Associate Director of Programming Linda Newbern shares highlights of this year’s ACANSA Arts Festival and a commitment to the celebration of artistry.
By Jillian McGehee | Photography by Sara Reeves | Shot on location at the Junction Bridge
ACANSA Arts Festival was established with three key objectives, explains Associate Director of Programming Linda Newbern. “To bring in art from outside of Arkansas; feature our art anchors such as the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Arkansas and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre; and highlight all of our local artists.” Collaboration among its constituents to expand public access to the arts through inspiring and educational opportunities keeps more than 100 committee members on task with a finite focus on artistic excellence. The festival continues to exceed expectations with its vibrant schedule of events, featuring local and national artists at Little Rock’s finest venues throughout a weekend dedicated to the arts.
ACANSA, which comes from the Quapaw word meaning “southern place,” is the vision of Charlotte Gadberry, whose enduring civic leadership spans the decades and is evident throughout Central Arkansas. After attending the world-renowned Spoleto Arts Festival in Charleston, S.C., she was determined to create an arts festival in the Capital City.
When ACANSA began with a group of ambitious volunteers, organizers had no idea what to expect nor the overwhelming response it would receive from artists as well as attendees, Charlotte says. “Each year our goal to create a unique, artistic experience – and at the same time support our local professional and emerging artists – has expanded and become a reality. Solid community support is the cornerstone of that success.”
Linda’s commitment to the festival remains steadfast, Charlotte adds, as she works with various entities to select the programming and performances. She is ever-mindful of the organization’s mission fulfillment work – connecting people with remarkable artistic experiences while nurturing the potential of local, regional and international talent. “She works with their agents, contracts and production needs and with available venues. She sets the pace for all of us and provides exceptional leadership.”
Working with the organization’s Arts Advisory Council, Linda develops the festival’s five-day entertainment schedule. A particularly exciting highlight this year, Linda notes, is a dance performance by Parsons Dance in New York City; and a showing of the film My Mother Has 4 Noses – a touching tale of Jonatha Brooke’s journey, caring for her mother who struggles with Alzheimer’s.
The festivities begin on Wednesday, Sept. 21, at the Junior League of Little Rock Building with a performance by Ballet Arkansas and continue throughout the weekend. Children’s events include Bring on the Arts! at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and the Children’s Public Art Project in Little Rock’s Main Street Corridor.
This year’s official ACANSA artwork was created by Dominque Simmons and features the Arkansas River as well as the pedestrian bridge near the River Market. “Bridges are found in song and art as symbols of connection, safety and transcendence,” Dominque explains. “I love the architectural symmetry, stability and geometry of bridges in contrast to the turbulent, ever-changing, organic nature of the river.” Dominque notes the powerful meaning of bridges – bringing many elements together – much like ACANSA’s mission fulfillment work to share the diversity of arts and culture with a broad spectrum of people.
In addition to enlightening and educating attendees about different visual and performing arts, this year marks a milestone for the festival, Linda notes. After completing its third year, ACANSA will be eligible to apply for a National Endowment for the Arts grant. “This will help us continue to grow and evolve,” she says.
Linda has been involved with ACANSA since the beginning. Through her involvement, she says, “I’ve learned so much about the community, artists and the different venues that host so many wonderful artistic events.” ACANSA is truly “bridging people together through the arts.”