FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — The Walton Arts Center released a statement on May 18 responding to the controversy caused after it decided to not host drag story time or drag performances for minors during Pride Month this year.

In the statement, the Walton Arts Center says that its decision to not host the events centered around the heightened and divisive political conversations around drag and minors.

The full statement can be read below:

Walton Arts Center regrets that our recent operational decision around hosting some NWA Equality Pride Youth Zone activities has upset and hurt many in the community, which was not our intention. We want to share a deeper explanation of the decision. 

First, we want to reiterate our unwavering commitment to the safe operation of our spaces and continuing to program our stages with an eye to what is current and relevant, celebrating all the diverse groups reflected in our Northwest Arkansas community. As we stated recently, drag is a performance medium that Walton Arts Center recognizes and presents on our stages regularly, and that will not change. 

NWA Equality has long been a valued event client and partner, and Walton Arts Center has been a consistent advocate for the LGBTQIA+ community since our doors opened more than 30 years ago. When approached by NWA Equality for this year’s Pride events, we reviewed their proposed activities and logistical considerations for our spaces, as we do for all third-party events. Due to the charged nationwide political conversations around drag and minors that many times results in divisive and dangerous rhetoric, we asked if there was any way we could help NWA Pride reach its intended goals for the Youth Zone without drag performances for minors. When that was not possible, we requested that those activities be moved to another venue and offered financial support and assistance in securing another location. Conversations continued over several weeks, but we were unable to come to an agreement that worked for both organizations. 

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. Our concern was not simply around the physical safety surrounding these events, but the policy to not allow parents, guardians and caregivers into the Youth Zone. 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.  

This was not an easy decision, or one that we took lightly, but is one we believe was necessary for this year’s event. Walton Arts Center has not ended its support for our LGBTQIA+ community, NWA Equality or the Pride Festival.  

We encourage the voices of concern and protest to join us in helping cool the heated and hurtful rhetoric of the current political climate. We stand with all who oppose policies that unfairly restrict rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, as those policies harm individuals and impact the ability of businesses and industries across the state to bring artists and visitors to our region.

As an organization, we will learn from this experience and work to ensure that our entire community, including our LGBTQIA+ partners, understand how we assess operational concerns around events, and will commit to bring community partners into operational conversations earlier in the process.

Walton Arts Center

The statement was released ahead of a planned protest of the decision on May 20 hosted by Arkansans for Social Justice.