Doing Good: The Woman Behind the Walton Arts Center


FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA) — The Walton Arts Center has become the leading performing arts venue in our region, but it wasn’t built overnight.

The woman behind the scenes making this all possible is Billie Jo Starr.

“The arts is a common language that we speak together,” Starr said. “I was here when it was dirt and a lot of dreams.”

Starr served on the fact finding committee in the 1980’s, then chaired the original capital campaign alongside Helen Walton to open the Walton Arts Center in 1992. 

Together they advocated for the creation of a performing arts center that would transform Dickson Street and all of Northwest Arkansas.

“I believe Billie really personifies Walton Arts Center and its support, and it need to present the arts to everyone. That was Billie’s dream when Walton Arts Center started and it still is. She wants the children to come in her yellow school buses to see what’s going one here,” Jennifer Ross, Director of Programming said.

For more than 60 years Starr has given her time, talents, and treasure to promote the arts.

But she says one of her most rewarding accomplishments is making the arts accessible to everyone — especially children.

“It began to be our mission to involve the schools,” Starr said.

Now, more than 600,000 students and teachers have walked through the Walton Arts Center experiencing its art education programs.

“We’re very proud of that, it’s a big part of what we do, but we’re for families, we’re for everybody. The doors are always open for anybody,” Starr said.

While the black box theatre now bears the Starr family name, her impact goes even beyond these walls.

“There aren’t that many people in the world that have that kind of vision, that kind of compassion for their community, the ability to dream big dreams and then pull it all together and make things happen,” Laura Goodwin, Vice President of Learning and Engagement said. “It’s fun to look back and imagine Northwest Arkansas and to imagine Fayetteville at that point in time, to realize the tremendous vision Billie Jo had and all of the people she brought together who believed this kind of institution, this kind of organization, this kind of facility should exist for Northwest Arkansas.”

Her life — epitomzing the impact that one person can have on a community, and how all nonprofits need a star…

“It makes us so proud to say in Northwest Arkansas here we have a state of the art theatre open for everybody,” Starr said.

Starr is receiving the Governor’s Arts Council Lifetime Achievement award in March.

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