A few months ago, Community School of the Arts made an announcement in which we shared that a gift of nearly 11 acres of riverfront land was given to CSA by the Robbie Westphal family. The purpose of this gift is to build an arts education and performance facility that will serve children and youth from across the region.

Today, I want to tell you that CSA is embarking on this exciting journey to build what will tentatively be called the Center for the Creative Arts and I want to share with you some important information as we begin this journey. Let me say first that our community will be involved, both directly and indirectly, in much of what we are doing. You can be of help!

As you may recall, CSA is a comprehensive arts organization serving the Fort Smith area and surrounding region. We provide high-quality instruction in music, theatre, dance, and visual art to more than 500 children and youth. After-school, evening, and weekend classes and lessons are offered to students from preschool through high school. The CSA instructors also travel off-site to teach for various organizations and to reach under-served arts regions.

CSA is now poised to launch a capital and programmatic campaign to build the new center that will reach literally hundreds of students daily. This new facility will not only house the current CSA after-school programs, but will be home to the state’s first arts-based preschool and a unique and innovative arts curriculum for high school students where cutting edge arts programs can be explored.

Once fully completed, the facility will offer a secure preschool, and large educational areas to house theatre, dance, writing, visual art, culinary, music, and film. The facility will also include space for a premiere children’s theatre, a state-of-the-art chamber music hall for small ensembles, solo recitals and lectures, art galleries, and a 900-seat performance hall for major music concerts and large-scale theatre productions.

I want to emphasize at this point that CSA is building a facility in order to reach students through its many new programs. CSA is not building a center just for the sake of building. It is imperative that an appropriate facility be built to house the programs and ultimately the students.

This addition to the community will benefit both students and the entire River Valley region. It will help strengthen the arts, stimulate economic growth, support education, promote new cultural opportunities, and enhance Fort Smith’s overall quality of place.

CSA recently retained a consulting firm that will be working in our community to assess the interest in the arts, the new facility, and the ability to raise funds needed to begin this project.

An important packet of information will be made available to any and all of you who are interested. If you are already on the CSA mailing list, a packet will be mailed to you. An online packet will also be available and sent to those of you who are on our social media. The CSA Board of Directors is also actively involved in this process, so many of you may be hearing from one of them about the project.

The packet will provide you with information about the entire project including a budget and questions for you to answer to help our consultant and the CSA Board to make intelligent decisions moving forward.

Just to remind all of you, the CSA land falls in one of the Governor’s named Opportunity Zones, which means capital gains funds can be invested in this building project tax free.

So, let me say a word to all of you on a personal note. I have now had a career of over 30 years in the arts as a teacher, performer, and administrator. I have said this before but I want to say this again. Students who participate in the arts develop skills that last a lifetime. Many of the students that we currently have and will have in our future programs will be our next leaders in Fort Smith, the state, and across the nation. We are instilling team-building skills, decision-making ability, and a sense of self-confidence in each student. Participation in the arts builds these skills better than just about any other activity.

As we begin this momentous project, I am personally asking for your help and support. Share the news with your friends, and contact me if you have questions or want to participate. What we are doing is a game changer for our region as we become a trend setter for 21st century arts education and economic growth in Fort Smith. Together we are leaving a legacy for future generations.

Dr. Rosilee Russell is the founder/executive director of Community School of the Arts. Contact her at Rosilee.Russell@CSAFortSmith.org, call (479) 434-2880 or visit CSAFortSmith.org.