The Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH) was created in 1975 to preserve and promote Arkansas’s natural and cultural heritage as a source of pride and enjoyment for all. The original legislation named the agency the "Department of Arkansas Natural and Cultural Heritage" and grouped together culturally oriented agencies in one department. The agency name was changed to its current title in 1985.
DAH consists of seven agencies, each with its own special contributions, and a director’s office, which manages general administrative and marketing operations. The agencies are: the Arkansas Arts Council (AAC), which seeks to advance the arts in Arkansas; the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (AHPP), which manages the state’s historic and cultural resources and operates the Main Street Arkansas program; the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission (ANHC), which establishes and maintains the Arkansas System of Natural Areas, including a central repository on rare and endangered species; the Delta Cultural Center (DCC), located in downtown Helena-West Helena (Phillips County), which is the state’s most complete repository of artifacts chronicling the life and times of the people, traditions, music and art of Arkansas’s Delta region; the Historic Arkansas Museum (HAM), accredited by the American Association of Museums, which is the state’s foremost interpreter of frontier Arkansas, chronicling the social, political and creative history of the state through the 19th century; the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center (MTCC), which promotes the story of Arkansas’s African Americans from 1870 to the present; and the Old State House Museum (OSHM), located in the oldest standing Capitol west of the Mississippi, which is today a multimedia museum of Arkansas history accredited by the American Association of Museums, with a special emphasis on political history, women’s history and historical programming for school children.
A central director’s office coordinates and promotes agency efforts to make Arkansas heritage accessible to all through annual heritage and cultural events such as Arkansas Heritage Month, educational resources and special publications. Arkansas Heritage Month began as Heritage Week in 1982 to encourage communities and organizations to celebrate their history and heritage. It was expanded to a full month in 1998, and DAH creates a theme each year to help communities focus on particular areas of culture.
The impetus behind the creation of the department was to group existing state agencies together that were culturally oriented. Several legislators sponsored Act 1001 of 1975, which created the Department and brought together five agencies. The department has grown over time. In 1990, the Delta Cultural Center was opened in Helena and added to the Department of Arkansas Heritage (DAH). In 2003, legislation created the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, a museum for African-American history and culture, and placed it under the direction of DAH. Anne Bartley was the director appointed in 1975 by Gov. David Pryor to lead the agency after its creation. The longest-serving director was Cathie Matthews, who held the position from 1997 until 2012. The current director is Stacy Hurst.