Dean Peter MacKeith, at left, and Ryan Watley get their photo taken during an awards ceremony held on Dec. 9 in Vol Walker Hall. Watley is CEO of Go Forward Pine Bluff, which was a 2021 Dean’s Medal recipient.
The Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design at the U of A recently recognized five civic organizations across Arkansas that are working to build a better culture and quality of life in their communities through design-centered initiatives.
These organizations were awarded 2021 Dean’s Medals, an honor that Dean Peter MacKeith initiated in 2015, the year after he was appointed dean of the school, and first awarded in 2016. MacKeith created the Dean’s Medal honor to recognize the recipient’s significant contributions to the architecture and design culture of Arkansas and to the Fay Jones School’s students and their education. Over the previous five years, the Fay Jones School has given out 18 additional Dean’s Medals recognizing individuals and organizations.
“The Dean’s Medal is intended to recognize individuals and organizations who would not otherwise be affiliated with the school as alumni or as faculty or as staff, but who we believe, with us, serve the greater good of the state and serve the common cause of the betterment of the built environment,” MacKeith said.
The recognition of these Arkansas communities was part of a larger hybrid awards ceremony held Dec. 9, with some participants in Vol Walker Hall and others joining virtually. The event celebrated the school’s Alumni Design Award winners, Awards for Distinction and Golden Graduates — the school’s alumni who graduated 50 years prior, in 1971.
The Arkansas community recipients of the Dean’s Medal were the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust, Go Forward Pine Bluff, Murphy Arts District (El Dorado), The Lawrence Group (Wilson) and StudioMain (Little Rock/North Little Rock).
“This year we thought to recognize organizations that are deeply committed to communities and municipalities across the state of Arkansas, who have demonstrated that sustained commitment over many years, and more recently during the pandemic conditions,” MacKeith said. “By recognizing these organizations, we want to indicate to them and to their constituencies the common cause we share in the value of community-centered design. We share the belief that it is not just training in architecture or landscape architecture or interior design that commits you to the betterment of the built environment, it is simply acting as a good citizen … simply thinking quietly, even heroically, on behalf of your community. This is the common cause that we have: to build better communities, to build better lives for each other, individually and collectively, and to do so through the transformative power of design.”
Go Forward Pine Bluff
“I’m thankful that we were able to garner the attention of the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design. It really gave me some positive news while we were struggling, trying to figure out a few things around here,” said Ryan Watley, chief executive officer of Go Forward Pine Bluff. “It’s my hope that this recognition will continue to highlight the work that we’re doing and allow people to become more invested in the needs of this region of the state, and really be able to tie those things back to Central and Northwest Arkansas for investment opportunities to help solve some of our challenges.”
Go Forward Pine Bluff has a vision to make Pine Bluff a city its residents are proud to call home, transform Pine Bluff into a regional center and destination point, and to make the city “grow and go.” This effort creates a positive image for Pine Bluff, a metropolitan community that offers residents a safe and attractive environment, a skilled workforce and elevated academic performance for the city’s young people, plenty of entertainment, cultural and social options, economic development through capital investment, quality affordable housing and a revitalization of city governance. The U of A Community Design Center and the school’s emerging efforts in affordable housing design have worked with Go Forward Pine Bluff.
The Lawrence Group
“The Lawrence Group is humbled to receive this prestigious award and honored to be recognized for our contributions in furthering unique and innovative design and architecture in Arkansas,” said Norbert Mede, vice president of operations. “We will use this accolade to further invigorate our efforts in the near and distant future, benefitting and beautifying the region.”
Since 2012, The Lawrence Group, headed by the late Gaylon Lawrence Sr. and his son Gaylon Lawrence Jr., has worked to revitalize Wilson. The Lawrence Group moved their world headquarters to Wilson and acquired the farmland and significant commercial real estate holdings on the acreage, including much of the town of Wilson. The Fay Jones School has held several summer Design Camp sessions in Wilson.
Northwest Arkansas Land Trust
“The land trust is honored to receive this recognition,” said Terri L. Lane, executive director and chief executive officer of the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. “We appreciate the Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design for highlighting land protection as a critical component of community leadership. What we set aside is as important as what we build. The future is bright when emerging leaders are being shown this valuable connection.”
The Northwest Arkansas Land Trust has a mission to preserve and enhance the quality of life for all people in Northwest Arkansas through the permanent protection of land. The organization aims to ensure that the region’s abundant scenic beauty, clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation opportunities, local food supply and natural heritage are permanently protected for the benefit and prosperity of current and future generations. More than 5,000 acres are under the conservation guidance of the Northwest Arkansas Land Trust. The organization focuses on education, reaching more than 1,500 students annually, including many from the Fay Jones School, and working with the school’s faculty.
Murphy Arts District
“Murphy Arts District (MAD) feels extremely honored to be a Fay Jones School of Architecture and Design Dean’s Medal recipient,” said Pam Griffin, Murphy Arts District president and chief executive officer. “We cannot accept this award without thanking the DLR Group and design leader Paul Westlake. Our ultimate goal was to create a multi-venue arts and entertainment district that preserves and celebrates the unique identity of El Dorado while attracting new visitors to our area. This award is a much-needed reminder of why MAD was created and that we are not only a destination for South Arkansas, but Arkansas as a whole.”
The Murphy Arts District was created by the nonprofit organization El Dorado Festivals & Events. The goal is to provide the city of El Dorado with creative outlets to explore music, dance, theater, art and food in fun and immersive ways that hold true to the people and culture of El Dorado. The Murphy Arts District is a two-phase creation of an entertainment district aimed at revitalizing downtown El Dorado and increasing the quality of life for its residents. It harbors the spirit of Southern arts, culture and themes; the organization and district have created a festival calendar to share the talents of those who call the South their home.
StudioMain, located in Little Rock, is a nonprofit organization that mobilizes the design community and engages the local community to encourage innovative design for everyday life. The organization’s designers create solutions and interventions for the urban fabric. These solutions challenge designers and the public to participate in areas of the city ranging from the basic to the most engaging of spaces. The organization aims to educate the community, advocate for better design, collaborate with allied fields and challenge convention.
Past Dean’s Medal recipients include the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council, the Walton Family Foundation, TheatreSquared, Preserve Arkansas, the U.S. Forest Service and the Alex Foundation.