While politics seem stalled by the sharp rise in covid infections, a significant move to continuing the University of Arkansas flagship campus as a book publishing mecca for the state was announced last week.
As the University of Arkansas Press has published hundreds of books, catalogs and journals since it was established in 1980 as the university's publishing arm, a major gift was announced which will have a significant impact on the future of titles from the UA Press.
The University of Arkansas Press was to be celebrated last year but, with the covid outbreak, it has extended its original 40th anniversary and will soon be converting all of its titles to digital format while building on its arts publications.
How did all of this come about?
Cue the Springdale-based Tyson Family Foundation. According to a recent announcement, the foundation will provide a $300,000 grant to support that work of the UA press.
While the compact was announced, it gained little publicity in NWA, but across the country, several larger, more prestigious university presses sat up and took notice.
The foundation's grant will establish the "Tyson Digital Library Fund" and the "Tyson Arts Publications Fund," supporting the press in the Division of Research and Innovation, according to the announcement of this pact.
And what a gift this will be for the preservation of all things written about Arkansas and especially some of the most significant books published at the UA Press since its founding in 1980.
According to the release from the Tyson Family Foundation, the UA Press legacy of involvement and gifts was again celebrated.
Many locally will remember, the Tyson's have been involved since the initial founding of the UA Press but were certainly present in the days when the UA Press was threatened with closure by a previous chancellor. Part of ending that effort was that the Tyson family stepped in with funding to make sure book publishing continues on the Fayetteville campus.
"My family has been a proud supporter of the UA Press for over 20 years, a legacy we are proud to continue through art publications and digital initiatives," said Olivia Tyson, president of the Tyson Family Foundation, in a written statement announcing the gift.
The $300,000 gift may seem to pale in comparison to other food-based initiatives from the Springdale protein provider; however, the amount will certainly have a direct impact on the UA Press for maybe another four decades.
The Tyson Digital Library Fund will be used to recoup previous investments in digital book technologies, including the conversion to eBooks of about 300 titles.
The UA Press will also use the monies for continued investment in digital book technology, including converting the remaining titles in its catalog.
"For decades, my family has been proud to be a part of this legacy and continues its support through this gift. Personally, I'm honored to support our vital and vibrant literary community, and the UA Press is proof that creativity and the arts flourish right here in Northwest Arkansas," Tyson added.
The gift will continue a plan begun by Mike Bieker, director and publisher of the University of Arkansas Press.
The Tyson Art Publications Fund comprises the remainder of the grant and will support books in the press' art list, emphasizing those books authored or contributed to by Tyson Scholars. These scholars are doctoral candidates or equivalent, post-doctoral researchers and senior scholars who are part of the Tyson Scholars of American Art Program, created in 2012 by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Since it was established, 46 scholars have been named.
The press has consistently published about 20 books per year, Bieker said. It has about 800 books, and almost all are still in print. New publications are available in digital and print formats. It also releases audiobooks.
Over the next three to five years, Bieker looks to further collaborate with the UA Libraries, specifically regarding low-cost and open-access educational resources for students. He also looks to improve its online store and develop customer relationships.
Another focus includes expanding its regional list, and the press is developing plans to publish smaller nature books, Native American poetry and good works of Arkansas history.
Good news for the UA Press and book publishing on the flagship campus.
-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.