The great Spanish painter Pablo Picasso is credited with saying, “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”
The city of Little Rock wants to try and help cleanse the souls of those who traverse the city and has placed more than 100 pieces of public art across the city in an effort to do so.
The city’s efforts to infuse its streets with arts through the Sculpture at the River Market program have earned Little Rock recognition as a 2015 City of Distinction for Tourism Development in cities with a population greater than 20,000.
In 2004, the city placed six bronze sculptures along President Clinton Avenue in the River Market District and today, more than 100 pieces can be found across the city from downtown to midtown and even in west Little Rock.
“Works of art in public spaces are designed to make art accessible to all,” said Gretchen Hall, president and CEO of the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau. “Public art is transforming America’s urban landscapes, and the city of Little Rock is no exception.”
The Sculpture in the River Market program has overseen the placement of the sculptures, valued at more than $2 million, throughout the city. But the sculptures are concentrated in the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden that anchors Riverfront Park’s west side.
The annual Sculpture at the River Market Show and Sale spans a weekend in April at the River Market pavilions and kicks off with a ticketed preview party where guests can mingle with artists while hundreds of sculptures are displayed and sold. The show then opens to the public. Last year, the event included more than 50 artists and more than 4,000 attendees.
“The last day of the show was cancelled due to bad weather, but over 100 people still showed up that day to look at the art as at the artists were taking their booths down,” Hall said.
The addition of the sculptures to Riverfront Park has transformed a previously neglected area and enabled it to become a destination within the city.
Hall said engaging the community with art has had other benefits.
“Donors to the sculpture show now frequent the park more and serve as ambassadors for the city’s parks department,” she said. “They bring out-of-town visitors to the park as well. In addition, public discourse about public art has increased because of Sculpture at the River Market.”
Another private sculpture garden has been created in the South Main neighborhood and several businesses have installed sculptures on their property.
Hall said plans are underway for even more expansion and outreach.
“While the Vogel Schwartz Sculpture Garden, Riverfront Park and the River Market District will continue to be home base, with 60 other parks throughout the city, the possibilities are endless,” she said.