“Art makes us human. When we fail to make room for creativity and artistic expression, we are in effect devolving as a society.”
More than an annual arts extravaganza, ACANSA – a Quapaw word thought to mean “Southern place” – fosters creative collaboration across the state. With a finite focus of strengthening these partnerships among constituents in the arts community, patrons like Melissa and Martin Thoma share a commitment to this vision. For their unwavering support, the couple will be celebrated with the ACANSA Charlotte Gadberry Award next month.
Melissa can’t remember her life without art. “I have amazing memories of my family singing together at Grandmother Pantie’s home accompanied by my brother on guitar. We were all required to perform at some level.” As a youngster, Melissa was in the church choir at Trinity United Methodist Church in Fayetteville. “I was invited to sing a simple solo as Mother Mary in the Christmas program.” Melissa notes this was a defining experience for her. “I was eight years old and had a moment of complete presence that comes from sharing your voice and emotions with others; it was self-expression and art is self-expression.” She continues that devotion at First United Methodist Church and has performed with Arkansas Opera Theatre and Praeclara throughout the years.
This dynamic duo attended the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville studying journalism, marketing and public relations. Melissa recalls meeting Martin on that first day. “This intense, wild-haired young man zoomed up and stopped right in front of me.” It was written in the stars; the couple married before graduation. Melissa established the family’s marketing firm in 1988 and Martin soon joined her. “And we’ve been in business together ever since.” Thoma, a brand leadership agency, helps clients leverage the power of a unique brand to create positive movement in the marketplace. For Melissa and Martin, business blends seamlessly into civic leadership + philanthropy. The firm donates services to various nonprofit organizations and the couple is personally engaged in the arts community.
Melissa believes the generosity in Central Arkansas can transform the cultural landscape of the Capital City. “When we care, we give. We make things happen and we share.” She acknowledges that Charlotte Gadberry and ACANSA cultivate compelling experiences and opportunities that bring people together in shared conversations. “ACANSA Arts Festival of the South is a vehicle for expression, contemplation and community making – for both the public and the artists.”
Established in 2014, hundreds of volunteers worked to bring the inaugural ACANSA Arts Festival to life. It continues to inspire + educate and create an undeniable sense of camaraderie. Proceeds from the award celebration fund the ACANSA Spring Break Arts Camps, which provide free arts camps to students across a variety of artistic disciplines. Melissa adds, “Children are the new generation of art makers and entrepreneurs.” This year’s experience – A Night at the Cabaret – features New York artist Traci Bair, Melissa’s niece, along with local talent. It guarantees to be an evening of unparalleled entertainment. “Traci explores the theme of love in all its forms … I can’t wait.”
Melissa and Martin realize nurturing a more dynamic and engaging community is critical to the vitality of our state and that art is essential. Melissa reflects, “My family gave me the value of connecting through music, the tradition of song passing and keeping a culture alive through artistic expression. ACANSA aims for the same values.”