Ron Finley, a native of South Central Los Angeles, is the CEO and founder of The Ron Finley Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to teaching communities how to turn food deserts into food sanctuaries. He uses his "gardening is gangsta" philosophy to inspire urban communities to bring gardening and togetherness; into their neighborhoods. In 2010, Finley started a revolution when he turned the parkway in front of his home into an edible garden. Ron’s goal was simple: bring healthy food to an area where there was none. This plan let him see firsthand how gardens can build communities and change people’s lives. Ron’s experience blossomed into a quest to empower people by changing how they eat and teaching youth they have the capacity to design their own lives. Ron’s inspirational approach teaches that if you start growing your own food, you take control of your life. As he says "this is about freedom, this is about humanity". Ron is now speaking at global conferences and in classrooms. He was selected as a national artist for the Public Art Challenge Fertile Ground Project by Bloomberg Philanthropies in Jackson, Mississippi, and is currently on the Curatorial Team of the Destination Crenshaw project, a 1.3-mile-long outdoor art and cultural experience celebrating Black Los Angeles.
Click on the date below to see the schedule for each day.
The Creative Place We Want to Live
Panelists will discuss using the power of the arts and culture to build more equitable and sustainable communities to increase quality of life for everyone. The session will explore the importance of creating an artist’s network and recognizing the work of individual artists and creatives as the backbone of the creative economy.
Allyson Esposito, executive director, Creative Arkansas Community Hub and Exchange (CACHE), Fayetteville, Arkansas
Kathy Liao, program specialist, Artist INC., Mid-America Arts Alliance, Kansas City, Missouri
Matthew-Lee Erhlbach, co-founder, Arts Workers United / Be An Arts Hero
Our Town Grants
11:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Learn about Our Town, the National Endowment for the Arts’ creative placemaking grants program. These arts-focused, engagement-based, inclusive initiatives rise to the multiple challenges of this moment with creative approaches for healing and rebuilding communities. The initiatives strive to build a more equitable future through grants supporting projects that integrate arts, culture and design.
Speaker: Jen Hughes, director, Design and Creative Placemaking, National Endowment for the Arts, Washington, D.C.
Break-out Zoom Rooms
1:00 – 1:30 p.m.
Join the break-out room of your choice after lunch. Enhance your wellbeing with some yoga poses, learn to be more intentional with the words you choose or create something fun from paper. The choice is yours!
Breakout Session 1: Restorative Yoga
Tori Jones, co-owner and yoga director of Eden Salt Studio in Little Rock, leads a stretching and decompressing exercise in this breakout session. Jones will guide participants in breathwork and meditation to bring awareness to the body and calm the mind. Engage in stretching and gentle, yet strengthening, movements from a seated position on the floor. The session includes standing and balancing yoga postures using a wall or a chair for support.
Breakout Session 2: The Power of Voice
Debria Love, social media content creator and storyteller based in Nashville, leads this session on the power of the words you choose and the voice you use. In this breakout session, we will learn how words and affirmations impact not only your life, but the lives of others.
Breakout Session 3: Creative Book Crafting
Learn to craft your own book and personally designed stamps. This 30-minute session led by professional artist and printmaker Melissa Gill will teach participants how to use a simple stitch to create a book and carve stamps from every-day items. The materials list is below. Come prepared with a simple design for your stamp. You may also want to incorporate text for your book pages, such as a short poem or quotes.
Paper (white or light color)
Permanent Marker (fine-tip, black)
Ink pad for stamps (not white or yellow)
Sewing needle and thick thread (as used for embroidery or upholstery)
Large eraser with a flat side (or raw potato cut in half or E-Z Cut printing blocks)
Craft knife (such as X-Acto or lino carving tools)
What’s New in Arts Advocacy
1:45 - 2:45 p.m.
Hear about the new Arts + Technology Boot Camps created to develop and maintain a statewide database of arts, cultural and technological resources. The boot camps were designed to bring together members from the government, nonprofit, for-profit and academic sectors to identify gaps and opportunities and advance the creative economy throughout Arkansas. The initiative is led by the Arkansans for the Arts with legislation approved by the Arkansas Legislature earlier this year. Attendees will learn ways to advocate and promote the arts to legislators and help them connect the arts to legislator’s individual interests.
Sandy Royce Martin, chairperson for the board of directors, Arkansans for the Arts
Joyce Elliott, Arkansas State Senator, District 31 and Vice Chair of Senate Education Committee
Using Social Media as an Advocacy Tool
3:00 - 3:45 p.m.
Discover new trends in social media marketing and discover the best tools for your organization. Video, multimedia storytelling, virtual events, and instant experiences are here to stay. Learn new ways to use social media platforms to advocate for arts, culture, and the creative economy in Arkansas.
Speaker: Ava Coploff, account manager, Marathon Digital, New York, New York
Fellowship Awards Presentation
A virtual program on Facebook and YouTube
The Arkansas Arts Council will recognize and honor fellowship recipients for their artistic and creative excellence as part of ArtLinks. Individual Artist Fellowship awards are unconditional, non-matching grants made directly to individual Arkansas artists. Artists from around the state will be honored in three categories. To read the bios of the fellowship awardees click here.
Cinematic Arts: Director of Documentary or Narrative Films:
The Economic Impact of Arts Festivals
Find out how arts festivals and events impact the local and statewide economies. Enjoy a presentation on three exciting events that have successfully boosted tourism, arts and culture in Arkansas. Each year, these festivals attract more and more artists and participants to expand cultural visibility and economic stability.
Jon Chadwell, executive director, Newport Economic Development Commission, Newport
Heidi Knochenhauer, consultant and grant writer, Sonny Boy Blues Society, Helena
Mary Zunick, cultural affairs manager, Hot Springs Arts Alliance, Hot Springs
Plant a Revolution! Gardening as Community Rejuvenation
11:00 a.m.-12 p.m.
Dig in as South-Central Los Angeles native Ron Finley uses his “gardening is gangsta” philosophy to inspire urban communities to bring both beauty and economic opportunities to neighborhoods. Unafraid and unapologetic, Finley’s inspirational approach teaches communities how to use gardening as a mechanism that empowers residents to develop the confidence and skill to make improvements and changes in other aspects of their lives. The keynote session includes a rebroadcast of Finley’s TED talk and an open Q & A with ArtLinks participants afterward.
Keynote Speaker: Ron Finley, CEO, Ron Finley Project, Los Angeles, California
Jon Chadwell, executive director for the Newport Economic Development Commission, is actively involved in helping develop a rural Arkansas community. Through trial and error, Jon has learned some things that work well and many that don’t. His personal goal is to keep in mind that the end result of developing any community is to improve the quality of life for the people who live there. Jon received his Bachelor’s degree from Harding University in 1985, and in 1997, he graduated from the Community Development Institute at the University of Central Arkansas. His Master of Divinities degree was completed in 1999 from Harding Graduate School of Religion. Jon is also a graduate of LeadAR Class 10. In 2005, he became a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) through the International Economic Development Council. Additional experience comes from Jon’s eclectic job background. He has worked in a number of different ministry settings, both full-time and part-time. A grant-writing job he held required he led 18 grassroots community groups through a comprehensive strategic planning process which ultimately resulted in the community receiving a major grant. Jon has also worked as a Main Street director, a Chamber Director, and as a facilitator of two adult leadership programs and one youth leadership program. The Newport Economic Development Commission is the third economic development group he has guided.
Ava Coploff is an account manager at Marathon Digital, which is based in New York City and is Broadway's first social media marketing agency. The company represents revolutionary shows and other live entertainment clients worldwide. In her role, Coploff runs the official social media accounts of shows like “Hamilton,” “Hadestown, Ain't Too Proud” and “Diana, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical.” Her work helps create initiatives that put artists to work, builds investments in local communities and brings people together.From July 2020 through early 2021, Coploff managed the social media channels for “Be an #ArtsHero,” the grassroots campaign that advocated for financial relief to the arts and culture community during the pandemic. She helped grow the Instagram following for the campaign from 1,000 to over 20,000 in roughly five months. She coordinated with dozens of influencers to help spread the word and to get thousands of arts supporters to contact their representatives to advocate for the arts. Coploff’s other social media advocacy projects include Ham4Progress (the activism Instagram account for “Hamilton”), Belt The Vote, and Shields for Heroes.
State Senator Joyce Elliott represents Senate District 31, comprising parts of Little Rock and Pulaski County. She was elected to the Senate in 2008, after having served three terms in the House of Representatives, from 2001 through 2006. She is vice-chair of Senate Education for the 93rd General Assembly. Senator Elliott is also a member of Senate Insurance and Commerce Committee, Joint Retirement and Social Security Committee, Joint Budget Committee, Arkansas Legislative Council and Legislative Joint Auditing Committee and serves on several different committees. In 2013 Senator Elliott received the Arkansas Municipal League Distinguished Legislator Award. In 2003 the Central Arkansas Labor Council honored her with the Marty Schuller Community Service Award. The same year WiLL (Women's Legislative Lobby) recognized her with its Pacesetter Award for leadership and commitment to the vision of a just, peaceful and inclusive world. Also, she was named by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as one of the Ten Best Legislators of the 2003 General Assembly and the 2005 General Assembly. Senator Elliott is a member of the NAACP, the Arkansas Women’s Forum and the Arkansas Women’s Leadership Forum and serves on the board of directors for the Milton P. Crenchaw Aviation Training Academy. She has served on the board of directors of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History (Little Rock), Just Communities of Central Arkansas (Little Rock), Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) Education Fund (Arlington, Mass.) and City Year of Little Rock.
Matthew-Lee Erhlbach is a writer, actor, and organizer from Chicago and New York. He is the Co-Founder of Arts Workers United and their Be An Arts Hero campaign, where he leads multiple state and national organizing efforts, works on policy, and lobbies congress to make Arts and Culture Workers an economic and legislative priority. Matthew-Lee has appeared on NPR, PBS, CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, WGN, New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Reader, Playbill, and numerous local TV/Radio stations and outlets in support of city, state, and federal initiatives.As a writer, he is currently writing for a new Netflix series and has previously written for MASTERS OF SEX/Showtime, GYPSY/Netflix, WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS/ Netflix (nominated for two Sports Emmys), and for WWE, MTV, and Nickelodeon. As a playwright, his play THE DOPPELGÄNGER (an international farce), starring Rainn Wilson and directed by Tina Landau, premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, where he recently developed his political drama REVELATIONS and is currently under commission. His plays have been developed/produced with The New Group, Steppenwolf, Vineyard, Ars Nova, MCC, Williamstown, New Harmony Project, NYTW, the Orchard Project, and SPACE on Ryder Farm, among others. Matthew-Lee has received support from the National Endowment for the Arts, Laurents/Hatcher Foundation, Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, Puffin Foundation, was a member of Ars Nova's Play Group, MVMNT Theatre’s Play Group, and is a HUMANITAS New Voices recipient. A proud graduate of the public school system from K-College, Matthew-Lee created a writing program for single mothers transitioning out of homelessness and prison and is a team leader for Habitat for Humanity, locally and globally.
Allyson Espositos is an arts administrator, lawyer and artist from a family of artists with more than 12 years of change management experience in the philanthropic sector. She moved to Northwest Arkansas from Boston where she served as senior director, Arts & Culture Program for the Boston Foundation, responsible for creating and implementing the Foundation’s new arts strategy focused on improving diversity, equity and access within Greater Boston’s arts sector. Prior to Boston, Allyson served as director of cultural grants for the city of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, managing a portfolio of more than 300 grantees and leading the first restructure of the Cultural Grants program in more than 20 years. Allyson is a life-long dancer/choreographer who founded and led Chicago-based contemporary dance company Space Movement Project from 2004-2015, co-creating more than 10 original evening length works and touring nationally and internationally.
Melissa Gill is a multidisciplinary artist interested in the ways that cultures use pattern and decoration to denote transformative experiences. Her practice includes printmaking, mixed media, drawing, collage, embroidery, artist books and installation. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from Indiana University Bloomington, a Master of Arts from Purdue University and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Arizona. She is professor of Drawing and Printmaking at Hendrix College in Conway.
Jen Hughes was appointed director of Design and Creative Placemaking for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in April 2018, having served as acting director since June 2017. In this position, she oversees grant portfolios that support the design and creative placemaking fields, as well as leadership initiatives that include the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and the Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design. Since 2011, Hughes has fulfilled multiple roles as design specialist and community solutions specialist at the NEA, playing a significant role in shaping the agency’s creative placemaking and social impact design investments. At the NEA, she has managed federal, philanthropic and local relationships to strategically integrate arts, culture and design into comprehensive community development plans. Via collaborations with the NEA Office of Research, she has helped to drive an evaluation agenda to assess the impacts of arts and culture on American communities. She has been the arts and cultural liaison for notable federal initiatives such as White House Council for Strong Cities Strong Communities, Promise Zones and Rebuild by Design competition. Hughes has presented on more than 40 public panels on the topics of design and creative placemaking, and was invited to represent the United States at the Edinburgh Festivals International Delegate Programme. Prior to her work at the NEA, she was an urban planner for the District of Columbia and has held communications and business consulting positions in the private sector. Hughes was recognized by Impact Design Hub’s 40 under 40, honoring innovative leaders working at the intersection of design and public good. A Philadelphia native, she has a bachelors in management from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a masters in city planning from University of California, Berkeley with a focus on community development and design.
Tori Jones is a co-owner and yoga director of Eden Salt Studio in Little Rock. Jones began using yoga to decompress and stretch her body after working long hours as an attorney in Washington, D.C. She signed up for yoga teacher training with Faith Hunter at Embrace Yoga DC and has since taught more than 2,000 hours of yoga in D.C. and Arkansas. Jones is designated as an E-RYT 500 and a Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider with Yoga Alliance.Jones makes yoga approachable to people who have not discovered the practice due to cultural stereotypes, financial obstacles or lack of yoga classes. In her classes, she infuses detailed structural alignment cues with creative sequencing. Jones creates classes based on the needs of students to provide experiences that leave students feeling restored, confident and strong, both mentally and physically.
Heidi Knochenhauer is a blues aficionado living in Memphis, Tennessee since 1999. Knochenhauer has been the grant writer for 14 years for the Sonny Boy Blues Society, which presents the world-renowned King Biscuit Blues Festival (KBBF) in Helena, Arkansas. She attends blues festivals around the country and world to market the Delta Blues region and the KBBF. Knochenhauer is also the liaison for Community Affairs and Special projects for the Sonny Boy Blues Society, plus a grant consultant for other blues organizations.
Kathy Liao is a member of the Artist Services team at Mid-America Arts Alliance in Kansas City. She leads the planning and implementation of Artist INC, a professional development program for artists by artists. Through her role as both educator and arts administrator, Liao facilitates equitable, diverse, inclusive, and accessible spaces to build community that encourages collaborations and partnerships across the arts ecosystem. As a visual artist, Liao looks for patterns and repetitions in the lives of the immigrant family through her mixed media work. Liao received her MFA in Painting from Boston University and BFA in Painting and Drawing from University of Washington, Seattle. In the past, Liao was Director of the Painting and Printmaking Studio Art Program at Missouri Western State University, and taught at Boston University, University of Washington, Seattle University, and Gage Academy of Art. She was nominated the “Most Influential Professor” in 2019.
Debria Love is a content creator and storyteller who studied at Middle Tennessee State University, where she majored in mass communications with a minor in African American studies. Love uses the art of poetry and modeling to highlight the beauty of culture, identity, self-empowerment to address issues on social justice and self-expression. She is a model, poet and social media influencer whose YouTube channel has garnered more than 88,500 views since 2015. She began her channel at age 12 to bring healing, joy and truth to her audience. She is a rising star in the art of spoken word and slam poetry. Love was part of the Southern Word’s slam team for the national teen poetry slam festival three times, was interviewed by Teen Music Insider as a social media influencer and has hosted MTSU’s Urban Awards that honor Black creatives. Love also has her own radio show, which she created.
Mary Zunick is the cultural affairs manager for Visit Hot Springs. Her job responsibilities include working with the Hot Springs arts community and the wide array of arts activities, businesses and organizations in Hot Springs. She also serves as the executive director of the Hot Springs Sister City program. In 2013, Mary was instrumental in reorganizing an arts group into the Hot Springs Area Cultural Alliance (HSACA), which promotes, advocates and celebrates the arts and culture of Hot Springs. She works with HSACA as well as numerous other arts organizations to promote Hot Springs as a thriving community for creative economies and a destination for cultural tourism. Through her work with the Hot Springs National Park Sister City Foundation and the community, the sister city message of tolerance and promoting peace through people-to-people relationships is shared. Hot Springs Sister City Program was recently awarded the Best Overall Program for cities with populations 25,000 – 50,000 for the second time by Sister Cities International. Mary has served as the honorary consul of Japan for the State of Arkansas, a position appointed by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since 2018. Mary serves on the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival Board of Directors and the Greater Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, is a member of Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club and Hot Springs Downtown Association. In 2020 she was appointed by Gov. Hutchinson to the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts Board of Visitors. Mary is an Arkansas native with a degree in communication from University of the Ozarks.