- Eddy Sisson/Michael Schwarz
- URBAN DECAY: Abandoned Arkansas sheds light on forgotten places, like the Majestic Hotel, the Conway Roller Rink (pictured) and Dogpatch U.S.A.
Inside the former Conway Roller Rink, a white roller skate is flopped over in front of a felt marquee board that reads "SOCKS MUST BE WORN" and "ASK ABOUT PRIVATE PARTIES" in tiny plastic letters. An arcade-style carpet with a neon paint-splatter design curls up at its edges, otherwise littered with debris and crumbling Sheetrock from the building's decline. In the audio area, a piece of hot pink duct tape holds up a rough script, scratched out in pen on yellow construction paper: "Alright skaters stop on your skate & go the other direction, this next song is a reverse skate." We know all this because of Michael Schwarz, Eddy Sisson, James Kirkendall and Ginger Beck, the team behind Abandoned Arkansas. Together, the four volunteers identify abandoned locations, obtain permission to enter them and photograph what's inside. They've been at it since 2012. We talked with Ginger Beck, Abandoned Arkansas's new social media and communications director, about the process of exploring places that highways, urban development and economic upheaval have pushed into the margins.
- Ginger Beck
- Abandoned House, undisclosed location in Southern Arkansas
Where do you live, and what other projects do you have working right now?
I live in downtown Little Rock. I teach high school alternative students and have for 16 years. I also just opened my own private tattoo studio (One Ninety-Six Private Studio) downtown, and I run the Little Free Pantry-Little Rock located at Dunbar Garden.
What drew you to this project? Do you remember a specific moment or location that sparked your interest?
I've always been drawn to abandoned and derelict buildings. Seeing old houses boarded up has always made me insanely curious about the life they once held. My first major exploration was the Alexander Human Development Center.
- Ginger Beck
- Alexander Human Development Center
Getting into abandoned places can be tricky, and you all are careful to document your permissions and whether the place is restricted to the public, etc. Can you talk me through how you all navigate your way safely (and legally) past those "No Trespassing" signs? Are there any places you have on your wish list but haven't been able to get into?
We always attempt to get permission from owners or relatives of owners. Many cities have left places to ruin and basically said, "Have fun." For other places, it takes quite some time to get in touch with owners and city leaders to gain permission. One place on my list is the old VA Hospital off Roosevelt [Road] here in Little Rock. The bottom floor is leased to the [Little Rock Police Department] and used for SWAT [team training] a couple floors above that. The floors above are empty. I've been in contact with the LRPD, but they said I have to gain permission from the actual owner, whom I've yet to speak with.
I know that you read tarot cards. Can you talk a little bit about your experience doing that, and do you feel that work has affected your connection to these locations?
Tarot has been an exciting and enlightening part of my life for several years. It is often misunderstood; many people avoid discussing it, but it is basically a positive tool to focus and improve a person's life. I've helped many people wanting clarity with decisions or feelings, and tarot has definitely helped me do the same.
The connection I feel toward buildings and homes feels much more like energy than psychic connections. Some places feel full of energy, usually positive, as if the building is almost happy to have respectful visitors again. Other places feel completely void of energy, such as the Branch Davidian compound remains in Waco, Texas, which I explored with my two best friends years after the siege, heading home from seeing Acid King in Austin. So far, I have not come across a site where I feel uneasy or unsafe.
There's an inherent sort of sadness to this project, isn't there? We're seeing the bygone, the abandoned and, sometimes, the tragic. Are there any places you've come across that you found beautiful?
One of the most beautiful places was Carden Bottoms School [Yell County], post fire. It was an amazing little schoolhouse that tragically burned back in October of 2017, but the stonework that remains is absolutely gorgeous. Knowing that some beautiful old homes are now decayed and could be saved if only there were investors willing to put the money and work into projects is sad. I wish I could fix and live in them all.
- Ginger Beck
- Mural, Gillam Park near Granite Mountain.
Graffiti: art or vandalism?
There is some amazing graffiti out there. In places where there isn't going to be any restoration, I see no harm in making a beautiful mural. Simple spray-painted phrases and messy scrawlings, however, is more [like] vandalism. I don't like seeing any scrawled graffiti on outsides of buildings, either.
Abandoned Arkansas's online archive is at abandonedar.com.