Revival of the Conway Art Walk Gives Creatives Community, Belonging
When Jessica Crum participated in the Conway2035 strategic planning process, she had a goal in mind to help attract and retain young, creative talent.
As founder and creative director of Silverlake Design Studio and executive director of the Creative Institute of Central Arkansas, she had a need for young professionals with skills in marketing, photography, videography, and design, but Crum also saw the impact that type of talent has on a community.
“Think about the places we visit with friends and family,” Crum said. “Those places are hubs of arts, entertainment and culture. That’s what we want for Conway, too.”
One of the goals established on the Conway2035 Public Art sector Crum served on was the revival of the Conway Art Walk. Crum has spearheaded its relaunch over the last couple of years.
It returned in 2021 with local Conway art enthusiasts and an average attendance of 200 or 300 people. In its second season, the Conway Art Walk has more than doubled, now averaging 600 and 700 people each month.
“It’s exploding beyond what I thought was possible,” Crum said. “We have artists from Little Rock, and 30% of our visitors have been from outside Conway. It’s exciting for our local economy, our creatives and the people who live here and want to play here, too.”
When Crum relaunched the art walk, her mission was to make it a must-attend event.
“I would tell people our measure of success was if you had friends visiting from New York or Nashville or L.A., the place you wanted to take them was the art walk in downtown Conway,” she said. “We wanted it to be vibrant and alive.”
Beyond giving Conway residents another event to enjoy, Crum said giving local creatives a sense of community and belonging is vital to retaining them.
“A creative professional doesn’t assume Conway is the place for them, but we’re in existence to abolish that narrative,” she said. “It’s common to think you have to move to L.A. or Dallas or New York to pursue a creative career or find your creative people. At the end of the day, we want Conway to be a place where people can live and work in those industries.”
Crum sees potential in connecting Conway’s creative talent with other industries in the area.
“Conway has brought a host of tech-centric companies to the area, and our colleges keep bringing us fresh talent,” she said. “While those places may focus on the tech industry, they require creative talent, too. You need a graphic designer to create content, or a videographer for social media, or a copywriter for email marketing. They all need creatives.
“We want to marry what we have going on downtown with what could set us apart and make us a unique place with a wholistic talent pool,” Crum said.