Exchange Matters / May 21, 2024

Seeing the World from Little Rock, Arkansas 

By Tommy Priakos, Program Officer, Global Ties Arkansas  

From March 13 to April 10, Global Ties Arkansas was pleased to welcome close to 2,500 guests to the traveling Impact of Exchange photo exhibit in Little Rock, displayed on the grounds of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military Museum. The exhibit combines storytelling, public art, and international exchange programs and depicts 38 images taken by U.S. citizens abroad on 20 U.S. government exchange programs that are printed across six large photo-vinyl cubes.

Impact of Exchange exhibit ribbon-cutting event. All photos provided by Global Ties Arkansas.

Hosted in collaboration with the Office of Alumni Affairs at the U.S. Department of State, Global Ties U.S., and Photoville, the exhibit both increased awareness within our community of the work of Global Ties Arkansas, and highlighted the variety of international exchange opportunities available to U.S. citizens through the U.S. Department of State. Historically, Arkansas has been on the lower side of individuals taking part in exchange programs, prompting its selection for this exhibit, which is traveling to five cities across the United States with similar low rates of exchange program participation. 

Our team worked closely with local resources and partners to bring the exhibit to Arkansas. Stephan McAteer, Executive Director of the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, was invaluable in hosting the exhibit on the museum’s grounds. We also had the support of our Board Chair Vernon Markham and organizations like the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, a nonprofit that provides training for rising entrepreneurs and creatives.  

Several special events marked the exhibit’s one-month run including a “cube-raising” dinner with our volunteers and Photoville staff on installation day; a celebration dinner at the home of our Executive Director, Toni Carr, that included a visit to see the exhibit; and a “Music in the Cubes” event with local artist The Big John Miller Band, which drew the attention of passersby including firemen from the station across the street who came to listen and see the exhibit. 

Spring break brought the opportunity to partner with the Regional Innovation Hub. With their help, we welcomed 10 participants, including an elementary school teacher and her daughter, to make constellation-themed silk-screened cloth bags that were theirs to keep. Facebook posts and a calendar on the local NPR affiliate’s webpage announced the event to our local community.  

Our ribbon-cutting and evening reception were another wonderful way we celebrated the exhibit. We welcomed over 50 people during this event, including three Fulbright scholars, two Gilman scholars, and a staff member from the office of Arkansas Congressman French Hill. Our programming included food catered by Three Fold Noodle, and live music by local guitarist Brian Nahlen. 

In a written message to attendees, Representative Hill highlighted the important work of Global Ties Arkansas (and the larger Global Ties Network) in fostering “international relationships in an ever-increasing globalized world.” 

Visitors check out the exhibit.

“International exchange programs are one of the greatest opportunities we have to offer our students and young adults to understand our global neighbors and to provide new perspective on the United States,” Representative Hill said. “The more we understand and respect each other, the more prosperous and peaceful our world will become.”

A few ExchangeAlumni also spoke at the event about their exchange programs and how the experience shaped their personal and professional trajectories. Gilman Scholar Jackson Trahant said his exchange gave him the confidence to change his life. He is now studying law with the desire to change the station of other people. 

Another Gilman Scholar, Ra’phael Davis, shared how he often heard that students from the South, and Arkansas in particular, were not competitive, and how his exchange showed him how untrue that was. “I learned I was competitive, professionally and academically, with students from not just across the United States, but all around the world,” he said.

Ra’phael added that his exchange helped him develop strong intercultural communication and program development skills, and the confidence to share his ideas, including a proposal for a local refugee resettlement program that he presented to a room full of nonprofit leaders.  

News clipping featuring the exhibit in local news outlet, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

We closed out the exhibit’s time in Arkansas with a special Eclipse Day event. Between Little Rock’s location on the path of totality and the eclipse festivities co-organized by the MacArthur Museum and the adjacent Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts, we welcomed 700 people to the exhibit on April 8—the highest single day total of our four-week run. It was a fantastic way to end the exhibit’s time in Arkansas.

Global Ties Arkansas was thrilled to participate in this exhibit and help transport our community to destinations around the world. You can learn more about the exhibit HERE in my interview with our state’s local NBC affiliate, KARK 4 News.