YOU MAY NOT think of El Dorado as a hotbed for the performing arts. But you’d be wrong. This is largely due to the efforts of visionary Austin Barrow, a native son who returned home to help create what we now know as the Murphy Arts District, which opened to much fanfare this September. Acting on the premise that performing arts are salve to the community soul as well as a plank in the platform for economic growth, Austin works to celebrate Southern storytelling and musical talent in big-city-style venues that have brought blighted downtown buildings back to life.

On Being an Agent of Change: El Dorado went through a terrible economic downturn in the early 2000s, lost about 10,000 citizens and several big employers left. The city was left in a lurch. They had a few things going to stop the bleeding before I got here, but they hadn’t addressed quality of life. That’s what this effort is all about—changing the entertainment and cultural atmosphere in this area of the state. El Dorado, through the benefit of having some large companies still here, has always been a bit of an oasis. It made perfect sense for us to be the ones to invest in an arts and entertainment district.

On Confidence and Assertiveness: There’s probably not a problem that I can’t figure out. I might not have the answer, but I’ll go around and ask questions until I find it. Now, there have been many times that I’ve doubted my abilities, but what I lean back on is that I take a lot of time for myself, for thought and prayer, some time to let my head wrap around an idea. And the best advice I got when I first came here is that sometimes you’ve got to know that what you’re doing is right and just put down your head and go to work.

On Performing Arts in the Rural South: Every movie you see with a Southerner in it, most of the time we have a tough time talking, we’re barefoot and we’re missing our two front teeth. But the best musicians are Southern. The best storytellers are Southern. We just have a way with words and a way with storytelling that the world really likes, and it’s something that we don’t hold a light on.

On What Art brings to a Community: I would say it brings a cultural sense of the outside, of the other. It broadens the horizons. It introduces the uncomfortable, and it can also introduce levity and humor. It can change a person. A great concert, an amazing play can put a bit of the magical in life experience. I think it improves the quality of life. It makes you a more well-rounded and happier person. It makes you a kinder, a brighter human being.

This month at the Murphy Arts District: Shanghai Circus, The Muses, Erica Campbell, Phil Vasser & Kellie Pickler, and Home Free: A Country Christmas. Visit for tickets.