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NWA Civic Lab began as Southside Civic Lab in 2017 when Artist’s Laboratory Theatre was headquartered in South Fayetteville.

The Civic Lab process begins with facilitated “listening parties,” which allow community members the opportunity to add their input to the conversation. The goal is to identify issues that repeatedly come up in these listening parties, which then become the thematic concerns of the project. The process then moves into a research phase in which selected community members from a variety of social and economic backgrounds, termed “Neighborhood Ambassadors,” engage with the topic first-hand and report back on their findings.

The first Civic Lab revolved around themes of housing insecurity, homelessness, and gentrifications, issues that became the core of the script The Good Person of South Fayetteville, which was developed out of these community conversations.

In June 2019, The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre received the Robert E Gard Award from Americans for the Arts for the Southside Civic Lab project. This is a national award that “celebrates exemplary work at the intersection of the arts and community life.”

The next Civic Lab project focuses on issues related to transportation and community access to public transit. Again listening parties will allow for community engagement, and Artist’s Lab will again work with Neighborhood Ambassadors, who will conduct “community system audits” wherein they will ride the bus, attend public meetings, and will share their personal experiences with transportation and public transit.

What is the NWA Civic Lab?

The NWA Civic Lab is a 12-month long community-based, site-specific theatre project that explores civic issues impacting communities of Northwest Arkansas. The project will culminate in the creation of an original play. Audiences will attend public events related to the topics of the play, such as facilitated community conversations, or Listening Parties, that will steer the focus of the development of the play, as well as staged readings of the script in development.

An Invitation to the Springdale Listening Party

The theatre will host a NWA Civic Lab Listening Party on the topic of public transit at Arts Center of the Ozarks on Dec 8, 2019 at 2 PM. The event is a community conversation about the current transit needs and vision for the future of public transportation in Northwest Arkansas. Arts Center of the Ozarks is located at 214 S Main St in Springdale. The event is free and open to the public. You can reserve your ticket here.

Event Details

  • 2:00 PM Doors Open. Attendees are invited to give input about public transit through interactive maps, story booths, and surveys.
  • 2:45 PM Story Circles Begin

What’s Next for the NWA Civic Lab?

Next up for the Civic Lab is the final stage of the Southside Civic Lab: a performance of Good Person of South Fayetteville staged on the South Fayetteville bus routes, thus connecting the two areas of focus from our past and present topics—housing insecurity and public transit. The Artist’s Laboratory Theatre are also developing a play with Venceremos, a workers’ rights organization, on the creation of a new play titled No Somos Maquinas (We are Not Machines), that examines and critiques the poultry industry and centers the experiences of poultry workers in the region.

For more information and questions, contact Erika Wilhite, Artistic Director at or visit