Little Rock Look Back: LR voters overwhelming support bid to Restore Robinson in 2013

On Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, voters of Little Rock overwhelmingly chose to renovate the historic Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

By a vote of 5,183 For and 1,800 Against, Little Rock citizens approved a plan to use a portion of the city’s existing 2 percent restaurant and hotel tax to repay bonds for a renovation of Robinson Center.  The campaign was chaired by businessman Charles Stewart, restaurateur Capi Peck and former LR Mayor Jim Dailey.

Robinson has long been a landmark in central Arkansas. Construction of the Joseph T. Robinson Memorial Auditorium began in 1938 (after a December 1937 groundbreaking under a deadline) and officially opened February 1940. The structure was a PWA (Public Works Administration) project, and is an excellent example of the Art Deco style architecture of the time. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.

The facility is owned by the City of Little Rock and managed by the Little Rock Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The 1940 structure suffered from a wide array of deficiencies, including stage loading and unloading, stage size, acoustical insufficiency, dressing room access and inadequate wing space within the performance hall. Also, structural, mechanical and electrical issues, public circulation and outdated conference center spaces existed within the facility.

Knowing the center is in need of major upgrades if the facility is to continue to serve central Arkansas into the future, the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission (LRA&P) empanelled a Robinson Center Concept Team in October 2011. The group was tasked with evaluating all aspects of the existing facility, researching user needs, proposing conceptual solutions and estimating the cost and construction schedule of the proposed additions and renovations. The concept team was led by Mike Steelman of SCM Architects, PLLC, and included representatives from WD&D Architects, Shuler Shook Theatre Planners, Jaffe-Holden Acoustical Consultants, TME Inc. Mechanical and Electrical Engineers, ECI Inc. Structural Engineers, McClelland Consulting Engineers Inc. Civil Engineers, East Harding Construction, HVS Consulting and Hunt Construction Group.

Additionally, stakeholder and tenant organizations representing the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Celebrity Attractions of Tulsa, Oklahoma and the Double Tree Hotel participated in the planning. The concept team findings were presented publicly on June 5, 2012.

On January 17, 2013 the LRA&P announced the selection of Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, partnered with Ennead Architects, as the architectural and design team for the future renovations. On March 28, 2013 CDI Contractors LLC, partnered with Hunt Construction Group, were selected by LRA&P as the general contractors and construction managers.

On September 23, 2013 the final schematic renderings and cost estimates were presented publicly. The schematic plans depict major interior upgrades within the performance hall including additional volume to create a two-balcony setup, increased lobby space, acoustical improvements, theatrical upgrades, loading dock expansion, a larger stage area, and new dressing room facilities. Additionally, an enhanced modern ballroom and small conference center was unveiled. New technology, mechanical systems, and outdoor plaza spaces were included in the presentation.

Construction would begin on July 1, 2014.  It reopened on schedule and on budget on November 10, 2016.

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Jewish Federation honors Capi Peck, including for her work with Operation Song

On December 8, Capi Peck was the Grand Honoree at the Jewish Federation of Arkansas’ Bridging Worlds: The 15th Annual Jane B. Mendel Tikkun Olam Awards.  Among the reasons she was cited was her work with Operation Song.

The awards are named in memory of Jane B. Mendel who was active in many education and social issues throughout her lifetime as well as Arkansas’ Jewish community.  Tikkun Olam is Hebrew for Repairing the World.

Operation Song is a program to create an opportunity to transform service related issues, injuries and illnesses into a structured, musical outlet as an enhancement of traditional therapies and/or treatments.  Founded in 2012 and based in Nashville TN, it has produced over 600 songs with veterans of World Ward II up to service members in active duty.

Goodman and Dean with Operation Song

It pairs award winning composers and lyricists with the veterans. Earlier this year, Capi brought the program to Little Rock for a workshop which lead to a concert being performed of the songs which had been written during the workshop.

Two songs written by Operation Song based on Little Rock veterans’ experiences were performed at the awards program last night by Steve Dean and Don Goodman with Operation Song. “The Journey” told the tale of Derek Mumford’s childhood in Britain and subsequent evacuation to the US during World War II, while “Classified Top Secret” captured Gene Weinstein’s experiences working on classified missions during the war.

Congratulations to Capi, and thank you for introducing Operation Song to Little Rock!

Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Auditorium achieves a construction milestone

Many months behind schedule, it was 79 years ago today (December 8, 1939) that the construction of the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium was declared “substantially finished.”

On December 8, 1939, the work of the general contractor was complete. The building’s utilities were all fully connected as the steam line and electric transformer were hooked up. While the work of the general contractor was through, there was still much work to be done.

Though there were still unfinished portions of the structure, the exterior was complete and finished surfaces had been installed on the interior. Until the building was officially turned over to the City, the federal Public Works Administration still had to give approval for any uses of the building.Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Jr. told the press that he wasn’t sure when the City would formally accept the building. The connection of the utilities had used up the remaining funds, so there was uncertainty as to when the final tasks would be completed.

When it was built, Robinson Auditorium was the first municipal auditorium in the south central United States to be air conditioned. However, the air conditioning unit was not sufficient to cool both the music hall and the convention hall at the same time. In warm weather months concurrent events would not be able to take place on the two levels.

Happy Birthday to Diego Rivera

Today is the birthday of Diego Rivera.  He is one of the Culture Vulture favorite artists, so any excuse to discuss him and his relationship with the Rockefeller family is greatly appreciated.

One of Rivera’s masterpieces is 1914’s Portrait of Two Women which is part of the permanent collection of the Arkansas Arts Center. The official name is Dos Mujeres.  It is a portrait of Angelina Beloff and Maria Dolores Bastian.  The former was Rivera’s first wife.

This oil on canvas stands six and a half feet tall and five and a half feet wide.

Influenced by cubists such as Picasso, Rivera adopted fracturing of form, use of multiple perspective points, and flattening of the picture plane.  Yet his take on this style of painting is distinctive.  He uses brighter colors and a larger scale than many early cubist pictures. Rivera also features highly textured surfaces executed in a variety of techniques.

The painting was a gift to the Arkansas Arts Center by Abby Rockefeller Mauzé, sister of Arkansas Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.  At the 1963 opening of the Arkansas Arts Center, James Rorimer, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, remarked several times to Arts Center trustee Jeane Hamilton that the Met should have that piece. Jeane politely smiled as she remarked, “But we have it.”

Of all her brothers, Abby was closest to Winthrop. The other brothers, at best ignored, and at worst, antagonized the two.  Given the complicated relationship of Rivera with members of the Rockefeller family, it is not surprising that if Abby were to have purchased this piece, she would donate it to a facility with close ties to Winthrop.

(Though the Rockefeller brothers had Rivera’s mural at Rockefeller Center destroyed, he maintained a cordial relationship with their mother Abby Aldrich Rockefeller — well as cordial as an anti-social Communist could be with the doyenne of capitalist NYC Society.)

Diego’s third (and fourth) wife Frida Kahlo will be the feature of an upcoming exhibit at the Arkansas Arts Center.

40th Anniversary production of Ballet Arkansas’ THE NUTCRACKER this weekend!

Ballet Arkansas’ 40th Anniversary Nutcracker Spectacular takes the stage at the Robinson Performance Hall this December 6th – 9th , 2018 for four main stage performances and two student matinee performances. The largest holiday production in Central Arkansas, Ballet Arkansas’ Nutcracker has been a tradition in Little Rock for decades.

A two-act ballet, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa, with a score by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker is a timeless story about a young girl’s journey into a magical land, The Land of the Sweets, on one winter’s eve.

Joining Ballet Arkansas’ fourteen professional dancers onstage is a community cast made up of over 200 children and adults, including local dancers, previous Ballet Arkansas dancers, Ballet Arkansas board members, and local celebrities.

The production is enhanced with live music provided by the talented musicians of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Geoffrey Robson, and the ethereal voices of the Mount St. Mary Academy Concert Belles or the Episcopal Collegiate Choirs,

“The Nutcracker is a beloved Holiday classic that families look forward to each year as a part of their traditions, and this year’s production features fully updated choreography, a handful of holiday surprises, and much more!” says Associate Artistic Director, Catherine Fothergill.

In 2017, Michael Fothergill, Executive and Artistic Director of the organization took steps to re-vitalize the choreography in the 2nd Act. This year, Ballet Arkansas have renovated the 1st Act, while maintaining some of the time honored and fan favorite traditions. This updated show celebrates the past, breathing new life into the organization’s most beloved holiday tradition.

For the 2nd year in a row, Ballet Arkansas will be live streaming the matinee performances at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

Performances Friday, December 7, 7:00 pm, Saturday, December 8, 2:00 pm and 7:00 pm, and Sunday, December 9, 2:00pm.

This year’s performance includes an opportunity to purchase ‘sweet seats’ for $99 which includes the best seats in house and a special gift with purchase. Tickets range from $20-99 and are available by calling Celebrity Attractions Box Office at (501)-244- 8800 or by visiting Ticketmaster at https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/1B0054BEE444598E.

Sandwich in History at Curran Hall today (12/7) at noon

The Arkansas Historic Preservation Program’s next “Sandwiching in History” tour will visit Curran Hall at 615 East Capitol Avenue, in Little Rock at noon today, (December 7).

urran Hall is a great example of Greek Revival architecture and is one of few antebellum houses that survive in Little Rock. Construction began in late 1842. Mary Woodruff Bell (daughter of the Arkansas Gazette founder William E. Woodruff) purchased Curran Hall in 1884 and it remained in the Bell family until the last descendant, Avrill Tate moved out in 1993.

The City of Little Rock and the Little Rock Advertising and Promotion Commission purchased the property and with the assistance of the Little Rock Visitor Information Center Foundation restored the property and converted it into the Little Rock Visitor Information Center. It was opened on May 18, 2002.  Today the facility is run by the Quapaw Quarter Association, which also maintains its offices there.

The “Sandwiching in History” tour series focuses on Pulaski County structures and sites. The noontime series includes a brief lecture and tour of the subject property. Participants are encouraged to bring their lunches with them. The American Institute of Architects offers one HSW continuing education learning unit credit for members who attend a “Sandwiching in History” tour.

The tour is free and open to the public. For information, call the AHPP at (501) 324-9880, write the agency at 323 Center St., Suite 1500, Little Rock, AR 72201, send an e-mail message to info@arkansaspreservation.org, or visitwww.arkansaspreservation.org.

The AHPP is the Department of Arkansas Heritage agency responsible for identifying, evaluating, registering and preserving the state’s cultural resources. Other agencies are the Arkansas Arts Council, Arkansas State Archives, the Delta Cultural Center in Helena, the Old State House Museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission and the Historic Arkansas Museum.

Little Rock Look Back: Studio Gang announced as lead architect for re-envisioning of Arkansas Arts Center

On December 6, 2016, the Arkansas Arts Center (AAC) announced the selection of Studio Gang as design architect for its upcoming building project.

The five firms selected as finalists were Allied Works (Portland, Ore./New York), Shigeru Ban (New York/Paris/Tokyo, Japan), Studio Gang (Chicago/New York), Thomas Phifer (New York) and Snohetta (Oslo, Norway/New York/San Francisco).

Studio Gang was deemed the best fit for the project due to the firm’s elegant and smart approach to architecture, their understanding of the issues posed by the AAC’s current facility, their vision for the center as a cultural beacon for Central Arkansas and their commitment to sustainability and strength as urban planners.

Founded by MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, Studio Gang is an award-winning architecture and urbanism practice based out of Chicago and New York. A recipient of the 2013 National Design Award, Jeanne Gang was also named the 2016 Archiitect of the Year by the Architectural Review and the firm was awarded the 2016 Architizer A+ award for Firm of the Year.

Studio Gang is recognized internationally for a design process that foregrounds the relationships between individuals, communities and environments. The firm has extensive knowledge in museum, theatre and artist studio spaces, with projects ranging from the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Ill. to the Aqua Tower in Chicago to the expansion of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Since their selection, Studio Gang has brought on a variety of other members of the consultant team including:

In February 2018, Studio Gang released their first designs for the project.