Zoie Clift, travel writer
Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism
An outdoor art exhibition is set to be showcased among the natural beauty of Petit Jean Mountain. The exhibit, which is called Art in its Natural State, is a celebration of the arts in Arkansas and is the first exhibit of its kind in the state. The featured art will be displayed on the grounds of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and Petit Jean State Park and includes 10 original site specific installations that have been created by artists from across the South.
“Events and exhibitions such as Art in its Natural State add to the quality of life here in Arkansas,” said Janet Harris, director of programs at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “Art, in all of its forms, is something that inspires and connects us. It has the potential to create shared experiences and greater understanding between different kinds of people.”
Art has an important tie to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “Many people know about Winthrop Rockefeller’s role as a philanthropist and catalyst in advancing the arts in Arkansas,” said Harris. “Among other things, he spearheaded the effort to raise funds to establish the Arkansas Arts Center and personally funded the Arts Center’s Artmobile. But what many don’t know is that Winthrop’s love of art was passed down to him by his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Abby instilled in Winthrop the sense that art could serve as a bridge across cultures, across races, across fundamental differences in the human experience. One of the themes of Winthrop’s life was his commitment to improving human relations, and art played an important role in that.”
To celebrate the launch of the exhibit and reveal the artwork, Winthrop Rockefeller Institute and Petit Jean State Park are hosting a special event on April 28. The festival-type event will include demonstrations and the artists will also all be on hand to give talks throughout the day. A range of Arkansas arts organizations will also be on hand that day to provide various interactive experiences for the public, including Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art; the Arkansas Arts Center; the Arkansas Arts Council; the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra; the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre and the University of Arkansas School of Art.
Festivities throughout the day are free and open to the public, though prior registration is required. The day closes with a ticketed evening reception featuring food, beverages, and music by the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra’s Rockefeller Quartet and a concert by Bonnie Montgomery. After this, the eight installations on the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s campus will be on display for one year and the two at Petit Jean State Park will be on display for at least six months.
Harris said the exhibit was designed with long range goals in mind. “By extending the call for artists to all Southern states, we intended to put Arkansas on the map in our region as a state that is committed to supporting artists and creating ways to access their work,” she said. “And by working alongside our distinguished list of partners, we hope to create new opportunities for partnership and develop a collaboration among arts-related organizations in Arkansas.”
The idea for Art in its Natural State came from a desire to create an experience that would capitalize on the heritage of the area. “The natural beauty of Petit Jean Mountain has inspired artists for centuries, dating back to Native Americans who once resided atop the mountain and adorned their cave dwellings with artwork that is still visible today,” Harris said.”Holding onto the theme of the mountain’s natural beauty, Payton [Christenberry, a program officer who oversees arts programming at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute] began researching programs throughout the world that featured outdoor art. The Horizons competition in the Sancy region of France particularly stood out, and Payton was able to structure the artist competition in a similar fashion. Our idea to involve so many partners came from our team brainstorming about how this program could support our overall mission. By having our partners add to the overall experience of our launch-day activities, we are not just inviting people to come see amazing art that we have commissioned; we are providing an opportunity for visitors to engage with a wide variety of arts organizations and learn more about how they each uniquely add to the robust arts scene in Arkansas.”
More information about the exhibition, the launch-day activities, the evening reception and the artists themselves can be found at rockefellerinstitute.org/
Zoie Clift, travel writer