BY RICK CHRISMAN –
SouthWest Artists has existed for over 70 years in one form or another, originally meeting in individuals’ homes. As it grew, it found meeting and exhibit space wherever available. In 1982, it was incorporated as a non-profit, 501(C)3 corporation. The focus of our founders was to create a community of like-minded artists to discuss their work and grow public exposure to that work.
In 2002, the organization purchased its own building in Mena’s Downtown Arts District on Mena Street and requires a budget of over $55,000 to operate Mena Art Gallery as a tangible contribution to the local economy. But the greatest contribution of SWA and its gallery is the opportunity it provides people in our area to experience fine art and a place for our talented local artists to display their work.
The Arts District draws visitors from the local community and across the country. Its programs include two national painting competitions, a regional art festival, children’s art classes, art workshops for adults, and a variety of other arts-related activities. Two and three-dimensional mediums are featured in monthly exhibits and competitions with work from local and regional artists.
The Mena Art Gallery is active in the Mena/Polk County Chamber of Commerce, Arkansas Arts Council, and the recently formed Mena Downtown Partners. All of these organizations work to improve the economy of Mena and Polk County by including the Arts as a vital attraction and contributor.
In recent years four new creatively focused businesses have joined the longtime presence of the Ouachita Little Theater and the Mena Art Gallery to help attract increasing numbers of visitors to the Arts District. Through collaborative projects of these non-profits and businesses, we continue the work of our founders.
Mena, being situated in a remote area of the state, through our activities, has a unique opportunity to promote creative pursuits that aren’t available in our region without dedicated volunteers and the financial support of individuals and businesses. We continue to grow and improve our community’s diversity and economy through culture.