Columns » Max Brantley

Brantley: A festival for Arkansas

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My subscriptions to the New Yorker and New York Times, among others, often give me cause to wish I lived where they are based.

No insult to Arkansas intended. Both publications promote frequent public programs that provide entertainment and intellectual sustenance beyond words on paper and websites. Popular authors, thinkers, artists and others are featured by the publications in a variety of ways.

Now, the Arkansas natives who live in New York have reason to wish they were back home. Credit editor Lindsey Millar and publisher Alan Leveritt for putting together the first Arkansas Times Festival of Ideas.

It's a day's worth of FREE one-hour presentations Saturday, Sept. 22, at downtown venues. They feature a broad cross-section of the people who appeared in our Sept. 5 cover story on influential Arkansans. It's an eclectic mix, from the thought-provoking to entertaining to simply tasty.

The lineup includes master knife maker Jerry Fisk, quilting expert Irma Gail Hatcher, trend-setting chef/restaurateur Scott McGehee with a cooking demonstration, cutting edge architect Reese Rowland, alternative fuel scientist Jamie Hestekind, fashion designer Korto Momolu, concert impresario Michael Marion, library builder and leader Bobby Roberts, filmmakers Craig and Brent Renaud and UA President Donald Bobbitt, who'll talk about his vision of expanding on-line higher education.

That's by no means all and I don't mean to slight those I didn't list. You can find the others all at the link below and in ads in the print edition. Sessions are free all day Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Old State House, Historic Arkansas Museum, Clinton School and Main Library. We urge you to register at the link for individual sessions because seating will be limited by venue and some may be oversubscribed. That link: arktimes.com/festivalofideas.

We hope this is the start of a regular series of programs. But it's only one part of our long-standing recognition that being a media company is about a lot more than publishing a weekly newspaper or even a website with fresh news, entertainment and arts information daily. For example:

We'll be sending six buses full of music fans to the Johnny Cash and King Biscuit Blues Festival events in a few weeks. We have plans in the works for some special dinners built around Arkansas food and chefs. I'd like to see us add podcasts for Arkansas exploration to our weekly news podcast. I could envision an Arkansas version of Calvin Trillin's guide to the food finds of Chinatown — say a moveable catfish or rib feast or a tour of Arkansas wine country by air conditioned coach with designated driver. I'd love to repeat the trip I led to New York after 9/11.

I'd be interested, too, in hearing other ideas for expanding the brand and appreciation of Arkansas.

Back to the festival: I hope some of you will join me as I talk at 1 p.m. Sept. 22 at the Old State House with John Walker, the civil rights lawyer and legislator, who promises plenty of criticism about the state of politics, education and affirmative action in the state in which he's labored so long. I'm expecting some insight, for example, on his split with old allies in a couple of School Board races on the ballot in Little Rock this month. Walker, for example, has split from organized labor and others to support Tanya Dixon over incumbent Dianne Curry, initially elected six years ago with Walker's significant help. At age 74, Walker is a man still unwilling to settle for status quo for Little Rock school children. There's an idea worth talking about.

Join us Sept. 22.

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