author + Karen Minkel
Karen Minkel

Home Region Program Director


Building on success in Northwest Arkansas and the Delta

The foundation believes in innovative ideas that enhance quality of life and increase prosperity for residents of Northwest Arkansas and the Delta region of Arkansas and Mississippi.

In Northwest Arkansas, foundation investments are helping cement the area’s reputation as a national leader in arts and culture, entrepreneurship and access to green spaces. 

For two years running, U.S. News & World Report has ranked Northwest Arkansas as one of the best places to live in the country. A foundation-commissioned survey also showed that 95% of residents are happy with their life in the region, while more than seven in 10 rated overall quality of life as very good or excellent.

We are proud of those results. But we’re not ready to settle. Now is the time to think bigger and work harder to make Northwest Arkansas the best place to live. 

This requires bold action and a commitment to core beliefs about how to improve quality of life.  The foundation is increasing access to world-class art that has established the region as a cultural destination in the nation’s heartland. 

Building on the success of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, which has welcomed more than 2.7 million visitors in its five years of operation, the foundation announced it will support the transformation of a former cheese plant in Bentonville into a 63,000-square-foot contemporary art exhibition space. 

Relevant forms of art that reflect the diversity in Northwest Arkansas are also strengthening the region’s cultural ecosystem. Foundation grants helped increase access to activities that appeal to residents from all backgrounds – including performances by contemporary circus troupes and Spanish-language community theater productions. 

Northwest Arkansas’ distinctive natural and built environments add to the region’s appeal. More than 900 acres of public green space has been preserved and over 12,000 feet of stream bank restored through foundation grants. We’re building soft-surface trails because they help preserve the beauty of our home region, while giving residents access to a great natural asset, the Ozark Mountains. To date, our grants have supported construction of 88 miles of soft-surface trails. Last year, the world took notice. 

The International Mountain Bicycling Association World Summit, one of mountain biking’s most prestigious events, drew nearly 600 cycling enthusiasts from across the globe to Northwest Arkansas.  

In the Delta, the foundation is engaging young people and promoting long-term economic growth. After-school programming continues to expand – including a new Boys & Girls Club facility in Phillips County, Arkansas – to encourage positive behavior and offer kids a safe place to channel their energy. 

In Clarksdale, Mississippi, the foundation partnered with the White House to support a summer mentorship program that gave high school students on-the-job experience in fields ranging from the arts to manufacturing. Of students enrolled in these after-school programs, 98% were promoted to the next grade. 

To spur lasting economic opportunity, the foundation and other partners also invested in the restoration of a short-line railroad in Helena, Arkansas. The project created or maintained more than 60 jobs, with 30 more expected in 2017. 

Throughout Northwest Arkansas, and in the Delta, we are proud of what has been accomplished. But we won’t be satisfied until even greater heights are reached.

From trails that connect downtowns with nature to rail renovation that connects communities to jobs and commerce, the quality of life is improving across our home region.

Tom Walton, Home Region Program Committee Chair

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