River Valley Arts Center

The River Valley Arts Center in Russellville (Pope County) offers art classes; week-long immersion art camps; more than forty exhibitions each year; and live performances in storytelling, music, and dance. The center receives small corporate and foundation grants and a grant from the Arkansas Arts Council but is supported mainly by memberships.

The impetus behind the establishment of the nonprofit River Valley Arts Center was Richard Barton, who was born and raised in Russellville. After his military service, he studied and painted abroad for about ten years. After returning to Arkansas, he shared his passion for art with others. On June 27, 1981, Barton met with Charolette Doty, John Hlass, Sue Gray, Marge Crabaugh, Bonita Church, Bobbie Moore, Faye Crumpler, and Toni Bachman to discuss formation of the arts center. In August, Michele Meason, Laine Teeter, Sharon Trusty, Dan Heavner, and others joined the group.

On October 5, 1981, a ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the official opening in a building downtown loaned by the Robertson family. Articles of incorporation, prepared by attorney Lu Hardin, were signed on December 8, 1981, by Crumpler, Moore, Church, Crabaugh, Mary Ann Rollans, and Bachman. A $5,000 grant from the Junior Auxiliary began the Arkansas River Valley Arts Center Foundation, Inc. A board of directors was formed with Church as president, Bonnie Ring as vice president, and Trusty as secretary. Barton served as the first executive director, followed by volunteers Laine Teeter and J. R. Gray. Theresa Spragins was the first paid director.

After three years, the Robertson family decided to sell the building, so the search began for a permanent home. The center moved to 4thStreet for a brief period before leasing a building, which had been vacated by the parks department, from the City. The board signed a twenty-five-year lease on the building. In 1990, cartoonist George Fisher donated pottery supplies, including wheels and a kiln owned by his late wife, Rosemary Fisher, who was a potter. Under the direction of Mac Van Horn, the equipment was moved and installed in the building. Winston Taylor became a pottery instructor at the center on July 1, 1990.

When Russellville’s City Corporation moved in the spring of 1985, the City offered to donate a small building for a pottery studio if the center would move it. Again, volunteers furnished the equipment and manpower to relocate the building and pottery equipment, and a Leadership Russellville class constructed an on-site storage facility at the center. The City leases the facilities to the center for $1 a month.

Shortly after an airline crash in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on June 1, 1999, a memorial water garden was built in memory of the seven Russellville residents killed in the crash; board president Gordon McLerran and his wife, Joyce, were among the victims.

The gallery at the center features a new exhibition every month, with local, state, and occasionally nationally known artists. In addition to pottery classes for adults and children, the center offers painting classes in several media, especially watercolor and oil. Art camps are held each summer featuring pottery, painting, and drama. Six performances of a summer musical theater production are presented each year. Quarterly art walks, monthly literary and musical evenings, workshops by guest artists, and monthly off-site exhibits at two locations are offered by the center.

For additional information:
River Valley Arts Center. http://arvartscenter.org/ (accessed October 21, 2021).

Betty LaGrone
River Valley Arts Center


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