Pa­parazzi Prep

A look at 10 artis­tic peo­ple to watch in 2017.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BECCA MARTIN-BROWN

It was a whim.

I thought it would be fun to spot­light some of the peo­ple I ex­pected to change the North­west Arkansas arts scene in 2014. Read­ers liked it. And here we are.

There is no fixed list of se­lec­tion cri­te­ria. The peo­ple to watch in 2017 are those we think are mak­ing a dif­fer­ence and likely to con­tinue to in the new year ahead, this time se­lected with the help of What’s Up! staffers Jo­ce­lyn Mur­phy and Lara Hightower.

We salute you, movers and shak­ers! With­out you, North­west Arkansas would be cul­tur­ally so much poorer.

(There is no or­der, by the way…)

1. Stephen Caldwell — In

2012, Stephen Caldwell saw a job post­ing for the di­rec­tor of choral ac­tiv­i­ties at the Univer­sity of Arkansas. He thought it might be a per­fect fit, and it was. “I like the at­mos­phere of flag­ship uni­ver­si­ties,” he says. “And Fayettevil­le seemed to be a pretty good place to live.” Ever cau­tious, he and wife Maura made the de­ci­sion for her to stay in Philadel­phia while he test drove North­west Arkansas for a year. By the spring se­mes­ter, she was look­ing for a job.

“My goal for col­le­giate teach­ing is to pre­pare the stu­dents” — and the elite Schola Can­to­rum, of which he is di­rec­tor — “for life in the real world – the mu­si­cal world,” he says. “I run as close to a fully pro­fes­sional en­sem­ble as I can. I want the stu­dents to re­al­ize how hard it is when they leave.”

In five years, Schola Can­to­rum has toured Arkansas and vis­ited Puerto Rico, Ger­many, Bel­gium and the Nether­lands. He con­sid­ers it “serv­ing our alumni base, re­cruit­ing new peo­ple to come to the univer­sity and spread­ing the Ra­zor­back gospel.”

But next year, Caldwell will take on a new project.

“We’ll pair Gi­a­como Caris­simi’s ‘Jephte’ with a new work that I am cur­rently com­pos­ing about chil­dren with CHD (con­gen­i­tal heart de­fects),” a con­di­tion his baby boy is deal­ing with. “I re­ceived a 2017 Ful­bright Col­lege Sum­mer Re­search Stipend from the UA that will al­low me to com­plete the work this sum­mer.”

He’ll also lead Schola Can­to­rum in Bobby McFer­rin mu­sic for the Black Mu­sic Sym­po­sium and Queen’s “Bo­hemian Rhap­sody” for VoiceJam at the Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter.

“We do a lot of tra­di­tional clas­si­cal reper­tory that brings out a cer­tain au­di­ence who ap­pre­ci­ate that kind of crunchy in­tel­lec­tual mu­sic,” he says. “But the move­ment away from that in vo­cal mu­sic has been pretty strong. Stu­dents com­ing now are the ‘Amer­i­can Idol’ gen­er­a­tion. I need to con­nect them be­tween Bach and Han­del and Mozart and the Tour­nai Mass and the pop mu­sic they love and want to sing.”

2. Jenni Tay­lor Swain —

Best known in North­west Arkansas arts cir­cles for her 26 years in pro­gram­ming at the Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter, Swain was named ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Arts Cen­ter of the Ozarks in Oc­to­ber. She says she never ex­pected to find her­self at the Spring­dale arts cen­ter. ACO was not even on her radar.

“In fact, if you had asked me when I an­nounced my re­tire­ment, I would have looked at you funny and said, ‘Why would I do that?’,” she ad­mits.

But Swain says as she got to know the peo­ple in­volved at ACO, the board mem­bers, au­di­ence mem­bers, arts or­ga­ni­za­tions and the com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment group in down­town Spring­dale, it be­gan to feel like the early days of the Wal­ton Arts Cen­ter.

“I found I was en­joy­ing be­ing back work­ing at the grass­roots level,” she says.

Swain is lead­ing the move­ment away from the ACO’s tra­di­tional pro­gram­ming to mul­ti­cul­tural events in­tended to unify the di­verse Spring­dale pop­u­la­tion. That’s also the pur­pose of her own pre­sent­ing com­pany, Potluck Arts, which brought two con­tem­po­rary circus shows to town in Oc­to­ber.

Look for the two ef­forts to bleed into each other in 2017.

“We’re us­ing the arts as a cat­a­lyst to bring the com­mu­nity to­gether,” she says. “We’ll also be look­ing out­side of Spring­dale to some other com­mu­ni­ties. We’re tak­ing baby steps with that.”

3. Laura Shatkus

—“I like to tell peo­ple that Fayettevil­le got me preg­nant with an art baby, and the ges­ta­tion time was around three years,” laughs the ir­rev­er­ently hi­lar­i­ous Laura Shatkus, who first came to Fayettevil­le from Chicago to per­form in TheatreSqu­ared’s “The Fall of the House” and ended up mov­ing here to at­tend the UA’s the­ater MFA pro­gram. “I had no in­ten­tion of go­ing to grad­u­ate school or mov­ing to Arkansas, but I came to do the play, the doors opened and I just … went through them.” Shatkus says that the nat­u­ral beauty of the area played a large part in se­duc­ing her to stay — an Illi­nois na­tive, she had spent 10 years in Chicago as a work­ing ac­tor and was, she says, “starved of na­ture.”

“I could never go back to that,” she says. “The thought of liv­ing in the city tires me out. I want to have the qual­ity of life that in­cludes hik­ing and kayak­ing and pick­ing wild­flow­ers. I’m just happy that we can make art and be sur­rounded by it at the same time.”

Chicago’s loss is cer­tainly North­west Arkansas’ gain, as the tal­ented the­ater artist con­tin­ues to make her mark on the area as a vi­brant, im­mi­nently watch­able ac­tress in pro­duc­tions at TheatreSqu­ared — she can next be seen in “In­ti­mate Ap­parel,” open­ing in March. Fe­bru­ary will bring an­other per­for­mance with the Prison Sto­ries Project, which Shatkus has called the “best ex­pe­ri­ence as an ac­tor I have ever had.” She has also taken over the driver’s seat for ArkansasS­taged, a col­lec­tive of the­ater artists who per­form cut­ting-edge the­ater in unusual spa­ces. The com­pany will be the res­i­dent com­pany for the 21c Ho­tel in Ben­tonville in 2017.

4. Kholoud Sawaf —

Ten years ago, when Kholoud Sawaf “barely spoke any English,” she was a crew mem­ber for a pro­duc­tion of “Romeo and Juliet” in the city of Sha­jrah in the United Arab Emi­rates.

“I didn’t know a word of what was said, but I know I was root­ing for Romeo and Juliet and for their love to pre­vail, and I re­mem­ber cry­ing ev­ery night when they died,” Sawaf says.

Now a grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Arkansas with a master of fine arts de­gree in di­rect­ing, Sawaf — as an artist-in-res­i­dence — and TheatreSqu­ared are creating a ver­sion of Shake­speare’s clas­sic set in Da­m­as­cus, Syria, her home. The pro­duc­tion is funded by a $250,000 grant from the Build­ing Bridges Pro­gram of the Doris Duke Foun­da­tion for Is­lamic Arts.

Over the course of the three­year de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion of “Romeo and Juliet: Da­m­as­cus,” TheatreSqu­ared will foster con­ver­sa­tions with lo­cal part­ners like In­ter­faith Arkansas, the King Fahd Cen­ter for Mid­dle East Stud­ies, the Fayettevil­le Pub­lic Li­brary and St. Paul’s Epis­co­pal Church. The ul­ti­mate goal, she says, “is to hu­man­ize this cul­ture and this place” — Syria — and give it “the sense of home” she grew up with, “not what we see on the news­reel.”

5. Mike Shirkey —

Mike Shirkey has made a ca­reer of mak­ing a place for mu­sic, and he’s done it again in 2016. Shirkey was the founder of the GoodFolk house con­cert se­ries, which con­tin­ued

from 1991 to 2012 on Block Av­enue and later at the Fayettevil­le Un­der­ground. In 2016, he started the Pickin’ Post con­cert se­ries, the first paid-and-tick­eted events at the Fayettevil­le Pub­lic Li­brary. “For next year and be­yond, things are still in the plan­ning stage, but stay tuned,” he says.

6. Katy Hen­rik­sen

—If you turn your ra­dio dial to 91.3 — NPR af­fil­i­ate KUAF — be­tween the hours of 8 and 10 o’clock most nights of the week, it’s Katy Hen­rik­sen’s voice you’ll hear be­tween the clas­si­cal move­ments. In July, her clas­si­cal mu­sic show “Of Note” changed from an hour­long day­time pro­gram to an evening pro­gram that dou­bles that time. Hen­rik­sen’s just fine with the in­creased work­load though, as it gives her more op­por­tu­nity to share with peo­ple what she is pas­sion­ate about.

“It al­lows me the time to have in­ter­views as well — not nec­es­sar­ily with just clas­si­cal mu­sic, but with all the arts,” she says. “Our area is rapidly ex­pand­ing and in or­der to have a healthy arts com­mu­nity, it’s great to have [an­other per­son out there] who can con­nect peo­ple [with] this artist or this mu­si­cian they’ve maybe never heard of be­fore.”

That’s also the idea be­hind Hen­rik­sen’s mu­sic se­ries out­side the studio — the Tril­lium Salon Se­ries, started this sum­mer. Tril­lium uti­lizes the con­cept of the salon — peo­ple gath­er­ing to­gether in an in­ti­mate set­ting to en­joy en­ter­tain­ment — to break down those per­ceived bar­ri­ers be­tween clas­si­cal mu­sic and the masses. With fam­ily-friendly con­certs per­formed by lo­cal mu­si­cians as well as artists trav­el­ing through the area, Hen­rik­sen hopes the se­ries will strip away the elitism of the art form and con­nect peo­ple through love of live mu­sic and lo­cal food. (She part­ners with restau­rants and busi­nesses to pro­vide lo­cally-sourced nosh and drinks at the con­certs.)

Hen­rik­sen also ex­panded her dig­i­tal pres­ence this year so her day­time lis­ten­ers can still catch her voice when the sun is up through stream­ing on the KUAF web­site. She says the con­sump­tion of me­dia through dig­i­tal plat­forms is an im­por­tant de­vel­op­ment she’s no­ticed in the in­dus­try. Keep­ing up with tech­nol­ogy only al­lows her to reach and con­nect more peo­ple, which she hopes to ex­pand through her pro­gram­ming and Tril­lium in 2017.

7. Joseph Farmer —

On per­for­mance nights at Arkansas Pub­lic The­atre in Rogers, Farmer is the one who keeps the wheels on. As ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, he’s the one who co­or­di­nates the vol­un­teers, makes sure there’s food and drink for the pa­trons, sched­ules reser­va­tions and gets all the bod­ies into the right seats — and makes it all look smooth and ef­fort­less.

Be­hind the scenes, Farmer is more. He is one of the APT’s sta­ble of di­rec­tors, most re­cently guid­ing the off-kil­ter Christ­mas come­dies “The San­ta­land Diaries” and “Sea­son’s Greet­ings,” and he’ll be di­rect­ing “Dead Man’s Cell­phone” in the sum­mer. And he’s su­per­vis­ing a long-awaited over­haul of the dress­ing rooms. And he’s cel­e­brat­ing what he calls the grace­ful tran­si­tion from Rogers Lit­tle The­atre to Arkansas Pub­lic The­atre and from din­ner the­ater to cabaret seat­ing.

His re­ward? He doesn’t rec­og­nize a good por­tion of any given au­di­ence. “And that’s so ex­cit­ing.”

8. Han­nah Withers —

This pe­tite whirl­wind is in­volved with a myr­iad of Fayettevil­le’s most beloved es­tab­lish­ments and events. She and her hus­band, Ben Gitchel, opened The Lit­tle Bread Co. on Block Av­enue be­fore mov­ing across the street and in­vest­ing in a ren­o­va­tion of the iconic Max­ine’s Tap Room. They man­aged to kept the spirit of its orig­i­nal founder, Mar­jorie Max­ine Miller, while still de­liv­er­ing it stylishly into the mod­ern age. A co-founder of the first phe­nom­e­nally suc­cess­ful Block Street Block Party in spring 2011, Withers con­tin­ues to serve as one of pri­mary hosts of the event. Oh, and in her spare time, she serves on the Fayettevil­le Ad­ver­tis­ing and Pro­mo­tions Com­mit­tee.

She’s not just known for her crack busi­ness sense, ei­ther. Withers has been called the “Unofficial Mayor of Fayettevil­le” on more than one oc­ca­sion — her love for Fayettevil­le and its res­i­dents, cul­ture, and tra­di­tions is pal­pa­ble and gen­uine and one of her most win­ning fea­tures.

“I work hard be­cause I get ex­cited and in­spired to do things,” says the wun­derkind. “I wish I had more hours in my day to ex­e­cute 30 new things that would be great for our city. And when I get one that I just can’t stop think­ing about, that re­ally keeps me up at night, I spring into ac­tion un­til it hap­pens.”

In 2017, look for the open­ing of Sit & Spin, Withers and Gitchel’s (and A.B Mer­ritt’s) new busi­ness that com­bines a restau­rant and bar with an eco-friendly laun­dro­mat. Withers also says she and Gitchel hope to be­come more sup­port­ive of the Roots Fes­ti­val through ad­di­tional spon­sor­ship. What­ever Withers does, we’ll cer­tainly be watch­ing.

9. Morgan Hicks —

As di­rec­tor of ed­u­ca­tion and pro­gram de­vel­op­ment for TheatreSqu­ared, Hicks — a co-founder of the na­tion­ally rec­og­nized re­gional the­ater — is sin­gle-hand­edly re­spon­si­ble for the­ater touch­ing the lives of tens of thou­sands of Arkansas school­child­ren through in-school res­i­den­cies, a sum­mer Shake­speare Academy and a statewide tour that vis­its more than 70 high schools each fall. Yet as im­pres­sive as that ac­com­plish­ment is, it’s the tip of the ice­berg for Hicks.

The pro­lific di­rec­tor starts her year with “Ly­sis­trata” for the Univer­sity of Arkansas; the as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor — who teaches the­ater arts classes — will di­rect her own adap­ta­tion of the Aristo­phanes clas­sic in Fe­bru­ary. She’ll then move on to di­rect­ing “The Ding­dong” for TheatreSqu­ared in May, and, fol­low­ing that, she will be co-pro­duc­ing T2’s Arkansas New Play Fes­ti­val. Sum­mer will find her di­rect­ing for ArkansasS­taged.

“I try not to get bored,” says Hicks. Ap­par­ently so. In ad­di­tion to her di­rect­ing work, Hicks also serves on the board of the Fayettevil­le Film Fest and per­forms reg­u­larly with the Artist’s Lab­o­ra­tory The­atre — where she hosts a monthly in­for­ma­tion va­ri­ety show called “The All You Need to Know Show” that airs on KUAF — and the Rough­house Com­edy Col­lec­tive, with whom you might have seen her per­form­ing dur­ing their show at the Last Night Fayettevil­le event.

“Fayettevil­le is an amazing place to live and work,” says the busy tal­ent. “There is a sense of com­mu­nity among artists here that I think is re­ally unique.”

10. Kat Robin­son —

Robin­son is based in Lit­tle Rock, but food­ies across Arkansas know her as an ex­pert on what makes our re­gional cui­sine unique. She’s on this list be­cause a na­tional au­di­ence is about to get to know her, too. Robin­son, who started her ca­reer in ra­dio and TV and spent time with Arkansas Parks & Tourism, con­trib­utes to Food Net­work Mag­a­zine, cov­er­ing food through­out the Mid-South. She’ll be shar­ing her ex­per­tise with sem­i­nars through­out Arkansas, in­clud­ing at the new North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege Bright­wa­ter School for Food. Robin­son is also de­vel­op­ing a lo­cal TV show and shop­ping an Arkansas food glos­sary book to pub­lish­ers. You’ll def­i­nitely see more of her in 2017 — and, as she says, be the chub­bier for it!

Stephen Caldwell

Jenni Tay­lor Swain

Mike Shirkey

Kholoud Sawaf

Laura Shatkus

Kat Robin­son

Han­nah Withers

Joseph Farmer

Katy Hen­rik­sen

Morgan Hicks

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