Stitches—A Collective for Inclusion

Stitches is an artist and community activist collective in Springdale. In 2015, co-founder Samuel Lopez asked several friends interested in art and the community to join him at a downtown master planning initiative meeting in Springdale. The group’s participation had a profound and positive effect on the master plan vision.

Soon after the community meeting, Stitches jumped into action by holding several community service and cultural awareness events at the Jones Center for Families in downtown Springdale. Their work and high energy was quickly noticed by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, who contacted the group to develop a pop-up light art show for one of the museum’s events. Stitches has continued to find ways to serve the Northwest Arkansas community, becoming an important regional voice for the arts, youth and inclusive community development.

The following answers have been compiled from a group interview with Stitches.

1. What is the mission of Stitches?
We are a group of artists and activists who saw challenges in our community that needed to be solved. There was a misunderstanding and a misrepresentation of young people—particularly people of color and young immigrants—within Springdale. Stitches came together to show that there is a place in the conversation for young people, for artists and for the community of immigrants. We want to help create a new world that empowers and inspires people to learn, collaborate and discover.

2. What are some of the barriers to getting your voice heard?
We don’t always have the same opportunities as people in white America. We don’t always have the ownership of conversations that affect our community. We don’t always fit in. Springdale is a large community of blue-collar workers and that is the representation and the stigma of our community. There are a lot of hard working people, but that working class is often under-represented in community conversations.

Another big problem is the language barrier, trying to get folks to understand the technical and legal information in conversations from both parties. This often creates disjointedness, particularly within the older immigrant community.

We also see specific barriers for young women, as most conversations in places of power are dominated by men. Women in society are looked at as being quiet. Even within Stitches, we weren’t aware of this issue. We have become aware of this and work hard to make sure everyone in the group is heard. Empowering mothers, daughters, grandmothers to be bold, not to be tamed, and to speak their minds is a big part of our efforts.

3. There are a lot of issues to tackle in the world. How do you find focus?
We are all individually passionate about something, but the strength of the Stitches approach is our process to find the connections between all those passions. The team compares our individual approaches to a subject and then works together to come up with a collaborative first step. We then keep engaging with each other throughout the entire process of the project…and we are learning how to chew one bite at a time instead of eating the whole apple at once.

4. How do you build a community around a Stitches project or initiative?
Stitches is a collective of people, but we each offer distinctive perspectives. Our success has put us in a position of influence and our growing diverse network of talented people make a big difference. Finding where we fit into a conversation is important and we want to use that platform to give people a voice.

We have been around for three years and are now just getting to a solid foundation…a solid platform for our work. Patience is something that you don’t always have as a 17-year old. There are times we start stressing about how slow things move and it takes time for the momentum to build up. But when it starts moving, other people come along to help push it. And that is where we are. More people are seeing our work and now more people are coming to us. That expands our network, which expands our collective efforts.

Part of this learning process is also about how to handle the expectations that people put on us as part of the group’s success. We have been working with our hearts and people are noticing, inviting us to expand or asking us to help with their projects.

5. What is your definition of place?
The members of Stitches have a certain reverence for Springdale and we don’t know if we could have gotten the same feeling anywhere else. We still see the issues, the challenges and still feel the problems of this community. We have invested a lot of our blood and sweat in the ground here. To create a new world of empowerment and to reap what we sow, our intuition says to keep pushing, to keep moving forward.

Be the light in the dark room, be a welcoming soul, make your bed every morning, don’t limit yourself with a single perspective and surround yourself with amazing people. These are the ingredients of place. Life is a beautiful mess and we can clean it up together.