May 13, 2018

Searcy’s Think ART Project

Residents of and visitors to Searcy, Arkansas have likely taken note that the city has been making improvements to the downtown area and providing festivals and events to create a more community-focused environment. Mat Faulkner, President and Chief Idea Officer at Think Idea Studios in Searcy, recognized the need to bring more art, music and culture into the community and, after a trip to the arts-rich city of Philadelphia with his wife, the Think ART Project was born.

Photo of Downtown Searcy courtesy of Al Fowler.

Think Ideas Studios is a full-service advertising and design agency whose president is not only a down-to-earth family man who didn’t bat an eye when I asked if I could bring along my 16-month old when we met but is also deeply involved in the community of Searcy. The Think ART Project is the brain-child of Mat Faulkner and is overseen by Think Idea Studios in conjunction with the Searcy Arts Council.

Faulkner had taken note that communities around Arkansas (Fayetteville, Jonesboro, Fort Smith) were beautifying their cities through the use of murals and other art installations. During a trip to Philadelphia, he found art on nearly every corner. From murals to sculptures, water features, light features and even creative landscapes; art, music and culture were such a part of the city that people were drawn there just to see it. Faulkner longed for Searcy to become a destination that encouraged people to visit if for no other reason than to see the beautiful art.

Think ART Project

Faulkner believed that Think Idea Studio was in a position to make some projects happen, but he wanted for this to be a community-centered project that focused not just on painting murals but on painting murals that were designed, selected and executed by the people. The Think ART Project sought out artists, art teachers, community members, business owners, local government officials and even area children to form a committee to develop a plan to bring art to Searcy. The following mission statement was developed:

“The Think ART Project’s an initiative to improve quality of life, increase tourism and encourage relocation to our community through the power of ART in its many forms. It is the organized effort of enhancing both public and private spaces by providing assistance in logistics, collaboration, and promotion between municipal, county, corporate, private and artisan resources.”

The basic strategy for bringing a project to completion begins with identifying locations for potential projects and seeking approval from property owners and other key personnel. The project is then open for proposals from artisans and artists whose submissions are presented to a committee for a “blind” review. Only Faulkner, who is not involved in the selection phase,  knows the identity of each artist in hopes of encouraging both amateur and professional artists to be involved. Faulkner stressed that anyone and everyone is encouraged to submit design ideas. The artist network they have developed ensures people are in place to help bring a project to fruition should the artist of the awarded design need assistance.

Selected designs are not just randomly selected pieces of art. Think ART Projects strives to achieve one or more of the following concepts in each project:

Does it have local or historical significance?
Is the piece inspired…does it move you?
Does the work highlight diversity?
Is there a positive connotation?
Does the piece have a tourism draw?

With each project, the Think Art Project aims to create education and engagement events around the project to make it more of a community-based effort. Some projects will allow for school groups to be involved in the design or painting process, and the hope is that many of the finished pieces become destinations for field trips where students can view the art and meet with the artists who designed and implemented them.

The need to bring community awareness is also vital for funding purposes. Think ART Project doesn’t condone the “starving artist” concept. They believe in the value of ART and those who create it and will encourage that all artists and artisans will be fairly compensated for their time, materials and talent. Projects are funded through a variety of sources including property owners, grants, sponsors, donations and crowdfunding. 

Think ART Studio has several projects in the pipeline:

Quattlebaum Music – Downtown Painted Mural (April)
Searcy Event Center Basketball Court Murals (April & May)
Artist Alley (Downtown Searcy) – Lighting and Mini-Murals (May)
Skate Park – Ramp & Scenic Mural (Summer)
White County Title Building Mural (Fall)
Sowell’s Furniture Mural (Fall)
Berryhill Park – Race Street Entrance Sculpture (Winter)

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Quattlebaum Music Mural

The Quattlebaum Music Mural is the first major project for the Think ART Project. After a brief design submission window, a committee was gathered for a “blind” selection process from all submissions. The process is “blind” because of all the stakeholders involved in selection only Matt Faulkner, who is not involved in the actual selection, knows the artist and projected budget of each piece. The designs are selected solely on their ability to meet the design concepts of the Think ART Project.

I met with Tara Peacock whose design rose to the top of seventeen possibilities and was selected as the first Think ART Project. Tara’s design now adorns the east wall of Quattlebaum’s Music.   

“I am a graphic designer and have a love for typography. I also come from a musical family, so I was excited to be able to incorporate both [typography and music] into my design for Quattlebaum’s. My original concept included a variety of song lyrics. After my design was selected, I worked with a historical committee who helped me to narrow down lyrics with direct ties to Arkansas. Although my design had to change some, I felt it was a more powerful design in the end. The goal was to create something that had a rustic and vintage feel while also being fun and trendy.”

Peacock has never created a large scale mural but submitted a design anyway because she is the type of person who will “jump in with both feet and figure it out.” Jason White, a local professional muralist, worked closely with Tara to work out the logistics of creating a mural that went from a small design on a computer screen to a 100′ wide by 40′ tall painting on a building.

Mat Faulkner commented that submitting a design was a brave thing for Tara Peacock. With any public project, you are bound to face some opposition, especially when dealing with older buildings and spaces that have always been a part of Searcy’s history. Quattlebaum’s Music has called downtown Searcy its home for more than 50 years. Although heartfelt support has been the overwhelming attitude there are always nay-sayers. Once your design is made public, you open yourself to a lot of “attaboys” but also a lot of criticism. Tara feels that is one of the greatest things about the overall scope and magnitude of the Think ART Project, “Some people have voiced opposition to my design, but my hope is that another mural will be something they love.”

If you are interested in the history of the lyrics featured on the Quattlebaum Mural, follow the Think ART Project on Facebook where they are micro-blogging about each lyric that was selected.

Event Center Basketball Courts

The Think ART Project has partnered local artists with local students for a beautification project at the Event Center Basketball Courts sponsored by Unity Health which will begin shortly. This project is designed in collaboration with elementary students from Harding Academy and Sidney Deener, McRae and Westside Elementary Schools in Searcy and local artists Jason White, Tara Peacock, Angela Turney, Demaree Britton and Maggie Lake.

Artist mockup of the completed project.

Students worked with the artist to develop designs that represent physical, emotional, mental or spiritual health. Through a series of field trips, students will participate in the process of painting the murals. The goal is to encourage people to make use of the courts and be physically active.

Community Involvement

The Think ART Project runs on community involvement. Their Facebook page is a great place to get all of the latest information on their projects. If you are interested in joining the Think ART Project Committee, you may do so here. If you are a property owner and would like a project completed fill out this form, and if you are an artist/artisan wanting to work on a project you can find more information here. Donations for the Quattlebaum Music Mural can be made through GoFundMe, and general donations to the Think ART Project can be made through the Searcy Arts Council. The Think ART Project operates under the Searcy Arts Council, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

Header photo courtesy of John Hunter. Post photos courtesy of Think Idea Studios unless otherwise noted. 

Julie Kohl

Arkansas Women Blogger's Calendar Cultivator and member Julie Kohl writes about seeking adventures on her blog Seek Adventures by Julie D Kohl. As former Yankee who was "converted" to the south by her husband, Julie has grasped on to rural life in a sleepy, blink-your-eyes-and-you'll-miss-it town in central Arkansas. Julie loves adventure. Not necessarily "scare-your-pants-off" adventure but the kind where you seek out new and exciting things. New foods, new places, new experiences. On her blog, Julie shares outdoor and travel adventure ideas, recipes, books she loves, fun tidbits she finds and of course...paddle boarding goodies!

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