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shaping jonesboro through the arts
Story by Audrey Hanes; photography by Amy Long

For nearly three decades, The Foundation of Arts has provided invaluable opportunities for artistic development to Jonesboro and the surrounding area in the form of education, outreach and community theater. The nonprofit organization’s new Executive/Artistic Director, Kristi Pulliam, is anything but new to the foundation and is determined to refocus its mission of creating
and shaping great people and citizens through the arts and all that they have to offer.

The Foundation of Arts (FOA) was incorporated in 1986 with the idea that the arts were the foundation for youth, families and individuals in building a community with the very best quality of life. The artistic organization serves the entire region of Northeast Arkansas and a portion of Southeast Missouri, with arts enthusiasts from more than 120 communities throughout 13 states participating in its educational, community theater and outreach programs.

Pulliam started working with The FOA in 1999 as a part-time teacher, but her interest in the arts began long before that. The Paragould native earned her bachelor’s degree in education and her master’s degree in theater and communications, both from Arkansas State University.

“Instructors in college especially really guided me into theater,” said Pulliam. “I started out in education – theater, English and speech. I really enjoyed seeing kids grow and develop into who they were meant to be, and guiding that process was really cool.”

Before long, Pulliam was directing FOA performances, and 10 years ago, she started working at the foundation full time as the community development director, focusing on community outreach and development, as well as marketing. After being named artistic director two years ago, Pulliam again stepped up in December 2013 to take on the role of the executive director of
The FOA, a job that allows her to be a champion for the nonprofit center for creativity and the arts.

“I wore a lot of hats before; now it’s a lot of that plus some,” said Pulliam. “The pressure is greater now. I try to incorporate and listen to as many opinions as possible, and when I have to make final decisions, it’s mostly with a lot of prayer and reminding myself of our priorities, mission and values.”

The foundation’s mission is to provide the community with quality, family-friendly programming though community theater, arts education and outreach activities.

“The arts are very, very important,” said the foundation’s executive/artistic director. “When we are creating and engaging in the arts in any way, we are acting in the image of the Creator. It’s a vital part of being human. At The FOA, the arts are so important because they are a conduit for becoming who you were meant to be.”

Pulliam says that one of the things that sets the foundation apart is its end goal, which is more about developing people and allowing the arts to influence the kinds of people they become.“While we absolutely want to create great art, it is not our final goal,” she said. “Our final goal is to help to create great people and great citizens of our community. …

“The arts we create, while often excellent, aren’t always perfect, but the people who create those arts are certainly perfected. They’re more complete people after they engage in them. We are trying to shape people through the arts. We’re bringing the focus back to this – it’s who we are. We’re trying to refocus on that. It’s about the arts for everyone.”

Pulliam encourages anyone interested in the arts to find a way to participate in one of The FOA’s many artistic outlets, whether it’s auditioning for an upcoming community theater production, taking a class or starting a new outreach program.

“We could always use more volunteers,” she said. “The programming that we have runs on volunteers. Keeping that going is a great, great challenge. … We create programs around our volunteers. I would love to take art into hospice, but I have to find the right person and time for making that program happen.”

Despite the demands of her job, Pulliam and her dedicated staff still find time to conceptualize and implement several new programs and avenues with which to share different forms of art within the community.

One such new program is Stage, Too, a theater series that will take place in the foundation’s space on the corner of Monroe and Main Street. Pulliam says the Stage, Too shows are better suited for the smaller venue and will feature opportunities for songwriters to come in and share their original work.

“We’re doing ‘Steel Magnolias’ in the fall, in the spring we’re doing an original show called ‘Mothers, Sons, and Daughters’ and then in the summer, we’re going to do a musical called ‘Thirteen,’ which is a musical about 13 13-year-olds,” said Pulliam about the season’s upcoming Stage, Too shows.The foundation is also making an effort to feature art of different mediums in The Forum itself. For each community theater production, a local artist is chosen to have their work displayed in The Forum Gallery in the theaer’s lobby. So far,
featured artists have included Piero Trimarchi and Megan Million, and Penny Pausch’s work will be displayed during The FOA’s upcoming run of “Les Miserables.”

“We’re trying to bring more focus to local artists who have in any way been involved with our programming,” said Pulliam.

When it comes to outreach programming, the foundation recently created space in its art center by moving the art classroom to a new space and is using the old space to revamp a program from several years ago called Fine Arts and Me (FAME).

“FAME addresses the needs of kids with special needs,” said Pulliam. “We’ll offer classes in the arts center, and we’ll also travel to self-contained classrooms in the Craighead County and Greene County areas; artists will travel there to bring fine arts to those children.”

The FOA also works with other nonprofits and organizations on programs such as Learning Expressions Through Arts Programs (LEAP), where Abilities Unlimited customers are able to enjoy weekly art, music, drama or dance classes; Friday Funday in the Delta, where foundation volunteers take original shows into schools for elementary school children and address topics such as bullying and other appropriate curriculum; Education Enrichment Series, which allows schools to attend productions during the day at a significantly discounted rate; Curtain Up Crew, where a group of community arts ambassadors perform locally to promote the arts; and Rising Stars, a literacy and performing arts development program that is funded by United Way and engages the community near Parker Park through the arts.

“The thing that separates us from some of the other wonderful arts organizations in our region is our outreach programming,” said Pulliam. “What we try to do is bring the arts and art enrichment to as many people as we can. We truly, truly believe that engagement in the arts is what we were made to do.”

Worship in the Park, an offshoot of Arts in the Park, is another new venture for The FOA. Every Sunday night, the foundation organizes a worship time in the nearby Forum Park that is open to any and everyone.

“The FOA strives to be inclusive all the time, so we invite other churches from the area to take a Sunday night of worship in the park, and a different church leads each time,” said Pulliam. “We want to be inclusive of all churches and of everyone in the community.”

In addition to the classes and programming that are offered at and through The FOA, community theater continues to be one of the most popular ways for members of the community to get involved with performance art. The foundation’s upcoming 2014- 2015 season will include “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in September, “Grease” in October, annual favorite “The Nutcracker Ballet” and “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” in December,
“Mary Poppins” in February, “Our Town” in March and “Anything Goes” in the summer of 2015.

“Our season is going to be excellent,” said Pulliam.

The executive/artistic director is quick to point out that volunteers and The FOA’s stellar staff are invaluable when it comes to the foundation’s ability to continue to provide enriching artistic opportunities to the community.

“Day-to-day business and events just couldn’t happen without the beautiful, hardworking staff at The FOA,” said Pulliam. “They are truly a Godsend to me and the community.”

That dedicated staff includes Education Programs Manager LeeAnn Knierim, Office Manager Carla Bell, Bookkeeper Kelly Kelley, Customer Service Associate Annie Clark and Tech and Communications Coordinator Wendeth Rauf.

“The volunteers and staff believe in the mission here; that’s why they work so hard to fulfill it,” said Pulliam. “The Foundation of Arts is each one of them – their passion, their drive and their vision. And those who choose to support the mission by donating and sponsoring, they understand that the mission is for everyone in our community.”

That mission is one that Pulliam believes in wholeheartedly and is the reason she loves her job and going to work each day.

“I enjoy watching people figure out one of the things they were made to do and working in a place that makes those opportunities available to everyone,” said Pulliam. “If you’re creating order or truth or beauty, then you are being exactly who you were made to to be, whether it’s as an attorney or a banker or a thespian or a vocalist or a teacher or a hairdresser or a parent or whatever that is. Engaging in the arts can make everyone better at what they do in some way. “I enjoy the arts, but I love the people. I believe this is a very blessed place because it encourages people to be who God created them to be.”

For more information about The Foundation of Arts’ classes, shows and outreach opportunities, visit foajonesboro.org, call 935- 2726 or stop by 115 East Monroe Avenue in Downtown Jonesboro.