ACANSA, a five-day arts and cultural festival entering its fourth year, begins Wednesday in the downtowns of Little Rock and North Little Rock.
The name for the festival is not an acronym, but a Native American word used by the Quapaw Tribe to form the basis of where Arkansas came from meaning “southern people” or “downriver people,” depending on the translation.
It’s modeled after the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina “which is kind of the biggest and most well respected example of this in America,” says Dillon Hupp, first year executive director for ACANSA. “It’s really just a five day celebration of all different forms of art; theater, dance, music, ballet.”
This year’s festival will include music performances by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub, and an already sold out Secret Sisters show at South on Main. There will also be theater performances and traditional visual pieces of art hanging in galleries. Among one of this year’s highlights is The Complexions Contemporary Ballet, performing at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, which Hupp says is “one of the most sought after modern dance performance companies in America right now.”
In terms of setting and location, ACANSA has more in common with a festival like SXSW in Austin, Texas rather than Riverfest, the long-running festival along the Arkansas River which ended this year. Multiple venues, like the Joint, The Rep, the Ron Robinson Theater, and Argenta Gallery, are used across downtown Little Rock and the Argenta district in North Little Rock for the various performances.
“My advice for first timers would be to try and see something different every night,” says Hupp. “We have theater, we have music, we have dance, and it’s really some world class stuff that we’re excited to bring here to central Arkansas. So try to get a full spectrum of experiences and don’t just try to focus on one thing.”
Last year’s festival brought in over 3,000 people and Hupp is hoping to increase that number to over 5,000 this year. Audience members 17 and under will get free admission into the festival.