Is the Ozark Folk Center in danger of closing?

For supporters of the Ozark Folk Center, now is the time to rally. Changes are coming.

In July, the Mountain View City Council voted to abolish the Ozark Folk Cultural Center Commission, surprising both the commissioners and the Arkansas State Parks Department.

The city council said the commission was not in compliance with one of its bylaws, which states two of the commissioners must live in the county.

Brooks Blevins, PhD, has researched and extensively documented the history of the folk center. He was on the commission.

“The abolition of the commission was completely out of the blue, from my perspective. And no one on the commission, as far as I know, has ever received a full explanation,” said Blevins. “I don’t know how the center has been affected by the change. Now that the commission has been abolished, I have no connection with the Center and have received no communication from anyone at the Center or at State Parks.”

Before it was abolished, the commission acted as a legal representative between the city and State Parks, approving the yearly budget and overseeing improvement projects at the park for 55 years.

The move was not the first of problems at the Folk Center though.

The park is not a money maker and administrators admit marketing attempts have failed to fill seats at concerts.

The mayor of Mountain View, Roger Gardner, wants to see the land used for a theme park.

According to an article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Folk Center loses $2 million per year.

Explanations from responsible parties include:

The average concert hosted there costs more than it brings in, with attendees only taking up slightly more than 10 percent of the seats.

The county is dry and city council won’t approve an alcohol permit which would help draw attendees.

History on the center

The 600-acre cultural center opened in 1973 in Mountain View.

According to “A Brief History of The Ozark Folk Center”, published by the Regional Studies Center at Lyon College, the idea originated from John Opitz, who approached Mountain View leaders with a plan.

Mountain View needed a water and sewer system, and Opitz thought the town needed a music venue. He recommended the city apply for federal funds to build the auditorium, which would include funding for a water and sewer system for the venue. The town could then connect to the federally funded system.

After many years of efforts by Bessie Moore, Jimmy Driftwood, and others, the city was able to obtain a $3 million federal grant to build the center.

The park has continued to receive government money to offset expenses ($15.2 million from the state since 1996, which is equivalent to about 5 years of its total yearly budget of $3.2 million).

Sources:

http://web.lyon.edu/groups/mslibrary/rcol/folkcenter.htm

http://web.lyon.edu/groups/mslibrary/rcol/oralhistory.htm

Additional (Requires a subscription):

https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/jul/31/folk-center-hometown-cuts-liaison-with-/

https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/jan/18/agency-shortfall-at-park-is-2m-20200118/

2 Comments

  1. Megan Whitehead

    This is terrible!! I love the folk center and have been planning to take my kids now that they’re getting old enough to understand. Sounds like they need help with management and more help from Arkansas Parks and Tourism to market it. I’ve always said it’s one of Arkansas’ best kept secrets. Keep us posted on how we can help!

    Like

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