Don Munro shares an appreciation for the arts with the Hot Springs Cultural Alliance and brings artists together for Arts & The Park.
By Jillian McGehee | Photography by Sara Reeves
Shot on location at Munro & Company, Inc.
Walking into Don Munro’s office is like stepping back in time. Since 1959, he has operated his shoe business in Hot Springs, which still manufactures specialty footwear for women at the factory. It’s filled with stacks of files and papers (some stored in shoe boxes) as well as artwork Don has collected through the years. The jovial 80-something-going-on-50-year-old says he’s always been interested in the arts, but didn’t fully understand and embrace it until college. An art appreciation course at Yale University introduced him to the nuances of art that he continues to share with the Hot Springs community.
Don moved with his family to Hot Springs and established the original Lake Catherine Footwear, which was a division of a New Hampshire-based shoe manufacturer. In 1972 he purchased the Arkansas division and established Munro & Company, Inc. Thoughtful of the important role the arts play in a community, Don has remained an avid arts advocate in the Spa City. Arts & The Park, hosted at venues throughout the city, is an opportunity for artists to showcase their talents in a collective environment for all to enjoy. Don and fellow arts aficionado Dorothy Morris, in collaboration with the Hot Springs Cultural Alliance, developed the concept of this 10-day celebration. “The arts are very vibrant here, but were diffused, and there wasn’t much cohesion,” says Don, who serves on the Alliance’s Advisory Board of Directors. “There was no focus, so we thought it would be helpful to bring it together in this way.”
Arts & The Park features artistic mediums of every genre from sculptures to paintings, says Kate Schaffer, chair of the Hot Springs Cultural Alliance Board of Directors. The alliance is a nonprofit comprised of Hot Springs area artists, gallery owners, arts organizations and arts patrons – all with a vested interest in the Hot Springs arts community and its prosperity. The event invites art enthusiasts to enjoy the beauty of Hot Springs and experience the collaboration of the city’s most talented individuals and organizations.
“Hot Springs is probably the most diverse community in the state and region,” Don notes. “It has everything – from the economy to recreation and entertainment to the arts. But the arts doesn’t get the play it deserves and that’s what makes this community really special. The arts make you feel alive and it elevates the cultural level of the community.”
Arts & The Park also highlights the revitalization of historic downtown Hot Springs, Kate says. “We want the arts to be a part of that growing economy. People will go to the festival, go in the galleries and buy art.” A long-time volunteer, Kate didn’t know much about the arts community before her commitment to the cultural alliance. “We are lucky to have these people living and working here. It makes Hot Springs a better place to have these creative people among us.”
Don notes that the festival offers a unique opportunity to appreciate not only the art, but also meet the masters behind the work. Exclusive studio tours offer insight and perspective on how and where the art is created. “People can see artists in their own environments,” Kate says. “It can be an eye-opening experience.”
Mid-America Science Museum will host a party on April 29 to celebrate and commence Arts & The Park, with guest artist Thomas Green in attendance. His art will be on display at Justus Gallery the month of May as well as in the audio/visual demonstration dome at the museum. John Bramblitt, another notable artist, will lead workshops May 2-8. He will be painting live on May 7 at Art Springs, an outdoor festival and the culminating event of Arts & The Park. Numerous other events will take place throughout the 10 days, including artist demonstrations, artist workshops for all ages, poetry readings, concerts and more.
Don says he enjoys learning other people’s perspectives to the wide variety of art forms and disciplines at Arts & The Park. “I like to see people exposed to artistic expressions and how they react. It’s interesting to see the art through so many different eyes.”
Earliest memory related to the arts? Visiting the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as a boy. It’s not far from where I grew up.
Favorite artist? Paul Cezanne
Favorite Hot Springs spot? It doesn’t exist yet – my dream is to build a performing arts center with exhibition space.