Arkansans of the Year

Eight men and women moving this great state forward—and who inspire us all to be better

They come from all walks of life. They come from the fertile fields of central Arkansas and the halls of the state Capitol. They can be found amongst priceless works of art and throngs of cheering fans. But for all their differences, the common denominator shared among them is the change affected under their watch—and the example they set for us all.

CHAD ALLIGOODRP_arlife_141027_5648b_T

Curator, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

As he makes his way through the museum exhibit he co-curated, Chad Alligood is nearly thrown off balance when a visitor knocks into him. The collision doesn’t faze him, however. In fact, the jostling of the crowd at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art thrills him. “I’m excited that I’m walking through the exhibition at 11:30 on a Monday morning and people are bumping into me,” Alligood says. “A full month and a half after we opened, people are still excited and engaged and having conversations about the work.”

The exhibition Alligood is referring to is State of the Art: Discovering American Art Now, a vast display of contemporary art by more than 100 under-recognized artists who, while perhaps known in their own communities, lack a national platform. The sheer diversity of the work, which hails from every region of the country (nearly 40 states are represented, including four Arkansas artists), is staggering. When visitors aren’t staring up at the giant, full-sized Lowrider Piñata, they’re gazing with awe at a colorful painting composed entirely of melted plastic or soliciting advice from the real-life mom staffing the curious—albeit appropriately named—Mom Booth. Mediums on display range from photography to painting to installation to video to sculpture and more.

With so much ground covered in terms of medium and aesthetics, it comes as no surprise that to pull it all together, Alligood and museum president Don Bacigalupi racked up nearly 100,000 miles (in many instances, venturing off the grid) to visit about 1,000 artist studios, all in a tightly packed, 10-month time frame.

So far, the show has lived up to its promise, and then some. Not only has the show attracted the attention of the aforementioned crowds—this October, the museum hosted approximately 48,600 visitors compared with 42,000 from October last year—it has garnered an avalanche of national media coverage—coverage that includes a front-page article in The New York Times, a piece in The Wall Street Journal, a travel blog for The Huffington Post, a segment on the CBS Evening News, and even a fashion shoot for Esquire magazine, which had coincidentally embarked on its own nationwide search looking for the “men who are redefining style all across America.” In turned out that Alligood fit the bill.

It wasn’t easy for him to find time to strike a pose for the Esquire shoot, however. In addition to juggling the ongoing commitments of State of the Art, he is preparing for two exhibits featuring work by Jamie Wyeth and Andy Warhol. For its part, the exhibition is scheduled to close in January; however, various offshoots are already up for discussion, including a potential documentary, a written travelogue, and even a second iteration of the exhibit. “The future of State of the Art is just unfolding,” Alligood says. “We’re talking about the possibility of it growing in a number of different ways. Suffice it to say that this story has still largely yet to be written.” —bb

MARCY DODERERRP_arlife_141028_5898c

President & CEO, Arkansas Children’s Hospital

The professionals who make up the staff at Arkansas Children’s Hospital have spent years in school—and many more on the job—learning how to take care of sick children, and Marcy Doderer, the hospital’s CEO, is no exception. But books and training can only teach so much. Some things have to be learned by living them, and Doderer knows this better than most.

The daughter of a pediatric cardiologist, Doderer volunteered at ACH as a teenager and decided then—long before she became a mother herself—that she wanted to be a part of that world when she grew up. She got a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in hospital and health administration, then started working her way up through the ranks of hospital administration in facilities around the country.

But then came the ultimate lesson: Her daughter Katie was born with an extremely rare and complex medical condition that essentially makes her brain forget to tell her lungs to breathe. For years, Katie required round-the-clock nursing care, along with countless visits to specialists and subspecialists who were sometimes far from home. As Katie’s mother, Doderer not only learned what it feels like to put her child’s life in someone else’s hands, she also experienced the devastation of having that someone make a costly mistake. In her daughter’s case, the error—which occurred years ago in a hospital outside Arkansas—led to additional surgeries and years on antibiotics for Katie. Now 16, Katie is doing well, Doderer says, but it’s not clear what the long-term implications might be.

Not surprisingly, eliminating those kinds of errors is one of Doderer’s primary goals as ACH’s CEO. The hospital recently kicked off a patient safety campaign called Zero Errors, and monitors around the campus display the number of days the hospital has gone without a medical error. Doderer tells her daughter’s story to nurses and doctors to drive home the potential consequences of making mistakes.

As any executive knows, however, a CEO doesn’t have the luxury of concentrating on just one area, no matter how important. Since she replaced longtime CEO Jonathan Bates in July 2013, Doderer—who was previously vice president and administrator of Children’s Hospital of San Antonio—has also overseen the home stretch of a successful seven-year-long capital campaign that raised about $170 million for the hospital. The money will help support two other areas of focus: positively shaping the overall health of children in Arkansas and expanding children’s services outside central Arkansas.

“It’s doable to create a system of care to take care of sick and injured children,” she said. “It’s harder to get into all areas of the state to make sure all children are immunized and have access to all the things that are necessary to create a healthy young person who can contribute back to Arkansas as a healthy young adult. We’re just learning how to do that.” —jbr

JODY HARDINRP_arlife_141030_6367a

Founder, St. Joseph Farm

“Today is an amazing day,” Jody Hardin says, easing into a folding chair while eagerly expounding on the wonder of this sunny fall day, the air redolent of dust and newly mown hay. As he talks, you learn that he sees even the most average day—which, for Hardin, begins at 5:30 a.m. when he rises to feed a flock of naked-neck chickens—as remarkable in some way. Actually, any day he’s promoting agricultural innovation could be described as such.

Asked if he’s “living the dream,” he chuckles before allowing that, yes, that describes the past 15 or so months since founding St. Joseph Farm and serving at the helm of the nonprofit Food and Farm Innovation Center there. His vision for the farm—situated on 6,300 acres of farmland smack in North Little Rock—is to promote sustainable agriculture while creating avenues for small farmers to earn a living selling produce on the local market.

At the former orphanage overlooking the Levy area sprawl and Interstate 40, Hardin—with the backing of Heifer Project International, the William J. Clinton Foundation, the Baptist Health Foundation and the Arkansas Community Foundation—this year established a small-farm training center to educate struggling Delta farmers. Projects now underway range from planting raised-bed gardens to designing a gently sloped “bioswale,” a natural way of cleaning water using plants as filters. The overall objective, Hardin says, is to develop cutting-edge “carbon-negative” farming systems that remove, rather than add, carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Hardin comes by his passion for agriculture naturally, given that five generations of Hardins have been farming in Lincoln County since the 1890s; his father still raises fruits and vegetables at the family homeplace in Grady. Hardin has farmed most of his life, except for the years he attended college at the University of Tampa in Florida and during a brief stint as a stock trader following graduation. He returned to the family farm in 1994 to help his father diversify their revenue stream by emphasizing food crops over cash crops such as soybeans. Since then, he’s become known as an advocate for small farmers and discovered that his passion goes beyond sowing and reaping: “I feel the work I’m doing is development work. I have a degree in economics, and that guides me every day.”

With his vision for St. Joseph Farm firmly rooted and growing strong, Hardin stepped aside from day-to-day farm management in November to focus on his next agricultural innovation. “I’m kind of like a startup entrepreneur who creates a project, gets it going and let’s someone else take over.” The transition frees him to focus on planning and finding funds for mobile, traveling farmers’ markets where Delta farmers can sell their produce.

What makes this particular October day so amazing, however, is the feedback Hardin received about St. Joseph Farm’s programs from a tour group of homeschooled students and their parents. “I’ve never had so many compliments in my life. … I think we are on to something here.” —ro

STEPHANIE HARRISRP_arlife_141015_3830c

Founder, Women Lead Arkansas

Any underlying note of weariness in Stephanie Harris’ voice the day after the Nov. 4 election shouldn’t be interpreted to mean she’s feeling down about the results. She’s merely tired from having sat up late watching election returns in between a couple of episodes of Orange Is the New Black. While Harris clicked on the Netflix series purely for entertainment, its theme of female empowerment makes it fitting election-night viewing for the woman who embraces the feminist label and views every election as an opportunity for her gender.

“There are many positive things for women that came out of this election,” Harris says, pointing to Republican Leslie Rutledge’s election as the state’s first female attorney general and an increase in the number of women in the state House of Representatives from 17 to 20. Although Harris’ ideology skews liberal, her political views are less important than fulfilling her self-appointed quest. As founder of Women Lead Arkansas, she hopes to help women of every political persuasion run for public office, take leadership roles and gain the power to shape policies affecting women and families.

“In all matters big and small, I just want to empower women to speak up, to be part of the conversation that our policymakers are having,” says Harris, an attorney whose full-time job is communications counselor for the Arkansas Supreme Court. She was inspired to form Women Lead Arkansas in part after reading a 2013 report in which Arkansas was ranked 41st of 50 for its proportion of women making up the state Legislature. She was appalled to learn that while women make up 56 percent of Arkansas’ electorate, none of the state’s U.S. senators or representatives are women.

To date, the organization—that’s Harris, a board of directors, a website and a Facebook page—has held two training sessions (attended by about 50 women) covering how to select an office to pursue, file to run for office, raise funds and organize a campaign. Harris devotes most of her free time raising awareness and sharing her vision by speaking to any group willing to listen.

“People talk about finding their passion, and I have totally found it,” Harris says. “I get such energy from the women I meet, and I’m so energized by the work there is to be done. This is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.” So, about those election results: “Let’s just focus on the good things women can do together.” —ro

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