May 11, 2023 - News

Walton Arts Center refuses to host youth events at Pride

Walton Arts Center. Photo: Alex Golden/Axios

Northwest Arkansas Equality, the local nonprofit that hosts annual Pride events, is "pausing" its long-standing relationship with Walton Arts Center after the Fayetteville performing arts venue declined to continue hosting the festival's youth zone, NWA Equality said in a news release Wednesday.

Context: In Arkansas, it remains legal for drag performances to take place where minors are present, despite efforts by some lawmakers during the recent legislative session to outlaw it.

  • Act 131 forbids "adult-oriented performances" — involving nude or seminude performers — from happening on public property or admitting minors. The law does not mention drag or gender expression.

Background: NWA Pride has used Walton Arts Center for certain events for nearly 20 years. Among them since 2018 have been "inclusive experiences for LGBTQ youth and their families, such as resource fairs, content-appropriate drag story time, and drag shows suitable for teens," per NWA Equality.

What they're saying: "Our decision was made in the interest of safety concerns for performers, patrons and staff due to the divisive political rhetoric at this time," Walton Arts Center spokesperson Jennifer Wilson said in a statement, per the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

  • Walton Arts Center will continue to present drag performances on its stages.
  • The center is, according to Wilson, open to hosting Pride events this year, but not drag story time for minors or drag performances by adults specifically for minors, the paper reported.
  • NWA Equality chose to pull all events, including those not specifically for kids, from the center.

The other side: NWA Equality called the Walton Arts Center's decision "surprising, disappointing and inconsistent."

  • The organization noted minors were allowed to attend recent WAC shows — such as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Tootsie" and "Hairspray" — that feature actors performing in drag. The center also has a policy stating that only parents are qualified to determine what is appropriate entertainment for their child.

What's next: The Pride festival's youth zone will relocate to the city-owned Fayetteville Town Center this year.

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