Commercial real estate developer and University of Central Arkansas board of trustees member Joe Whisenhunt was raised around music and cultivated an appreciation for visual arts on childhood visits to Western art museums during family trips.
Whisenhunt graduated Hendrix College in 1984 but was drawn to the arts at UCA thanks to his family’s involvement in the music program, and his connections and interests got him invited to join the UCA board of trustees.
With six kids, who all play piano like their father, Whisenhunt’s free time is limited, but he still finds time to dig into the local arts scene.
What are your responsibilities as a member of the UCA board of trustees?
The board of trustees is charged with managing the University of Central Arkansas and establishing general policies in keeping with the best interests of the university and the requirements of state law. UCA board of trustees members are appointed by the governor and serve seven-year terms. I am four years into my term, which expires in 2022. In 2018, I had the honor and privilege of serving as chairman of the board. In that capacity, I conducted the board meetings, acted as the coordinating arm of the board and served as an initial sounding board for the president.
What influenced your interest in the arts?
My mother (the late Margaret Whisenhunt) was a pianist, and she was the main influence and foundation for my love of music. Growing up, I was exposed to all different forms of music, from classical to pop. Church music was always a big part of my childhood, too, because my mother was the pianist and organist in our church. I played piano when I was younger, and I played trombone in the high school band...
When I was a kid, my family traveled out west each summer, and we would always stop at the Western art museums in Wyoming, Oklahoma and Colorado. I became fascinated by Charles Marion Russell and the way he depicted the West, as well as by Frederic Remington’s bronze statues and sculptures. My dad started collecting those when I was younger, and I’ve continued that.
How did a Hendrix graduate like yourself become a supporter of UCA?
When we moved to central Arkansas from northeast Arkansas, we became involved in UCA’s Department of Music and then-department chair Sam Driggers. My sister took percussion lessons at UCA, and my mother began financially contributing to the department of music in the mid-1980s…
When I started having kids, they became involved in music at UCA. They participated in Voices of Central Arkansas (VOCA), which is an award-winning, auditioned choral program for third through 12th grade singers. It’s part of the UCA School of Music. Through that exposure with my kids, I’ve grown to appreciate UCA more and more over the past 10 years.
Why do you feel supporting fine arts and art education is important?
More than 250 students major or minor in art, and another 750 major in the other fine arts and communication areas at UCA.
Investing in the arts is investing in human and civic potential. The arts — visual art, music and theater programs — have the unique ability to inspire and connect members of the community, enhance and enrich lives and make us more conscious of ourselves and others in the world.
From an economic development perspective, it is well-documented that those who study the arts graduate to become creative problem solvers, critical thinkers and independent learners in the workplace.
What are some of the things that make the fine and performing arts scene at UCA unique?
Some of the university’s most strategic accomplishments in the arts include: founding the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, the only professional Shakespeare repertory company in the state; progressing toward All-Steinway School status (exclusive use of Steinway pianos on campus), an achievement of only 118 schools globally; and offering courses and programs one can only find at UCA, such as the state’s only degree in film production.
As a supporter of arts education, how welcome was the announcement of the Windgate gift to UCA for construction of a new arts center? How does that change the game at UCA?
Most important, the Windgate Foundation’s $20 million gift will allow us to fulfill the facilities and scholarship needs that are worthy of our outstanding faculty and students. The gift has also catapulted us into a new category of fundraising, showing people that UCA is deserving of this type of investment.
Our existing arts facilities are located in five different buildings that are spread across campus. Faculty and students, even those within the same department, have little opportunity to collaborate or to gather informally. Our programs are top-notch, but our facilities are lacking. I believe this is one of the things that interested Windgate.
Do you have a favorite art form or any local artists you recommend?
I love Western art and other forms of realism. Barry Thomas is a fabulous local artist whose work I really love. I commissioned several pieces from him for our family and he’s done a fantastic job.
Laurels & Stripes
Saturday, March 30, 7 p.m. | UCA HPER Center