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Fun in Fayetteville

Courtesy Experience Fayetteville

The brick Tudor cottage at 930 W. Clinton Drive in Fayetteville, Ark., is a lot like the city in which it resides: small but inspired.

In its 80 years, the 1,800-square-foot starter home has sheltered a prominent oilman, the inventor of the frozen chicken pot pie and a future U.S. president.

Now the Clinton House Museum, the cottage preserves a piece of presidential past. It was the first home of Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Like the Clinton home, Fayetteville isn’t particularly flashy, but the city of 72,000 and its close-knit neighboring communities in northwest Arkansas have been getting a lot of attention in the past few years.

Nearly a half million people live there, scattered among Eureka Springs, Rogers, Springdale, Siloam Springs, Huntsville, Bentonville and Fayetteville, the largest town in the mix.

Growth has been fueled in part by two of Arkansas’ four Fortune 500 companies: Walmart, based in Bentonville, and Tyson Foods, headquartered in Springdale.

Education is another economic stimulator. Fayetteville is the home of the state’s flagship university, the University of Arkansas (UA).

Capital of creativity

In the Ozark Mountains, the region has become a capital of creativity and art, punctuated by the opening last year of Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville, about 30 minutes away.
Sculptor Hank Kaminsky credits a number of factors with the escalation of the arts. “There are simply more people here,” he said.

But another major contributor is geography, said Kaminsky, who sculpted the World Peace Prayer Fountain that welcomes visitors to the Fayetteville Town Center, the city’s meeting facility.

“The kind of people who are attracted to a mountain community — well, they have art in their souls,” he said.

As evidence of Fayetteville’s growing appreciation for the arts, Kaminsky pointed to First Thursday, when galleries around downtown stay open late for an evening.

He and his artist friends, members of Underground Fayetteville, began hosting a First Thursday gathering three years ago. “When the parties began we’d have maybe 50 to 100 people. At our last party last month, we had 4,000.”

Heather Miley, sales manager at the Inn at Carnall Hall, has noted guests’ surprise at Fayetteville’s vivacious spirit. “They’ll say, ‘I didn’t know Arkansas was so cool’ or ‘We didn’t realize Arkansas would be so fun.’

“Even though Fayetteville is small, it is pretty hip,” said Miley, who has lived there off and on her entire life.

Fun in Fayetteville takes many forms. In the fall, the focus is UA Razorbacks football games, and meeting planners can forget about booking a conference during the half- dozen home game weekends.

In the springtime, there’s Artosphere, a two-month- long series of events that blend the arts, nature and sustainability.

On Saturday mornings 
from early April to late November, the town square, centered by a historic post office building, is the place to be. An average of 5,000 people pour into downtown to buy everything from tomatoes to birdhouses at the Fayetteville Farmers Market. Everything sold there is local. “You are not going to find any pineapples out there,” said Marilyn Heifner, executive director of the Fayetteville Advertising and Promotion Commission. “It is where you see your neighbors, where you bring your kids and dogs. Most everyone in Fayetteville makes a regular pilgrimage on the weekend.”

Dickson Street is party central
No matter the season, Fayetteville’s nucleus is Dickson Street, a 10-block swath of bars, restaurants and shops that ties downtown to the university campus.

Businesses are local and lively, from Brewski’s Draft Emporium and its 71 beers on tap, and George’s Majestic Lounge, with its live music and claim as “King of Dickson Street since 1927,” to the Hog Haus, the region’s only microbrewery and the UARK Bowl, built as a combo bowling alley and ballroom in 1947, now an events venue and home to the Fayetteville Jazz Collective and Calle Soul, a Latin music ensemble.

Heifner credits the Walton Arts Center with bringing back Dickson Street, which was on the decline a quarter-century ago. Built on Dickson a few blocks from campus 20 years ago, the center attracts a surprisingly sophisticated lineup.

It also does a healthy special-events business and a planned expansion will allow it to do even more, said Bethany Goodwin, public relations manager.

The traveling Broadway shows that come to the theater require that what could be meeting space to become temporary storage. The lobby is also on the small side. “In our current configuration, the lobby gets overwhelmed with these shows,” said Goodwin. Plans call for the lobby to be expanded; some pressure will be taken off the center when the university turns an existing building on its campus into a theater.

For now, one of the favored venues for meeting groups is the Starr Theater, a black-box theater where theatrical lighting can change the mood of a dinner for 160 or a reception for 250.

“If you want an event to look as though it is outdoors in the moonlight, we can work some magic,” said Erin Jepson, booking and events manager.