By Terrah Baker
The Fayetteville Underground has experienced changes in the past year that have gained them a lot of attention. From a new location to maintaining their first paid position to handle management of the gallery, the Underground has been solidifying its place in local art culture.
Since its beginnings in 2009, the Underground has brought opening receptions, exhibitions and camaraderie for artists and residents of Northwest Arkansas — originally out of a basement at 1 East Center St.
Now, the group occupies real estate in the heart of Fayetteville at 101 W. Mountain, Ste. 222, where the gallery colors of grey and off-white are made serene by the track lighting throughout. A professional gallery with quality artists was the standard the newly formed board and some of the 23 resident artists wanted to project with both the location and their acceptance process of hopeful Underground artists.
“The application apparently is fairly extensive because we haven’t gotten too many applications back. I think some people might be intimidated. But we ask that people have made a lifetime commitment to being an artist, so that in itself is something,” said resident artist M.M. Kent.
His artwork hangs on the newly-painted walls of the gallery on a daily basis, like many of the artists, while each month a visiting artist is featured, so the experience keeps changing.
It wasn’t just the floors, walls and lighting of the building that were dramatically changed by the artists when they first moved into the new location. Internally, the Underground in some ways had to start from scratch, Kent said.
“We have a new entity — a new nonprofit/business … We retain the name of Fayetteville Underground, but it’s a new organization with a new board of directors; comprised of three of our artists, and six members of the community,” he said.
From their soft grand opening in August until just last month, the artists and new board were managing the daily business operations. Kent said they knew early they needed to hire a “gallery director.”
That’s where Julie McQuade comes in. She had a background as the community outreach coordinator for the city of Fayetteville for the past six years. McQuade said she is excited to work with the artistic community again after leaving her outreach job to take a break from full-time work.
“That was one of the parts of my job at the city I really enjoyed. Every time I’d go into a meeting to work on a project with a group of artists my energy level would just grow,” she said.
Her title is business manager, but she said they’re still trying to figure out just what her role will be. That hasn’t stopped her from getting started on her goal of making “Fayetteville Underground be known as the arts anchor for NWA and for artists.”
They’re starting to implement new discounts and begin Saturday discussions and demonstrations by artists for the public.
McQuade said they hope to hold professional educational improvement opportunities for working artists and grow the support of the organization through membership, by adding new incentives like special discounts and members-only showings.
“We have items in the gallery that are for $20 to $30, up to a few thousand dollars. But you don’t have to be wealthy to buy art,” she said.
The featured artist changes right before each First Thursday (first Thursday of each month on the Fayetteville Square), and there’s no admission charge. To learn more about the Fayetteville Underground, visit their website at www.fayettevilleunderground.com.