Mom Seeks Art in the Every Day

By KD Reep / Photography by Lily Darragh

Leslie golden with sons adam, 14, and ryan, 8.

Leslie golden with sons adam, 14, and ryan, 8.


Ask Wildwood Park for the Arts executive director Leslie Golden what her favorite thing is about Little Rock, and she is quick to tell you it’s all of the creative facets that can be discovered here. Leslie Golden has had the pleasure of working with artists, arts educators and administrators as well as others who value and support the arts throughout her professional career, but her most treasured creations are her two sons.

SAVVY: Tell us about your family and yourself.

LESLIE GOLDEN: I was born in Little Rock and have lived here most of my life. I have two sons: Adam, 14, who is in the eighth grade at Forest Heights Stem Academy; and Ryan, 8, who is in the third grade at Forest Park Elementary School. I studied at Hendrix College, the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

What is your day-to-day like? My day starts early with some quiet time and a jumpstart on the day’s events. If one of my boys wakes up early, we get to share a few extra minutes of one-on-one conversation. Once lunches are made and breakfast is in hand, we’re usually dashing out the door. I say a little prayer that each will be happy, healthy, smart and strong as they go about their days.

When I arrive at Wildwood, I take a moment to breathe in the fresh air of the park and bask in the beauty of Wildwood, be it the lushness of summer, the gorgeous canvas of autumn, mother nature’s architecture in the winter, or the fresh emergence of spring foliage and the aroma of daffodils, cherry trees and native woodland azaleas. 

One of the qualities I love about working at Wildwood is that no two days, no two events, are alike. It’s a creative atmosphere—there’s always plenty to do, exciting projects to plan and diverse aspects to manage. Wildwood is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that provides experiences in arts education, 105 acres of gardens and woodlands to explore, and concerts, festivals and events to provide a feast to the soul. It’s our job to build opportunities for artists and patrons from all walks of life to “create, recreate, celebrate.” 


Your boys have grown up at Wildwood. How has that affected them and you? Ryan was about 20 months old when I started work at Wildwood as managing director under CEO Cliff Fannin Baker. I’ve been blessed to be in an atmosphere where my kids were welcomed during weekends for volunteer calls, events or opening the park for patrons. On office work days, they may not like it so much, but they enjoy being able to explore Wildwood’s natural environment and to meet lots of people, from artists to volunteers, from patrons to teachers and members of our AmeriCorps teams comprised of young adults who dedicate a year to community service through the National Civilian Community Corps. 

What I hope my boys have learned is that community, the arts and quality time in nature are important to a life well lived. I think they understand the value of creating experiences that bring people together, the rewards of volunteering and earnest effort, the importance of always learning and growing. I hope they’re learning that there’s much fulfillment from the work and process as well as the fruition of anything they embark upon.

How do the arts influence you and your family? Bringing creativity to one’s life endeavors is important and makes people happier and more successful in general, I believe. All kids are naturally creative, and Adam and Ryan express their creativity in different ways. The boys’ father, Gary Wayne Golden, is a visual artist, so they come to the expression of their creativity naturally. They also both enjoy cooking and attend WILDKids Cook! classes led by Faith Anaya at the park. They both attend WAMA—the Wildwood Academy of Music & the Arts—as well as spring break outdoor adventures at the park with Central Arkansas Master Naturalists. 

“What I Hope my boys have learned is that community, the arts and quality time in nature are important to a life well lived.''

The LANTERNS! Festival is coming up. Tell us about that event and what it means to Wildwood. LANTERNS! is our biggest event of every year with up to 7,000 people attending in three nights when the weather’s right. The festival really captures all of our imaginations, and the proceeds are imperative to funding our general operations, and of course it’s a prime example of living our mission to enrich the lives of Arkansans of all ages by creating community through nature and the arts. The festival is anchored by Asian traditions celebrating the first full moon of the lunar year and features China, Australia, Hawaii, Greece, the UK and Brazil this year. It’s a great event for families.

What is your favorite thing about being a mom? These two great fellas who call me Mom inspire and challenge me to see the world through fresh eyes. I don’t remember ever thinking, “I liked them better when....” I think as parents we all wish our kids didn’t grow up quite so fast, though; the time flies! I love being here to watch (and hopefully influence and guide well) the people that they are becoming—their senses of humor, passions and growing knowledge of the world. That first “hi, Mom” in the morning always makes me smile, and I really enjoy the evenings when we can talk and read together before settling in for the night. 

LANTERNS! will be glowing February 19-21, at Wildwood Park for the Arts, 20919 Denny Road, in west Little Rock. Shuttles run from the Kroger on Chenal Parkway beginning at 6 p.m. nightly until 30 minutes after the event is over. Hours are 6 p.m.-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 6 p.m.-9 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets prior to the event are available online: $8 for adults, $4 for children age six to 12, free for children five and younger. Tickets at the door are $10 and $5. You can visit or call 501-821-7275 for tickets and more information.