Following its increasingly popular and intensely focused expansion theme, the UCA administration has made a move toward community involvement with a newly leased downtown Conway space located at 1107 Oak St. across from EM Jeans.
The space will include an information hall, an event space, a gallery and a kitchen. It is intended to display UCA artwork, host UCA-affiliated events and provide information about the university.
In a three-college town, it is a good idea for UCA to establish itself as a community fixture. This space can simultaneously serve as a UCA-driven facility and a community-strengthening initiative. However, it should not deter the administration from providing or upgrading similar features on campus.
Prominent universities around the country typically involve themselves in community outreach and develop off-campus centers, charities and nonprofit organizations that increase notoriety. Since 1995, the University of Arkansas has had a Community Design Center that creates architectural projects and strengthens communities across the state.
UCA is thinking ahead by expanding into Conway, and leasing an existing building is a quick way to do so. Providing an opportunity to expand fine arts capabilities in the near future is overdue and appreciated, but still should not distract from recent ideas to construct a new performance hall closer to campus.
In the meantime, the space is a good venue to host more plays, recitals and concerts, even if it is off campus. The Oak Street building will display UCA faculty and student artwork, which is a great way to showcase the university’s talented artists year-round.
While campus has two galleries, the student-driven Black Box and the more versatile Baum Gallery, no space exists to continually display student and faculty artworks. Each semester the Baum Gallery hosts a faculty exhibition and senior art show, but has no permanent installments.
The Black Box has student shows and events, but also for limited times. The new off-campus gallery will provide the Conway community an opportunity to see UCA artwork it might have missed, or possibly never heard of. It is a great way to share our talents with the town.
Conway itself has few art galleries. Other than those existing on campus, there is only Art on the Green on Bob Courtway Drive. Yet, Conway hosts an annual ArtsFest downtown, which is increasingly successful each year and shows a community-driven desire to promote the arts.
UCA has chosen to involve itself in this desire with a perfectly positioned space to do so. Outside the arts, the center provides an opportunity for community members to rent space for various functions and hopes to host culinary classes in the kitchen. There is a culinary school at Pulaski Tech in Little Rock and often culinary classes in Little Rock, as well, but rarely—if ever—in Conway.
These classes are a brilliant idea, as the Conway food scene could use a boost. While we are home to many restaurants, there is still a desire to bring more culinary variety, intrigue and education to the town. It will be exciting to see what other events community members might host in the space. Conway and UCA alike can benefit from this opportunity.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 4, 2015 print edition of The Echo.