A Hope native, Pam Griffin has been a key player in the formation of El Dorado Festivals and Events, Inc. (Murphy Arts District) since joining the organization four years ago. She was recently promoted to president and chief operating officer, previously serving three years as treasurer and chief financial officer of the organization.
After graduating from Louisiana Tech University, she earned her CPA and spent 11 years in public accounting based in Little Rock. Several private company positions later, she decided to apply her unique mix of passions for business and entertainment to help revitalize the South Arkansas region she calls home.
Griffin also enjoys serving the community in numerous volunteer positions, including past chairman of the El Dorado Chamber of Commerce and a board member of the South Arkansas Arts Center, Main Street El Dorado and Turning Point.
What have been some key lessons learned in developing the El Dorado Arts District?
Investing time in developing collaborative relationships with partner organization in the community, as well as key persons of influence, pay off with short- and long-term dividends, including community buy-in, legislative support and advocacy.
What advice would you give communities wanting to develop their own special entertainment and/or arts districts?
Be willing to be flexible in your ambitions or vision. As the project evolves, new conditions will emerge and the ultimate result of the project may look different from the original plan. Additionally, ensure that you and your team are committed to thinking big and owning the tiny details.
What is the management structure for the district?
El Dorado Festival & Events, Inc. a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit entity, does business as the Murphy Arts District (MAD). We have a staff of 37 full-time people who manage and operate the Griffin Restaurant, MAD Amphitheater, First Financial Music Hall and MAD Playscape.
How has the city been involved?
The city of El Dorado passed two consecutive economic development sales taxes and through these sales taxes helped to fund the development of the MAD Amphitheater, MAD Playscape and Oil Heritage Park. The city has also supported our construction through infrastructure. Additionally, the El Dorado Advertising and Promotion Commission has supported our marketing efforts.
What are the funding mechanisms for programming and administration?
Ticket revenues, food and beverage revenues, membership fees, foundation grants, corporate sponsorships and donations and individual contributions.
Aside from tourism, what direct impact has the Murphy Arts District had in the recruitment and retention of talent to support your business and industrial base?
MAD has been a powerful tool for employee recruitment and retention, as well as community pride. The El Dorado Promise has also provided a major boost by offering graduates of El Dorado High School with a scholarship covering tuition and fees that can be used at any accredited two- or four-year, public or private educational institution in the U.S.
Furthermore, the Medical Center of South Arkansas is developing innovative partnerships with specialty hospitals to dramatically broaden the scale and scope of services provided. Partnerships with entities such as Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Arkansas Heart Hospital, among others, contribute to community vibrancy and sustainability.
The El Dorado-Union County Chamber of Commerce continually reports education and health care as the core issues for newcomers to the area. In the year after MAD’s opening, the chamber experienced a 5,000 percent increase in the number of monthly relocation information requests.
What role does municipal planning—including downtown master planning —play in the development of the Murphy Arts District?
MAD founders looked around the country for other municipalities with assets and conditions similar to ours. We were not able to find any other place that matched the uniqueness of El Dorado that was also aligned with the ambitions of the Murphy Arts District. That resulted in us developing a plan that incorporated best in class municipal planning tools.
MAD was fortunate to take advantage of previous downtown preservation efforts led by residents Richard and Vertis Mason as well as the work of Main Street El Dorado and the South Arkansas Arts Center. The Masons were instrumental in saving a significant number of downtown historic buildings, Main Street El Dorado tapped into the community’s interest in live musical entertainment, and the South Arkansas Arts Center fostered interest in community arts and culture through arts education and community theatre.
The work of these individuals and organizations led to the arts and entertainment legacy of El Dorado, ultimately laying the foundation for the creation of MAD.