The Van Buren community embraces its cultural roots with an assortment of avenues available for artists and art enthusiasts of all ages.
Van Buren residents have a multitude of opportunities when it comes to enjoying the arts.
For 36 years the Center for Art & Education (CAE) has supported the community in Van Buren. Located in the restored St. Michael’s Catholic Church (circa 1912), the CAE has been offering a number of art programs for people of all ages and abilities, including visual art classes, dance, theater, summer art camps, integrated art programs through local schools, art competitions and more. The facility also features an art library and gallery that regularly hosts local and national artist exhibitions. The CAE currently serves 5,000 individuals of all ages.
The Van Buren School District Fine Arts Center serves as an exceptional resource for both the school district’s art education department and the community at large. Various concerts and recitals with an impressive line-up of professional entertainment events, as well as exhibition space highlighting the work of visiting artists can be found here. See the FAC’s exciting schedule at www.vbsd.us/FAC.
Across the river, the beautiful sounds of the Fort Smith Symphony are appreciated every season at the nearby Arkansas Best Corporation Center, while theatrical performances are presented at the Fort Smith Little Theater—the state’s oldest continuously operating community theater.
More than a dozen sites in Van Buren are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city’s six block Main Street is an award winning Historic District that features a host of charming shops, the River Valley Museum of History (located within the Old Frisco Depot) and the historic King Opera House, which was built in 1891. The restored opera house is a local landmark that hosts a calendar year of events.
One of the places listed on the National Register of Historic Places is the Drennen-Scott House, which once served as the home of Van Buren’s “founding father” John Drennen. Family members continuously occupied the home, built in 1836, until the University of Arkansas Fort Smith acquired it in 2005. After undergoing restoration in 2011, the house is now utilized by the university’s historical interpretation program and for other community uses.
For history buffs, a self-guided Civil War driving tour can be taken through Van Buren and Fort Smith. The war proved destructive for Western Arkansas, including Fort Smith and Van Buren, between 1862 and 1864. The tour starts at the historic train depot in downtown and stops at sites such as Fairview Cemetery, Logtown Hill, the Crawford County Courthouse, and Riverfront Park. A brochure is available through the Van Buren Visitors Center.
Van Buren and Crawford County host numerous family-friendly and community cohesion events throughout the year. The Old Timers Day Festival is a free event where arts and crafts exhibitors from several surrounding states feature what they have made. The Crawford County Fair is much anticipated every year and is held in Mulberry in September, followed by the Van Buren Fall Festival taking place in October. The event welcomes the autumn season with more than 200 exhibits featuring artwork, handmade goodies, antiques and collectables, along with carnival rides and games. The Halloween on Main Street celebration is a local favorite, filled with trick-or-treat activities that are fun for all ages.
After the autumn celebrations comes the Christmas season, which is widely celebrated in Van Buren. During the Christmas Open House, taking place in November, downtown merchants serve delicious treats while shoppers browse through decorated shops. In December, the Annual Court House Lighting kicks off the Christmas season. The Chamber hosts the Festival of Trees, filling the court house lawn with dozens of uniquely decorated trees, while serving great food and hot cocoa. The Main Street Merchants celebrate the holidays and our history that same night with vintage actives re-enacted in their storefront windows.
This is just a small sampling of community happenings in the area. Visit the Van Buren Visitors Center website at www.vanburen.org to access the area's full listing of events.