Feature: From the Delta to the Hills

Arkansas Heritage Month poster 2010

Throughout the month of May, the Department of Arkansas Heritage, along with residents of Arkansas, will celebrate the natural and cultural beauty of our great state.

Photography by Ashlee Nobel and courtesy of Department of Arkansas Heritage


Above Photo: Arkansas Heritage Month poster from 2010.

Arkansas Heritage Month is an annual celebration led by the Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH) each May. During that month, the department focuses its celebratory efforts on organizing events and encouraging cultural centers throughout the state to participate.

This tradition dates back to 1982, when the event began as Arkansas Heritage Week. It has since grown and developed into a month-long series of events that celebrate the state’s art, culture, history and natural beauty. The statewide celebration highlights one of the DAH’s major cultural agencies, which include: the Old Statehouse Museum; Historic Arkansas Museum; Delta Cultural Center; Mosaic Templars Cultural Center; Arkansas Arts Council; Arkansas Historic Preservation Program; and Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.

Each year the DAH also focuses on a different theme that speaks to communities across the state. The 2015 Arkansas Heritage Month theme is “From the Delta to the Hills: Different Landscapes a Common Heritage,” and the featured facility is the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, Ark., which is also celebrating its 25th anniversary.

“The Department of [Arkansas] Heritage created Heritage Month as a way to help residents consider what is unique about their community and celebrate it. We encourage everyone to take the time to look around them,” said Melissa Whitfield, communications director at the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

The DAH will kick off the celebration at the opening party on May 1 at historic Trapnall Hall in downtown Little Rock, Arkansas. The party will include an unveiling of this year’s event poster, designed by Helena artist John Ruskey.

“We are very excited to have John Ruskey working on this year’s poster,” Whitfield said. “He’s a canoe instructor and watercolorist from Helena. He uses Mississippi River water to mix his colors and give his work a very unique look.”

Posters are available to the public for free at the kick-off party or on the DAH website, arkansasheritage.com. Past Arkansas Heritage Week posters have come to be treated as collectors’ items.

If you don’t live in central Arkansas, there are still plenty of opportunities to get in on the action. The Delta Cultural Center will present a traveling exhibition May 4 through 8, which will make stops in several cities throughout the Delta.

“The Delta Cultural Center staff will start in Corning, Ark., and move down all the way to Lake Village,” Whitfield said. “They will stop in visitors’ centers in these towns to reach out to those communities, introduce themselves and the center, and invite them up to Helena.”

To ensure the communities that want to participate can do so, each year the DAH helps out with grant money to fund Heritage Month events, exhibitions, research and more around the state. “We have a grant pool of $50,000, and nonprofits can apply for up to $5,000 to help fund a program to celebrate Arkansas heritage,” Whitfield said.

The application process opens in October and runs through December. Grantees are announced at the end of February. One stipulation is that the funded event take place in May of the year the grant is given. “This year, 24 applications were received requesting a total of $95,000. After careful consideration, 12 of those requests were granted. We are looking forward to some really great programs to be put on by these organizations,” Whitfield said.

This mural celebrates one of the Arkansas Delta’s signature events and is located near the Delta Cultural Center, this year’s featured facility.

This mural celebrates one of the Arkansas Delta’s signature events and is located near the Delta Cultural Center, this year’s featured facility.

Here are a few highlights to watch for:

Texarkana Museums System received $5,000 for the exhibit, “Our Resources, Our Heritage.” It showcases the natural resources found in the southwest corner of the state, and discusses the impact they had on the early settlement and continuing development of Miller, Lafayette, Little River and Hempstead counties.

Mt. Judea Area Alliance received $2,367 for a cooperative project between the Deer-Mt. Judea School District and the Marvell-Elaine School District. Students from these districts will record stories and interviews from senior residents in their respective communities and publish them in a small book.

Old Independence Regional Museum of Batesville received $3,710 for the exhibit, “Living with the White River: From the Ozarks to the Delta.” It illustrates how residents have used the White River and continue to benefit from it.

The Tunican Chapter of the Arkansas Archeological Society in Monticello received $3,295 to develop a workshop and archeological program to teach youth about archeology and protecting Arkansas’ landscapes.

Clark County Arts and Humanities Council of Arkadelphia received $5,000 for a project titled, “River Bluffing,” which will use DeSoto Bluff along the Ouachita River as inspiration for a writer’s workshop for middle school and college students.

Those are just a few of the many programs to look forward to this May. For a full list and a complete Arkansas Heritage Month calendar of events, log on to arkansasheritage.com.

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