Community Stories

How Rural Arkansas is Making a Haven for Artists On Main Street

Artists are rarely the center of economic development strategy. Eureka Springs is proving why that's a mistake.

The small town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas is a historical art colony. While the town’s population has fluctuated over the years, it has retained a vibrant arts community, thriving retail base, and flourishing tourist economy. Northwestern Arkansas has become a nationally-recognized arts destination, but many of its artists and creatives struggled to see themselves as businesses or entrepreneurs. 

It’s easy for creative entrepreneurs to doubt their own skill sets when pursuing their own businesses. Artists can sometimes feel intimidated by entrepreneurial resources—which often cater to scalable tech and other high-growth companies. The idea of an “accelerator” full of tech professionals and owners of large companies can feel not only intimidating, but also stifling for creative people. 

That is, if they even get invited to the table. 

Because of this mismatch, makers and artists often go without business support and compete with each other for the limited resources they feel are relevant to them.

It’s easy to fall into a scarcity mindset: local artists feel that their resources are so limited that if one person succeeds, then another inevitably fails. Instead of a community being built, the community breaks down.

Jacqueline Wolven, the longtime Executive Director at Main Street Eureka Springs, recognized this gap in opportunities for local creatives and makers. The town had potential for a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem and plenty of space for new businesses. All they had to do was help artists believe that they could be entrepreneurs.

“As a Main Street organization, we know that everything we do has an economic development component—from our relationship building to our community-wide development, from our cultural tourism initiatives to our beautification and infrastructure projects.”

-Jacqueline Wolven
Executive Director, Main Street Eureka Springs

The Main Street Eureka Springs team tackled these challenges head-on, introducing the CO.STARTERS Core program to Eureka Springs as a tool to empower local artists. Through the program, local artists and makers have built a strong network of support and begun to think of themselves as entrepreneurs capable of launching their own businesses. This resulting network has begun to erode the scarcity mindset, replacing it with confidence and assurance that local artists are entrepreneurs too. 

Since CO.STARTERS Core was launched in Eureka Springs, graduates have opened brick and mortar storefronts, including a destination art supply store. They’ve also developed new product lines and connected with out-of-state retailers about wholesale opportunities. 

The artistic community in Northwest Arkansas has grown more confident, with artists and makers alike assisting regional retailers in growing the region’s artistic landscape. Artists have built strong relationships, and now plan art shows together and design specialized products to help each other with their businesses.

As the community has grown, Jacqueline has expanded the scope of Main Street Eureka Springs’ project, casting a wider net into the community. They now host local events, book speakers, and cultivate a wider network for artistic and entrepreneurial support. CO.STARTERS graduates in Northwest Arkansas are confident, communal, and capable of determining what kind of businesses and projects will be worthwhile for them. 

With the help of CO.STARTERS’ programs, Main Street Eureka Springs is rejecting both a scarcity narrative and the idea that a small town in the mountains of Arkansas is incapable of building a flourishing artistic community. 

In reality, Main Street Eureka Springs has cultivated an inclusive collective of artists and makers, who are fighting to build community and increase civic engagement in their small, beautiful, and historical town. “The people are rich, the skills are wide, and the depth is forever deep,” Jacqueline concluded. “It’s an amazing place.”

“As a Main Street organization, we know that everything we do has an economic development component—from our relationship building to our community-wide development, from our cultural tourism initiatives to our beautification and infrastructure projects.”

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