May 22, 2023 - Politics

Walton Arts Center board members resign over drag decision

An estimated 200 supporters of the LGBTQ+ community gathered Saturday evening on the steps of the Walton Arts Center to protest the organization and call for the resignation of CEO Peter Lane. Photo: Worth Sparkman/Axios

Seven of Walton Art Center's 23-member board of directors resigned Friday after the center refused to allow youth-oriented activities featuring drag performers at next month's Pride Festival.

Details: Casey Hamaker, Anne O'Leary-Kelly, Jody Dilday, Cal Rose, Lia Uribe, Mervin Jebaraj and Shabana Kauser resigned, the Fayetteville Flyer reported.

What they're saying: "Without consulting the board, the CEO of the Walton Arts Center [Peter Lane] made a political decision to no longer permit age-appropriate drag performances," Jebaraj said in a statement. "The CEO failed to seek advice from either the board or staff DEI committees and undermined the organization's commitment to its mission of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion."

  • "I believe that under the current CEO, the organization cannot uphold all our stated values and mission, or meaningfully engage the board in decision making, so I offer my resignation effective immediately," he added.

Background: The Walton Arts Center earlier this month cited safety concerns for performers, patrons and staff amid the "divisive political rhetoric" surrounding drag story times and performances geared toward minors.

  • State legislators recently unsuccessfully attempted to outlaw drag performances where minors are present.
  • The center was open to having other Pride events at its facility, but Northwest Arkansas Equality chose to pull all events from the center, spokesperson Jennifer Wilson told Axios.

The latest: Protesters on Saturday called for Lane to resign.

  • Walton Arts Center said in a statement last Thursday its intention was not to upset and hurt many in the community and that it "offered financial support and assistance in securing another location."
  • "We understand that NWA Equality and the community it serves are well aware of safety concerns, as that is something they regrettably have to deal with on a daily basis. ... We are equally concerned about how these events might be used in a political context particularly to further attacks against the LGBTQIA+ community, or to undermine the arts education work or overall operation of Walton Arts Center for the entire NWA community," the statement reads in part.

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