Introducing our newest Hometown Hospitality Heroes: Sharon Chapman and Melissa Schoenfeld

Once a quarter, our staff selects a member of the Fort Smith community to be named a Hometown Hospitality Hero.

Fort Smith and our region benefit tremendously from conventions and events brought to our area. Attracting and retaining these happenings relies on the efforts of everyone in the hospitality industry. Often, Fort Smith attracts these conventions, events, and tournaments after individual local citizens decide they’d like their group’s event to be held in Fort Smith and take the initiative to bring a potential event to our Convention & Visitors Bureau’s attention. We work with these citizens to win the bid, attract attendees and help their idea come to life. The citizens that our staff feels have brought the most positive exposure and economic impact to our city we name Hometown Hospitality Heroes. We appreciate these people and all of those who help us bring more visitors to Fort Smith more than we can say!

Our newest hometown hospitality heroes are: Sharon Chapman and Melissa Schoenfeld, long time organizers and supporters of the Western Arkansas Ballet. Melissa Schoenfeld, Executive Artistic Director of the Western Arkansas Ballet, and Sharon Chapman, Chair of the 2013 Regional Dance American Southwest Festival, were both instrumental in bringing the 2013 Southwest Festival to Fort Smith in April of this year.

Left to Right: Megan Clover, Elizabeth Gabbard. Melissa Schoenfeld, Sharon Chapman, Marica Porter, Charlotte Scott

Art does not flourish in isolation. It grows in an atmosphere of candor and sharing! By attending festivals RDA member companies gain a wider perspective about their current level and their potential for progress. These festivals are essentially both classroom and performing events hosted by an individual company or region which draws upon the resources of the local community.


The culmination of the activities occurs in the festival where the dancers perform and take classes while the directors and board members share ideas and network. Scholarships are awarded to dancers and major professional companies, colleges and universities scout for their future talent.



The event took place in three days, April 6-8, but bringing the event to Fort Smith had been a dream of Melissa’s for many years. Officially starting the formal process to bringing this event to Fort Smith began in 2009. Melissa and her committee had specific protocols that had to be followed. The first step is always to obtain the backing of your board by providing them with the information they need to see the benefit of hosting this event. After extensive research and organization, Melissa was able to present this event in a light that was positive and beneficial to the organization, the board was ready to partner with the City of Fort Smith to become the hosts for the 2013 Southwest Festival.


Their next step was to begin researching local information regarding local lodging establishments, the Fort Smith Convention Center, the Arkansas Best Performing Arts Center, Fort Smith Symphony and many other local businesses. These relationships were formed and grew over the course of the next four years. Many meetings were held here locally. Relationships were established with out of state dance schools, vendors and speakers. These relationships grew over the course of four years. In fact, the 2013 Southwest Festival brought together talented people from eleven states; Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New York, Washington D. C., Georgia, Washington State, Missouri and California.


To host such an event one must have capital and volunteers readily available. Western Arkansas Ballet gathered together a total of over 115 volunteers. Sharon Chapman was in charge of making sure that all were working in their teams and the needs of their participants and attendees were met. Sharon tells us, “I want to make sure to give appropriate credit to the wonderful Western Arkansas Ballet staff and the volunteers who were so dedicated to making this event successful. We have a community of individuals and businesses that are willing and enthusiastic about supporting the arts if they are inspired to do so. Fort Smith has so many resources and can do so much as a community when we decide to come together. I am really proud of the impression that our community made to all the participants that came from around the country.”


Photo courtesy of Times Record


Staff also worked together to obtain many sponsors some of which included the Fiori Family Charitable Trust, Arvest Bank. Arkansas Best Corporation, Merrill Lynch and a large group of local couples and their families who made both financial and in-kind donations.


The results of organizing all these sponsors, volunteers, local resources and capital were one incredible event! Over 900 people were in attendance for three days. Attendees noted that Fort Smith Convention Center was an incredible venue. Not only did they receive top of the line facilities and service, but they were incredibly pleased with the event logistics and affordability of both the venue and the Fort Smith area. Melissa noted that because the Fort Smith Convention Center is a non-union house, in some instances their costs were less than half of what a union house would be.


Melissa Schoenfeld tells us: “Being members of Regional Dance America not only benefits the dancers from Western Arkansas Ballet but also the community of Fort Smith. Whether we have the luxury of hosting Festival here or we are in Houston, TX, Monroe LA, or Abilene TX, we are able to experience what is going on in the dance world outside of Fort Smith and bring those ideas back to home to better the arts in this area. The best aspect of our membership is showing off what comes out of this area to other states. I feel hosting the 2013 RDA/SW Festival in Fort Smith, Arkansas left a wonderful, positive impression on the members and guests that attended.”


See! Ballet dancers at the Janet Huckabee Arkansas River Valley Nature Center! Dance Anywhere and Everywhere!


The first 2013 Southwest Festivals was held in the Fort Smith Convention Center in April, 2013. This event had a tremendous economic impact on our area; its total room nights are estimated at about 1000+ for out of town participant’s result in about $328,000 in direct economic impact and almost one million dollars in, total Economic impact created by this event.


Thank you, Sharon Chapman and Melissa Schoenfeld, for bringing the 2013 Regional Dance American Southwest Festival. We suspect this will not be the last Regional Dance Festival held in Fort Smith!


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