The Arkansas Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts is composed of a group of well-connected Arkansas women who work to support female Arkansas artists. The committee focuses upon primarily visual art done by noted female artists in the state, though it also sponsors writers, poets, and songwriters.
Learning about the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) while on a visit to Washington DC, Ed Dell Wortz, a member of the Wortz family, and Helen Walton of the Arkansas Walton family called together a group of Arkansas women interested in the arts on February 1, 1989, to develop plans for a state committee. The Arkansas Committee of the NMWA was organized in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on March 21, 1989, with a representative from each of twelve districts derived by equal distribution of the state’s population. The exception was Little Rock, which had three members on the board. With $2,000 from the NMWA and $100 dollars from each Arkansas Committee board member, the committee was able to begin planning for the future.
The Arkansas Committee had to follow the NMWA’s guidelines to qualify for a state exhibition at the national museum; these guidelines hold that an exhibition must be of museum quality. The Arkansas Committee’s first qualifying event was held in October 1989 when 125 women gathered in Little Rock to participate in a seminar titled “Old Mistresses,” led by Kathy Brunch and Lucy Grant from North Carolina. In October 1990, a contract was signed by both Helen Walton, president of the Arkansas Committee, and the NMWA, agreeing to a state exhibition of Arkansas women artists at NMWA, establishing at the museum an Arkansas Room that is used for living female artists.
The Arkansas Committee planned events in each of the state’s twelve districts to give Arkansas’s female artists the opportunity to have their work seen by others and to help them find support through the committee and other artists. At the end of May 1991, every district had participated in an event. More than 2,000 people and 800 artists were involved in the events.
The state exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center in Little Rock opened on October 19, 1991. Thirty artists were allowed to show three paintings each, and ten artists were chosen to include their work in the Washington DC exhibit. The national exhibit, A Personal Statement: Arkansas Women Artists, began on March 24, 1992, and lasted until June 14, 1992, complete with a gala weekend.
The entire project of the Arkansas Committee was full of firsts for the arts in Arkansas. In particular, the exhibit represented the first full-scale attempt at bringing Arkansas’s female artists to the attention of the rest of the state outside of Little Rock, as well as providing an exhibition opportunity at a national museum. Since its formation in 1989, the Arkansas Committee has tried to locate, identify, and promote female artists currently living and working in Arkansas. In 1997, fifty women from the state traveled with Walton to Washington DC to present the museum with $50,000 for an endowment of the Arkansas Room in the new Elisabeth A. Kasser wing of the NMWA. The committee is also a leader at the annual States Leadership Conference held in the spring of each year at NMWA in Washington DC. In addition, the committee sponsors state exhibitions every two years.
For additional information:
Arkansas Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts Records. Torreyson Library Special Collections. University of Central Arkansas, Conway, Arkansas.
National Museum of Women in the Arts—Arkansas Committee. http://acnmwa.org/index.php (accessed March 5, 2019).
Jolynda Hammock Halinski
Arkansas Committee of the National Museum of Women in the Arts