Co-founder of Low Key Arts reflects on organization's past
For many people living in Hot Springs, the unique concerts, workshops and festivals hosted by the nonprofit organization Low Key Arts hold a special place in their memory and their hearts.
Over the years, the community has witnessed the organization grow by leaps and bounds with the implementation of the Valley of the Vapors independent music festival, Inception to Projection filmmaking program, and KUHS Community Radio. All the while, co-founder of Low Key Arts, Shea Childs, has worked diligently to keep the organization running full steam ahead.
Childs is a native of Hot Springs. She returned in 2003 after leaving the area to attend college, pursue her passions, and start her family. When she returned home with her husband and co-founder Bill Solleder, they shared a vision of breathing life into the nonexistent underground music scene. Their dream forever changed the music in Hot Springs.
“So we were introduced to underground music (in college), coming out of the do it yourself punk rock ethic and we were craving that. When we got back to this town, there was a blues fest and there was a classical music festival, and there was a jazz fest that had been very well established, and we like all kinds of music but we were craving more edgy, kind of modern underground music,” she said.
Before moving back to Hot Springs, the couple worked in various capacities within the underground music scene. While her husband was on tour with his band, Childs was immersing herself in the culture and learning the ins and outs of organizing, promoting, and booking shows. By the time they reached Hot Springs, the pair had years of experience and a strong drive to fill the town with independent, underground music.
In 2005, the couple hosted and funded a series of three music festivals. The first Valley of the Vapors festival lasted five days and featured several bands Solleder knew of from his work with an independent record label in Chicago. Despite the community’s possible lack of knowledge about the individual bands, Childs said she was impressed with the number of people who showed up.
“Typically the bands we book are part of the underground. So they’re not on a major label and they are on their way up in their career. You know at that time, you may not have heard of them if you didn’t have a community radio station or a college radio station or grew up in a city where someone was hosting shows,” she said.
The next year, they purchased the current Low Key Arts building on Arbor Street and began building their nonprofit as a way to continue hosting festivals without getting stuck with the bill at the end of the night. Childs had no previous experience establishing a nonprofit organization, but eight months later she had successfully set up Low Key Arts as a 501 (c)3 nonprofit.
During her tenure as a co-founder and board member, Childs has procured a wealth of memories from hundreds of shows that have passed through the doors of the Low Key Arts building. Some of her favorites include shows where the band utilized a different part of the building for each set and workshops where one man turned the building into a functioning guitar by suspending wires across the inside of the building.
Over the course of the next several years, Low Key has expanded to include filmmaking,
radio, several workshops, additional music festivals, and fundraisers hosted throughout the year. With each festival, more and more talent rushes into town from all over the world. Bands from as far off as Iran and Japan have graced the stage inside the venue.
“I think that we’ve brought some recognition to the younger generation and what they have to offer. I think we also brought a fresh look to the town and we put Hot Springs on the map to a group of international artists,” she said.
Their filmmaking venture, Inception to Projection, gave way to Arkansas Shorts. Although it began only as a fundraiser for the music festival, the film festival has filmmakers from across Arkansas flocking to town to share their creativity with the public. Now, it is the second-longest running program sponsored by Low Key Arts.
Childs said they had always been an artistic element to the Valley of the Vapors but it’s become more prominent over the years, especially now since the executive director is an artist and musician. With each event hosted by Low Key Arts, it’s apparent they plan to continue to encompass more of the arts into their organization and branch out in collaborative projects with other area nonprofits.
In June of 2016, the dynamic couple decided to step away from the helm and pass it to the next generation of creatives in Hot Springs. Although she cannot tell what the future holds for Low Key Arts, she said their past success is a great marker for what’s ahead.
“Ultimately I’m very proud. I’m proud of the work we’ve done, of the space we’ve created for the community because it’s now a community art space. You know, for 14 years some of the people who are very active on our board, in our events, and the artists around town grew up here. Many of them are 30 years old or younger and I met them when they were teenagers. I feel like we gave this opportunity for them to grow and produce something as amazing as the Valley of the Vapors, Hot Water Hills, and a community radio. We’ve provided an art space for people in our community who otherwise wouldn’t have it,” she said.
To learn more about Low Key Arts and the events they host, visit http://www.lowkeyarts.org.