvious. When I travel Arkansas, especially when I get out of the busy city and visit rural areas, it’s the great pride of our residents — not just in who we are and where we live but in who came before us. That is, how Arkansas became Arkansas.
With that kind of evident pride, it’s easy to promote and champion the cause of historic preservation and conservation.
Part of our mission at the Department of Arkansas Heritage is saving Arkansas’s history by taking care of what we have. With that in mind, last week, we divvied up some $18 million in grants from the Arkansas Natural And Cultural Resources Council.
The money is spread all across Arkansas. Among the many projects is completion of the historic Dyess Colony Theatre in the former hometown of Johnny Cash; the renovation of historic Wilson Hall at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville; and renovations to Caddo Center at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia. Grants are also going to Garvan Woodland Gardens, Old Main in Fayetteville and even toward preserving two centuries of newspapers at the Arkansas History Commission.
By caring for what we have, not only do we preserve our heritage for current and future generations, but we may even attract some tourist dollars.
I was surprised to learn that only 16 percent of tourists who visit Arkansas are so-called “heritage tourists.” We can do a better job of using history as a way to attract more visitors. From Arkansas’s historic involvement in the Civil War to our remarkable county courthouses; from our music to our food — all of what makes Arkansas so special should be a tourist attraction.
We are blessed with so very much. Let’s continue to take care of it — and show it off.