As the sun sets on the University of Arkansas - Fort Smith’s Season of Entertainment just shy of its 40th year, Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus and Community Events Stacey Jones reflected on how the season started, his favorite moments, and the bright future ahead for the arts on campus, and in the city of Fort Smith.
“The mission of the Season of Entertainment has always been to bring nationally touring programs to our community and, at the same time, bring in better opportunities to our students,” Jones said of the season, which began in 1981 with the show "Pippin" and hosted its final performance in February of 2020 with a UAFS Theater performance of "August: Osage County."
“Over the years there were times there were more students performing on the stage than in the audience,” Jones said laughing. "But with time, I started to see UAFS Jazz concerts bring in 600, 700 people! That’s almost unheard of for student performances. … Those kids deserve that, and they got great audiences. That was my motivation.”
In addition to the student performances that comprised up to half of the Season of Entertainment, and which will continue on campus at the Breedlove Auditorium and the UAFS Amphitheater, Jones recounted some phenomenal national acts.
Dizzy Gillespie, the famed jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader who ushered in the U.S. bebop movement, did a workshop for students and performed for the public with the university jazz band.
“One of the bigger ones I guess was the Boston Pops (Orchestra). We brought them in for a Christmas show, which was unbelievable that we had them in Fort Smith, Arkansas. … They fly with their own jet because there are so many of them. We had to have five buses lined up to pick them up. … It was a phenomenal day,” Jones said.
Lucie Arnaz, Patti LuPone, Steve Allen, Lawrence Welk, and “Doc” Severinsen also made an impact on Jones, bringing world-famous performances to the River Valley.
In 1997, the Season brought in “Cats,” the musical, at a time when the Fort Smith Convention Center had one loading dock.
“‘Cats’ rolled in here with seven semis,” Jones said. “Thank goodness they came the day before. It took the entire day before to get them offloaded and set up. It was kind of a fluke. They had a date fall out on them, so they came to Fort Smith, and it sold out. Then they came back a few years later.”
Over the years, hundreds of acts have shined, sharing stages and classrooms with students and performing across the city from the Campus Green to the Convention Center.
Going forward, lovers of the arts in the region should follow UAFS and their local media partners for more updates on campus and community performances. “We’ll be bringing people on campus for outstanding music numbers, and some really excellent theater performances,” Jones said. “We have some great performance structures on campus and these students put on great shows ... once you see a student performance here at UA Fort Smith, you can’t wait to come back.”
Jones is also optimistic about the future of arts in Fort Smith, particularly the work Oak View Group is doing at the Fort Smith Convention Center.
"We are proud to be a part of the Fort Smith Community and we’re eager, energized, and driven to help bring new entertainment acts to the city of Fort Smith and the ArcBest Performing Arts Center,” said Marc Mulherin, the Fort Smith Convention Center general manager. "OVG Facilities’ Event Programming Services are unmatched by any other company, and we are committed to making a positive disruption in the entertainment & hospitality industry."
“The arts are still so important here,” Jones continued. “We have great programs, a great future, and some amazing local organizations like the Fort Smith Symphony and the Fort Smith Little Theater. With the city’s support, I know the arts will still be here in Fort Smith.”
“The city of Fort Smith supports its community partners who work very hard to produce the great and exciting events that make our city a renowned regional entertainment hub,” added Carl Geffken, city administrator. “With the city’s recent establishment of several entertainment districts across the city, residents and visitors can count on having a very active calendar of events and a variety of diverse entertainment venues.”