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  • Words by Stacey Bowers / Photography by Katie

Laying a Foundation: Local Architect Supported Career with Art

As a teen, Caleb Tyson knew exactly what career he wanted. When he graduated from Jacksonville High School in 2009, he planned to go to college and study to be an architect.

“Knowing that I wanted to be an architect and knowing the financial baggage that comes with that, I knew it was going to be difficult to pay for it all,” he says. “I knew that I was going to have to take it one year at a time, and that’s what I did… Since I was paying for most of my college out of pocket, I knew I had to apply for every scholarship possible…”

Tyson applied for Thea Foundation’s visual arts scholarship competition his senior year of high school. The scholarship's emphasis on creativity appealed to him, and the challenge seemed fun.

“I feel like I have always been an artsy person and that the arts have molded me into who I am today,” Tyson says. “Early on, in church and school, I would always look forward to craft time. I was the one that didn’t care for nap time, I just always wanted to keep my hands busy by drawing, painting, cutting, pasting and so on.”

He says his fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Grady, really opened up the world of art for him, teaching him about media beyond pencil and glue. In high school, he enrolled in two-to-three art classes per semester, trying to get a grip on as many techniques as he could.

“My High School art teachers, Coach Lindley and Mrs. McCune, were so supportive towards the arts and had a passion for them,” he says. “They wanted their students to have a passion for [the arts] just like they did. I couldn’t have asked for two better—and very different—art teachers to open my eyes to my passion for the arts.”

Tyson’s charcoal drawing of a boy looking through a chain-link fence, titled “Waiting,” placed in Thea’s competition, winning him $2,000 from the foundation. He chose to attend the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, which is one of nearly 30 colleges across the country that match Thea’s scholarships, meaning Tyson got way more money than he ever expected—$8,000 in addition to Thea’s award.

Thea’s scholarship competition is open to high school and homeschooled seniors in Arkansas regardless of their test scores, GPAs or whether or not they intend to major in the arts. “Caleb's story is a prime example relating to the research that shows that young people involved in arts activities, either in a casual or more formal setting, are more likely to excel in many areas, including math and science,” says Paul Leopoulos, Thea Foundation executive director. “Critical thinking skills, thinking outside the box and a passion for learning in many young people are results crafted through their participation in creative activities from music to art and drama, as well as creative writing and all other art forms.”

In 2014, Tyson completed his bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture with a lot less debt and was offered a job at Wittenberg, Delony & Davidson Architects in Little Rock. In 2017, he passed his final architectural registration exam, and currently he’s waiting on review from the Arkansas State Board of Architects to receive his architect license.

Now that exams are over, he’s hoping he’ll have a lot more time on his hands, which he’d like to get dirty with charcoal again. “I always liked working with charcoal the best,” he says. “It’s so messy, and I love that it’s so hard to ‘mess up.’”

Since 2002, Thea Foundation has awarded close to $2.25 million to 333 Arkansas high school seniors. Registration for Thea’s 2018 scholarship competitions in visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, film, fashion design and spoken word is open now, and competitions will be held in spring of 2018. To register, visit

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