Skip to main content

UA Little Rock Downtown Welcomes New Director

Dr. Marta Cieslak
Dr. Marta Cieslak is the new director of UA Little Rock Downtown Center. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

Dr. Marta Cieslak, until recently a visiting assistant professor at the Department of History at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, has been named the new director of UA Little Rock Downtown.

“We are so pleased for Dr. Cieslak to join the team,” said Dr. Jess Porter, executive director of the Center for Arkansas History and Culture. “Dr. Cieslak was selected for this position because of her impressive qualifications with nonprofit programming and public history. She sealed the deal with the unique vision she proposed for UA Little Rock Downtown as a place of community connections and the exchange of ideas. UA Little Rock is fortunate that Dr. Cieslak will be a key representative of our university to the community.”

As the director, Cieslak focuses on developing and curating educational, community, and professional programming at the Downtown space. The director serves as a university liaison through public relations, community engagement, and relationship management with internal campus stakeholders and external partners.

“This will be a very interesting challenge for me,” Cieslak said of her new position. “I’m really excited that I can implement all of the experience I’ve had in my professional life. In this position, I can utilize my background in academia, the nonprofit sector, and as a public historian to connect with the university community and the public.”

Cieslak describes herself as a “small-town girl from Eastern Europe.” She grew up in a Polish town, the name of which “includes letters that don’t exist in the English language” [Łęczyca]. She earned a master’s degree in American studies and a master’s degree in Polish language and literature from the University of Warsaw. Afterwards, she moved to the United States to pursue a Ph.D. in American studies with a concentration in transatlantic history from the State University of New York, University at Buffalo.

Prior to UA Little Rock, Cieslak also taught history at the University at Buffalo, worked as a multilingual program coordinator at Buffalo State Community Academic Center, where she developed educational programming for refugees settling in Buffalo, and as a curatorial assistant at the Buffalo Architecture Center.

Cieslak and her husband, Dr. Jonathan Bona, moved to Arkansas when Bona was offered a position at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, where he is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics. Cieslak joined the UA Little Rock Department of History as a visiting assistant professor in 2017, where she also coordinated undergraduate history internships and oversaw a peer mentoring program for history students.

UA Little Rock Downtown is the home of Joe Jones’s mural, “The Struggle in the South,” since 2018. Completed in 1935 at Commonwealth College in Mena, the mural serves as an example of protest art made during the Great Depression.

“My No. 1 goal is to promote the fact that we are the stewards of ‘The Struggle in the South,’” Cieslak said. “We have this incredible, painful but artistically beautiful artifact. One of my main objectives is to develop regular programming around the mural and its history to showcase how it connects to the history of the state and the country. The mural is the heart of the Downtown space. Since I am coming with a background in public history, I would love to see wide, diverse programming for all age groups at UA Little Rock Downtown.”

Cieslak also serves as president of the Polish American Historical Association. As one of the oldest professional historical associations in the country, the interdisciplinary organization is devoted to the study of Polish American history and culture.

Cieslak will also continue to teach classes at UA Little Rock. She is now developing a new course on the history of the Russian war in Ukraine.