Division of Arkansas Heritage

DAH was created in 1975 to preserve and promote Arkansas’s natural and cultural heritage as a source of pride and enjoyment for all. The original legislation named the agency the Department of Arkansas Natural and Cultural Heritage and grouped together culturally oriented agencies in one department. The agency’s name was changed to the Department of Arkansas Heritage in 1985, and then to the Division of Arkansas Heritage in 2019.

DAH consists of a number of agencies, each with its own special contributions, and a director’s office, which manages general administrative and marketing operations. The agencies are the Arkansas Arts Council (AAC), which seeks to advance the arts in Arkansas; the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP), which manages the state’s historic and cultural resources and operates the Main Street Arkansas program; the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC), which establishes and maintains the Arkansas System of Natural Areas, including a central repository on rare and endangered species; the Delta Cultural Center (DCC), located in downtown Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), which is the state’s most complete repository of artifacts chronicling the life and times of the people, traditions, music, and art of Arkansas’s Delta region; the Historic Arkansas Museum (HAM), which is accredited by the American Association of Museums and is the state’s foremost interpreter of frontier Arkansas, chronicling the social, political, and creative history of the state through the nineteenth century; the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center (MTCC), which tells the story of Arkansas’s African Americans from 1870 to the present; the Old State House Museum (OSHM), located in the oldest standing capitol west of the Mississippi River, which is today a multimedia museum of Arkansas history accredited by the American Association of Museums, with a special emphasis on political history, women’s history, and historical programming for schoolchildren; and the Arkansas State Archives, formerly the Arkansas History Commission, which is the official state archives, responsible for preserving source material on Arkansas history. DAH also oversees the Black History Commission, the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee, and the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resource Council.

A central director’s office coordinates and promotes agency efforts to make Arkansas heritage accessible to all through annual heritage and cultural events such as Heritage Month, educational resources, and special publications. Heritage Month began as Heritage Week in 1982 to encourage communities and organizations to celebrate their history and heritage. It was expanded to a month in 1998, and DAH began creating a theme each year to help communities focus on particular areas of culture.

The impetus behind the creation of the department was to group together existing state agencies that were culturally oriented. Several legislators sponsored Act 1001 of 1975, which created the department and brought together six agencies. In 1990, the Delta Cultural Center was opened in Helena and added to the Department of Arkansas Heritage. In 2003, legislation created the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a museum for African American history and culture, and placed it under the direction of DAH. In 2016, during a special session of the Arkansas General Assembly, legislation promoted by Governor Asa Hutchinson transferred the Arkansas History Commission from the Department of Parks and Tourism to DAH, renaming it the Arkansas State Archives, though the Arkansas History Commission still exists as the board governing the State Archives.

Anne Bartley was the director appointed in 1975 by Governor David Pryor to lead the agency after its creation. Cathie Matthews, the longest-serving director, was appointed in 1997 and retired in December 2012. Stacy Hurst was appointed director in 2015. Jimmy Bryant was appointed director in 2019.

In 2014, DAH announced plans to develop a new headquarters in downtown Little Rock (Pulaski County), near the banks of the Arkansas River. The building was completed in 2016. The headquarters also houses the Arkansas Arts Council, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission.

Created as part of the Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019 (Act 910), which sought to reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies in Arkansas state government by 65%, the new “umbrella department” called the Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism consolidated a number of agencies that had previously reported directly to the governor. Act 910 also moved boards, commissions, and divisions that had previously been under former cabinet-level agencies (such as Keep Arkansas Beautiful) to report directly to the Secretary of the Department of Parks, Heritage, and Tourism.

Among the major changes was the decision to split the former Department of Parks and Tourism into two divisions: the State Parks Division and the Tourism Division. The new department also absorbed the former Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH), renaming it the Division of Arkansas Heritage.

For additional information:
Division of Arkansas Heritage. http://www.arkansasheritage.com/ (accessed February 8, 2023).

Melissa Whitfield
Department of Arkansas Heritage


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