Arkansas State Universityâs Arkansas Heritage SITES Program, State University, AR
Award Type: Honor Award
In the Arkansas Delta, an innovative university-based preservation effort is making big waves – teaching residents and visitors about the region’s heritage and boosting the local economy. These historic places may be modest in size, but the impact of their preservation is huge.
Since its inception in 1999, Arkansas Heritage SITES (System Initiatives for Teaching and Economic Support) at Arkansas State University (ASU) has restored three iconic structures in the Delta region—the Pfeiffer home and barn studio associated with Ernest Hemingway, the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union informal headquarters and the Lakeport Plantation—and transformed them into heritage tourism attractions. Beyond their value as doorways to the past and sources of local pride, these rejuvenated sites are proving to be engines for economic revitalization, sparking heritage tourism and spinoff business development in nearby communities. The sites now house museums and educational centers, interpreting a full century of the Delta's heritage from the plantation economy of the 1830s to the rise of the tenant-farmers' movement in the 1930s. The program has also established two National Scenic Byways, the Crowley's Ridge Parkway and Arkansas' Great River Road, which span across a 15-county region.
A key component of the program is ASU's Heritage Studies interdisciplinary program, which offers one of the few Doctorates of Philosophy that includes historic preservation. Using the area's cultural assets as a hands-on learning laboratory, the Ph.D. program both trains future preservation leaders and provides an important model for academic institutions across the country located in or serving rural communities.