Walton Arts Center brings great performing artists and entertainers from around the world to Northwest Arkansas, connecting and engaging people through inspiring arts experiences.



Walton Arts Center started as the product of a partnership between public and private sectors for the good of the community. Negotiations, compromise and a shared vision yielded a facility that has changed and enriched the cultural life of Northwest Arkansas.

In the late 1980s the Walton Family gave a major gift to the University of Arkansas for construction of an auditorium that would accommodate major touring shows, other local and regional performing arts opportunities and the WalMart shareholder's meeting. University officials began exploring the idea of building a 2,000-seat performing arts center.

history 1986 








At the same time, the City of Fayetteville started discussing the need for a multi-use community arts facility. The North Arkansas Symphony was performing in the Baptist church and gymnasium facilities while community theater groups were searching for spaces to perform. Meanwhile, the original hotel, motel and restaurant tax, which had been levied years earlier, was earmarked to build a community arts center.

As both entities explored their options, it became apparent there was potential to work together. Leaders from both sides, including UA chancellors as well as Fayetteville city board members and other community leaders formed a joint exploratory committee.

Bernie Madison, former Dean of the Fulbright College and one of the university representatives to the joint City/University committee recalled, "There were two different views (about the vision for the Center)…one from the university of a large capacity performing arts center and one from the city of a multi-purpose community arts center." The conversations began with the vision.

Andy Gibbs, UA Drama faculty member, also served on the initial committee. "There were really three major issues that we had to agree upon before we could proceed," said Gibbs. "First, could the entities work together. Second, could we find an acceptable site, and third, could we agree upon the size of the auditorium." Ultimately, the answer to all of those questions was "yes."

Walton Arts Center history

The University of Arkansas and the City of Fayetteville formed an Interlocal Agreement and proceeded with plans for the arts center. Compromises were made on both sides. The site of the center on Dickson Street represented a compromise, but also a win for both parties with the ultimate revitalization of the Dickson Street area. The size of the hall (1,200 seats) was also an acceptable compromise.

In 1986, the first Walton Arts Center Council was formed. Made up of three university appointees and three city representatives, this group was charged with building the arts center. In late 1987, Bill Mitchell was hired as the first executive director. The entities each brought a sum of money to the table, totaling about $9 million.

As ground was broken on the project, it became apparent that the available funds would not be enough to complete the facility. Dan Ferritor, UA Chancellor at the time, recalled, "Basically, we designed a building we couldn't pay for. We knew we needed to start looking at additional funding options."


Under the leadership of Bill Mitchell and community member Billie Starr, a champion of the facility, a fundraising consultant was hired and a plan was set out to launch a regional fundraising drive.

Billie Starr remembers, "Sam Walton really encouraged us to get a lot of different people involved in the project. We began hosting in-home community parties. The host would invite their friends and we would come and bring the model and share the vision. We were not directly asking for money, we were sharing information. Later we made the follow up calls."

In the end, more than $7 million was raised from the private sector allowing Walton Arts Center to be completed debt free April 26, 1992. Wisely, $3 million was set-aside in an endowment that allowed for operations, including the hiring of staff and consultants.

Today Walton Arts Center has become Arkansas’ largest and busiest arts presenter, bringing great performing artists and entertainers from around the world to the region each year. The organization has grown significantly over the last quarter of a century and now operates three facilities – the original Walton Arts Center, the neighboring Nadine Baum Studios and the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP).

With the addition of the Walmart AMP, one of Pollstar’s 2016 Top 50 best-selling amphitheaters in the country (#38), WAC dramatically increased the diversity of programming and the reach of its education and community initiatives. More than 342,600 people attend events at WAC venues annually, and the arts education programs reach 45,000 students, teachers and citizens statewide.

Walton Arts Center completed a $23 million renovation and expansion of the original performing arts campus in November 2016. The expansion dramatically increased front of house and event space, production support space and administrative offices, adding more than 30,000 square feet and improving the operational capacity and visitor experience for both patrons and artists.

Walton Arts Center is also home to four resident companies: Symphony of Northwest Arkansas—the region’s professional symphony orchestra, professional theater companies TheatreSquared and Trike Theatre for Youth, and Community Creative Center—an art studio for adults and youth. As an incubator for developing performing arts companies, Walton Arts Center is helping to insure that the performing arts continues to be a vital part of life in our region. We look toward the future, now positioned to respond to the needs of one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country.


Presenting History