Wildwood Park for the Arts

Wildwood Park for the Arts is a 105-acre botanical garden and arts center. Located at 20919 Denny Road in the Chenal Valley area of western Little Rock (Pulaski County)—about a twenty-minute drive from downtown—the nonprofit organization hosts cultural programming and educational projects along with displaying its scenic woodlands and gardens. The park is open seven days a week with no admission fee except for special events. Providing a peaceful sanctuary of trees, flowers, water, and wildlife, Wildwood has lush gardens and a lake. Its spaces are popular for conferences, corporate events, educational programs, parties, and weddings.

Wildwood was the brainchild of Ann Chotard, who was instrumental in founding the Arkansas Opera Theatre (AOT) in 1973. AOT performed at several locations in central Arkansas until funding from various sources allowed for the purchase and development of land for a permanent home. The west Little Rock site would evolve into Wildwood.

Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts opened in 1991, with the first Wildwood Festival of Music and the Arts held in 1992. Chotard acted as executive director and artistic director of Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts until her retirement in 2007. With the help of Lucy Cabe, a renowned supporter of the arts in Arkansas, the park grew to include the 625-seat Lucy Lockett Cabe Theatre, which has a studio theater complex, production facilities, and administrative offices.

Boardwalks and walking trails wind through the park. In addition to an azalea garden, the eclectic botanical array includes the Gertrude Remmel Butler Gazebo and Gardens, Richard Butler Arboretum, Ruth Allen Dogwood Trail, Boop Water Garden, Bruce Theatre Gardens, Campbell Davies Reflection Garden, Dodi Tea House, Doris Carré Gay Asian Woodland Garden, Carl Hunter Wildflower Glen, Pavilion Daffodil Garden, Zahn Rock Garden, and eight-acre Swan Lake; several of the gardens were designed by noted garden/lifestyle designer P. Allen Smith.

In 1996, the Wildwood Festival moved into the Cabe Festival Theatre. The annual event has hosted a wide array of weekend presentations, including productions of such works as A Little Night Music and The Marriage of Figaro and appearances over the years by Maya Angelou, Johnny Cash, Marvin Hamlisch, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and the Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble.

In 2014, the Wildwood Academy of Music & the Arts (WAMA) was created to provide summer arts education programs for young people ages 6–18. WAMA students are able to develop their musical abilities by learning and performing with professional faculty and guest artists. Ranging from four days to two weeks, WAMA offers sessions for beginner, intermediate, and advanced music students in instrumental and vocal instruction.

Throughout the year, Wildwood also sponsors educational programs, camps, master classes, and field trips, and offers “Art To Go!” touring productions, which allow children to experience live theater by bringing fully staged professional plays to Arkansas elementary schools. The “Art To Go!” program also provides a packet of activities and discussion topics for teachers. “Art in the Park” programs have featured the work of students, faculty, and alumni of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).

Special events are held at Wildwood throughout the year. The HARVEST! festival in the fall features activities for children, global cuisine, music, and tractor-drawn hayrides through the woods. The three-night LANTERNS! festival in winter is held on the night of the first full moon of the lunar year. Children and adults embark on a nighttime tour of the gardens, which are lit by fire pits and luminaries, with games, live entertainment, and food and refreshments available throughout the park. Different world cultures are represented, with past locales including Asia, Ireland, Mexico, America in the 1950s, and Shakespearean England. The global sites are often paired with attractions such as a performance by the Vienna Boys’ Choir spotlighting the Austrian Alps.

For additional information:
Harrison, Eric. “Music to Fill Countryside.” Arkansas Gazette, June 4, 1993, pp. 1E, 6E.

———. “Wildwood ’96.” Arkansas Gazette, March 31, 1996, pp. 1E, 2E.

Trieschmann, Werner. “Hidden Gem No More.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 1, 2021, pp. 1E, 3E. Online at https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2021/aug/01/hidden-gem-no-more/ (accessed August 2, 2021).

“Wildwood Park Adding Theater.” Arkansas Gazette, June 19, 1991, p. 2B.

Wildwood Park for the Arts. http://www.wildwoodpark.org (accessed September 9, 2020).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society


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