Indoor Recreation

A 2019 survey shows Northwest Arkansas residents’ use of indoor amenities such as Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, The Jones Center and the Walton Arts Center has risen since 2015. 

The percentage of NWA residents who reported attending Crystal Bridges at least once in the last 12 months increased significantly from 2015 to 2018, according to the Northwest Arkansas Quality of Life Survey Report. Since 2015, Crystal Bridges attendance went up 8%, Walton Arts Center attendance decreased 3% and The Jones Center attendance went up 17%.

Chung Tan, the business development manager for the City of Fayetteville’s economic vitality department, said the growing number of indoor entertainment centers in Fayetteville has improved the economy as well as the health of residents. 

''One of the city's goals, of course, is to look after the health and happiness of our citizens. So, in a sense, these sectors help to contribute positively towards this end,'' Tan said.  

Crystal Bridges was ranked as the most visited arts and culture facility, with 71% of surveyed residents  having attended at least once in the last 12 months.

Specifically in Fayetteville, 67% of residents attended Crystal Bridges in 2018, compared to 53% in 2015. 

Diane Carroll, chief communications and marketing officer at Crystal Bridges, said the museum receives around 600,000 visitors per year, and she attributes the jump in attendance rates to the large variety of exhibitions and public programs that Crystal Bridges offers. Crystal Bridges also organizes lectures, art-making workshops, film screenings and gallery talks.

Raquel Gamboa, a freshman, visited Crystal Bridges for the first time with her parents two months ago. She mainly went to gather information for a class project.

"We had to go to an art museum, or an exhibit, and look at the art and do a report on it, so I went there one weekend," Gamboa said. “Since I am doing interior design, I liked seeing the building, like the architecture of the building itself."

Resident income level appears to affect attendance rates for most area amenities – even free facilities, such as Crystal Bridges, according to the survey. Of wealthier residents making $200,000 or more a year, 88% attended Crystal Bridges at least once a year, while 56% of residents making less than $10,000 a year attended at least once a year. From 2012 to 2018, the attendance rate of residents making less than $10,000 a year has increased from 11% to 56%. 

Carroll thinks the attendees match the diversity and the income ranges of the museum’s audience, she said.

The report noted a decrease in the percentage of residents visiting the Walton Arts Center, 45% in 2018, and 48% in 2015. Given its location on Dickson Street, this finding is likely influenced by attendance rates among university students with zero or negligible direct income, according to the report. 

Jennifer Wilson, the Walton Arts Center’s public relations director, said the five-year average for attendance at the Walton Arts Center is 96,000 visitors who attended at least one show over the seasons. She also said that since the Walton Arts Center opened 27 years ago, many other amenities have opened in NWA to provide options to the residents. 

''I think one of the important things to look at in the survey is the fact that the Walton Family Foundation has surveyed and not only are there multiple cultural organizations in NWA, but we are all healthy,” Wilson said. ''Some of us have had a little bit less attendance over the last couple of years based on that survey.''

Renovations on the Walton Arts Center from July 2015 to November 2016 affected attendance, said Scott Galbraith, vice president of programming. The renovation included the extension of the main lobby toward Dickson Street, increasing of the Starr Theater’s capacity to 250 and constructing new spaces that can be used for event and wedding rentals, community space or configured for smaller productions.

Attendance also fluctuates depending on the programming, Galbraith said. The two week-round performances of the Blue Man Group in September resulted in a growth in the number of visitors by 9,000 people. 

Proximity also had an effect on whether residents used a particular amenity. For example, more Bentonville and Springdale residents reported visiting Crystal Bridges and the Jones Center at least once in the past 12 months. 

Kirk said the increase in attendance is a result of marketing efforts, additional programs and the affordable price. 

From 2015 to 2018, visits to The Jones Center increased by about 63%, according to the survey. The Jones Center recreation facilities, including the ice arena, gym, fitness center and pool, had 297,315 uses during 2018, said Director of Recreation Michael Kirk. 

Associate Editor Andrew Elkins contributed to this report.

Obed Lamy is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler

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