Springdale students are gaining real-world experience through the Ozark Media Arts Festival that’s growing their potential, as well as Northwest Arkansas’ creative economy.
“School districts have a responsibility to help students understand what they’re capable of achieving,” said Dr. Jared Cleveland, Springdale Public Schools superintendent. “Springdale works as a district to develop programs, curriculum and real-world opportunities like OMAF so students can strive for future careers they are passionate about.”
Founded in 2011, the district-hosted Ozark Media Arts Festival provides networking opportunities to students and encourages student artists to seek careers in the arts by providing them real-world venues for competition. The festival showcases student work in areas such as broadcast media, film production, graphic design, photography and social media content.
Participants attend the festival from throughout the Midwest, traveling to Northwest Arkansas from as far away as Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, said Trent Jones, Springdale Public Schools communications director and Ozark Media Arts Festival founder. More than 500 students attended OMAF Oct. 4-5 participating in onsite competitions, a career fair and more than 20 workshops in downtown Springdale.
“Springdale Public Schools has done a great job of involving the whole state,” said Cassie Haley, Fayetteville Film Fest executive director. “It's generous, and it's a beautiful thing to see.”
The Fayetteville Film Fest celebrated its 15th anniversary Oct. 12-14, according to the nonprofit’s website. The festival aims to promote independent filmmaking, nurture diverse voices and foster a vibrant creative film community in Northwest Arkansas.
In addition to renting notable venues such as The Medium, The Apollo on Emma, Mano’s on Emma and the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History, the festival’s creative economy footprint extends well beyond event spaces, said John Cooper, Springdale communications assistant director and former OMAF director.
Festival participants likewise benefit from the services of local nonprofit spaces, hotels, fueling stations, restaurants, private lodging rentals, catering, grocery stores, retail shops for props or wardrobe, food trucks and printing services, he said.
The role of a school district is relevant, engaging and purposeful in developing strong communities and family units, Jones said.
“Springdale Schools, I think, is on the cutting edge of that,” he said.
OMAF’s roots extend deep into video production initiatives Springdale Public Schools began in 1993-94, when the district established one of the first district multimedia programs in Arkansas, Jones said.
There were less than 15 such programs within the state’s more than 225 school districts when he came on staff in 2004, he said. There are over 100 district multimedia programs today.
“One of the things I'm the proudest of in this journey that we're on in Springdale Schools is the development of the multimedia world ecosystem that we have built,” Jones said, adding the district’s YouTube channel is the nexus point for district communications.
Students in grades K-12 learn relevant skills by contributing to producing YouTube content through technology initiatives and classes such as marketing, photography, graphic design, desktop publishing and video production, Jones said. Students use the skills gained in the classroom to share stories as wide-ranging as community tornado recovery broadcast news stories to livestreaming school sports and extracurriculars.
The district YouTube channel began in August 2012 and reached 10 million views in January 2023, Cooper said.
The channel had about than 10.9 million views at the time of publication, according to the channel’s metrics. Comparable regional school district YouTube channels had total views that ranged from approximately 59,000 to 152,000 at the time of publication.
The district is working to give students exposure to relevant, hands-on opportunities to gain skills that could lead to high-skill and high wage jobs following high school, Jones said.
Don Tyson School of Innovation senior Michael Arriola said he’s been taking video production classes since he was a freshman. He’s also participated in OMAF the last three years and currently works as a district communications intern.
“I am taking Av Tech LAB, which is the highest class for video production,” Arriola said, of his current class load.
He said he likes to put his perspective into his assignments to allow the viewer to see a film in a different way.
The skills Arriola learned through Springdale production classes and real-world, multimedia competitions such as OMAF helped him build the production skills necessary to work in a professional environment, Jones said.
“It does help me for the future since I will be most likely with a team and there will be a deadline,” Arriola said. “I love working with a team and doing pre-production all the way to post in four hours.”
The 17-year-old said he’s still exploring his options following high school but he’s considering making advertisements, event recaps, movies or documentaries and has competed and won in some similar OMAF competitions.
Bayleigh Jones, a Springdale High School Education Accelerated by Service and Technology facilitator, has participated in or supported OMAF about nine times. She said the festival gives students a glimpse of real-world multimedia career expectations.
“There is pressure to tell stories on the fly and in a short period of time,” she said. “Having to shoot, edit and produce a product in a short amount of time is great practice for a professional media environment.”
The educator said OMAF offsets what students are learning in the classroom.
“It really makes things relevant for some of the technology my students use in my classroom,” Bayleigh Jones said. “They are able to use what they have learned in EAST and create meaningful work."
The community is taking notice of the multimedia skills Springdale students are developing, said Dan Robinson, Fayetteville Film Fest technical director.
“We've had the opportunity to have Springdale students involved with the festival,” he said, adding the district's students gained his attention in 2019 by developing the entire media package for the Bentonville Film Festival.
The Bentonville Film Festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary June 10-16 and amplifies storytellers who identify as female, non-binary, LGBTQIA+, Black Indigenous or people of color and people with disabilities in entertainment and media, according to the festival’s website.
“We've been able to engage them in professional ways, not to mention screening the things that they make,” Robinson said of Springdale students.
The district students who’ve worked with the Fayetteville festival grasp the significance of their contributions in the areas of graphic design, social media management, photography, videography, creating news packages and drone operations, he said.
“They understand the ethos,” Robinson said. “When they come in, they know what it's like to interact with adults. They understand the expectations and the level of professionalism that's needed.”
Students are confident in their abilities because Springdale has helped youth grow from students to professionals who can meet the needs of Springdale’s growing creative workforce, Robinson said.
“They're going to be the backbone of what's happening,” he said. “We have got to have qualified crew members, we've got to have qualified people who understand specialties.”
District’s have a responsibility to help students develop marketable skills that meet the region’s workforce needs, he said.
“I do think Springdale Schools is a leader in this area of growing the creative economy -- teaching students that there is a creative economy and how to go after it,” Robinson said.
The district wants students to understand the skills they're learning are important and relevant, Trent Jones said.
“They can be skills that they can carry into meaningful and purposeful careers, where they can raise families and live in a Northwest Arkansas community they don't have to move away from,” he said. “The first step in the journey is public schools.”
Springdale Public Schools is the largest and most diverse school district in Arkansas with 31 pre-K, elementary, middle, junior and high schools supporting about 23,000 and some 2,000 staff members.