13 Cultural Highlights of 2013

In no particular order, here are 13 cultural highlights of 2013 in Little Rock.

10.+citylittlerock-21. The 73 year old Joseph Taylor Robinson Municipal Auditorium received a new lease on life when Little Rock voters approved an extensive, two-year plan for renovation, remodeling and expanding the new facility.

2. Speaking of Robinson, the new Ron Robinson Theatre was constructed in the Arcade Building.  It will be the flagship home of the Little Rock Film Festival as well as a site for events hosted by the Clinton School of Public Service and the Central Arkansas Library System.

3. The Little Rock Film Festival came downtown with all of its films being shown in downtown Little Rock and Argenta.  Among the highlights of the festival were Short Term 12, Bridegroom and Don John which have received plaudits at other festivals and are appearing on Best of 2013 lists as well as receiving award nominations.

4. As Main Street continues to redevelop, plans were announced in 2013 for the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Ballet Arkansas to each move their offices and rehearsal spaces downtown.  Joining them will be an expansion of educational space for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

5. A few blocks south on Main Street, the new South on Main restaurant and performance space opened.  Weekly performances of live music accent the food and drink under the leadership of Chef Matt Bell.

6. Further down Main Street, Little Rock’s newest museum opened.  The Esse Purse Museum honors women and their struggles, accomplishments, hopes and dreams through highlighting the purse.

7. Fashion also took center stage at the William J. Clinton Presidential Center as well with an exhibit on Oscar de La Renta.  In addition to showcasing his contributions to design, the exhibit attracted many boldfaced names from the worlds of fashion and politics to an event in Little Rock.

Washington Bible8. George Washington was the focus of two separate exhibits in Little Rock during 2013.  Historic Arkansas Museum showcased his inaugural Bible as well as his family Bible.  At the Clinton Presidential Center “A Tribute to George Washington” was on display.  It featured George Washington’s personal copy of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights from Mount Vernon, and a portrait of George Washington painted in 1797 by artist Gilbert Stuart on loan from the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

9. The amphitheatre in Riverfront Park received a new name (First Security Amphitheatre) and a new roof just in time to kick off its 26th year and to play host to musical acts during Riverfest.

10. Rembrandt and Rothko were just two of the artists featured in exhibits at the Arkansas Arts Center through 2013.  The Arts Center featured the exhibit Treasures of Kenwood House which highlighted the works of Rembrandt, Van Dyck and many other world class artists.  Earlier in the year, exhibits highlighted Bauhaus architecture and relics of the Japanese internment camp at Rohwer.  The Arts Center was also the site of the world’s second largest yarn bomb installation.

Babe Sophie11. The Little Rock Zoo welcomed two new elephants: Sophie and Babe.  The Zoo also was the site of the birth of Bugsy the penguin and four new tiger cubs.  The tigers were born as the result of the Zoo’s new tiger exhibit which facilitated not only easier mating but also allows for the separation of the mother and cubs from the father.

12. The Central Arkansas Library System opened its new Children’s Library.  A few months after the building opened, a name was bestowed and it is now known as the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center.

13. As 2013 drew to a close, the holiday decorations at the Capital Hotel received international recognition as Forbes named them one of the ten best hotel Christmas trees in the world.  The nearly 30 foot tree was decorated by Tipton Hurst.

Little Rock Look Back: Jefferson George Botsford

Botsford GraveOn December 30, 1838, future Little Rock Mayor Jefferson George Botsford was born in Port Huron, Michigan.  He married Charlotte Adelia Henry on June 13, 1867.  She had been born in Massachusetts, but moved to Little Rock with her parents and grandparents.

The couple had seven children: Nellie, Charlotte, Harriett, James, Edward, George and Charles. Nellie, James and Charles died in childhood.

Botsford had served in the Union Army and fought in frontier battles against Indians.  Among his commercial involvements in Little Rock were serving as mail contractor between Little Rock and Baton Rouge, proprietor of Anthony House, organizer of Merchants National Bank and president of the White River Valley & Texas Railroad.

In 1868, Botsford was elected to the Little Rock City Council.  The City Council suspended Mayor A. K. Hartman in February 1870.  Elected in 1869, he was disliked by the aldermen, the press and a portion of the public.  A court order overturned the suspension in June 1870.  In January 1871, Mayor Hartman was again suspended by the Council.  This time, Botsford was declared Mayor.  However Hartman also still claimed the title of Mayor through the remainder of his term in November 1871.

After stepping down as Mayor with the election of Robert Catterson in November 1871, Botsford returned to private life.  He died on October 29, 1915 and is buried at Mount Holly Cemetery.

Little Rock Look Back: Frederick G. Kramer

Mayor KramerOn December 29, 1829, future Little Rock Mayor Frederick G. Kramer was born in Halle, Prussia.  In 1848, he immigrated to the United States.  Kramer enlisted in the United States Army and served in the Seventh Infantry until his discharge at Fort Gibson, Indian Territory, in July 1857. After his discharge, Kramer settled in Little Rock, and became a citizen in 1859. He married Adaline Margaret Reichardt, an emigrant from Germany, in 1857. They had six children Louisa, Mattie, Emma, Charles, Fred, and Henry.

From 1869 to 1894, Kramer served on the Little Rock School Board.  He was the first School Board president.  Among his other civic activities were serving as president of the Masonic Mutual Relief Association, a founder of the Mount Holly Cemetery Commission, and a founder of Temple B’nai Israel.  In 1875 he and F. A. Sarasin opened a mercantile business. Kramer later became the president of the Bank of Commerce.

Frederick Kramer was elected Mayor of Little Rock in November 1873.  He served until April 1875, when a new Arkansas Constitution took effect.

From November 1869 through March 1875, the City Council President presided over City Council meetings and signed ordinances, performing many of the duties formerly ascribed to the Mayor.  As such, during his Mayoral tenure from 1873 to 1875, Kramer was the Chief Executive of the City but did not preside over Council Meeting.  When he had served on the City Council, however, Kramer had been elected President of the Council and had presided over Council meetings from October 1871 to May 1872

Kramer was returned to the Mayoralty in April 1881 and served three more terms leaving office in April 1887.  His tenure as an Alderman and as Mayor overlapped with his service on the school board.

A new Little Rock elementary school which opened in 1895 on Sherman Street was named the Fred Kramer Elementary School in his honor.  Though the building’s bell tower was removed in the 1950s, the structure still stands today.  It now houses loft apartments.

Frederick G. Kramer died on September 8, 1896, in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  A few months earlier, he had traveled there with his wife and daughter Emma to recuperate from an illness. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery.

WINN DIXIE extended at Ark Rep through January 5 — Good seats still available

Due to overwhelming demand for tickets, the Arkansas Rep has extended Because of Winn Dixie another week.  This last week has good seats available, so don’t delay.  From the lyricist of Legally Blonde and the composer of Spring Awakening comes a new musical based on the award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo.

A World Premiere musical brings a Tony Award-winning creative team to Little Rock this holiday season. Because of Winn Dixie is a new musical based on the heartwarming and award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo about a young girl and a dog she finds at a Winn Dixie supermarket.

This unique production will include music by Duncan Sheik (Tony and Grammy Award Winner for Spring Awakening), lyrics and book by Nell Benjamin (Tony Nominee for Legally Blonde), direction by John Tartaglia (Tony nominee for Avenue Q) and animal direction by Bill Berloni (a 2011 Tony Honor recipient).

This original production will also be the first pre-Broadway musical starring a live dog in a leading role. Taran (and understudy Cally), both Irish Wolfhounds, have been cast in the title role of “Winn-Dixie,” trained by Broadway’s foremost animal trainer, Bill Berloni.

“It has always amazed me the reaction animals have on an audience,” says Berloni, “When a dog or cat comes onstage, our collective reality is ‘Wait a minute, you can’t get an animal to act, what is it going to do?’ And it brings the audience closer into the piece.”

“This story will melt your heart,” says Bob Hupp. “We are honored that the creative team of Winn Dixie approached us for this world premiere, and I think this project has tremendous potential to introduce a significant new work into the American musical theatre canon, and it all begins right here on our stage, for Arkansas audiences.”

The cast is led by Jonathan Rayson, Julia Nightingale Landfair, Gabe Bowling, Riley Costello, Aisha de Haas, Imari Hardon, Crystal Kellogg, Tari Kelly, Shannon Lamb, Nic Rowe, Douglas Storm and Sydni Whitfield.  Others in the cast include Danny Phillips, Cayla Christina Christian, Reagan Hodson, Dalton Johnson, Molly Russ, and Sam Shaughnessy.

The music director is Jason Hart. Duncan Sheik is the orchestrator and vocal arranger.  The creative team included Mike Nichols (scenery), Marianne Custer (costumes), Michael J. Eddy (lighting), Allan Branson (sound), and Lynda J. Kwallek (props).

FREE Admission to ROTHKO exhibit at Ark Arts Center through Dec 31

No. 8, 1949
Oil and mixed media on canvas
90 x 66 in.
The National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc., 1986.43.147
©1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko /Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington

In the spirit of giving, the Arkansas Arts Center is offering FREE admission to Mark Rothko in the 1940s: The Decisive Decade through Tuesday, December 31.

Mark Rothko in the 1940s: The Decisive Decade is the first exhibition and catalogue to reevaluate Rothko’s work in the context of his thoughts about art from the period. The exhibition brings to light many works not seen before by scholars or the public and highlights a period of his career that is often overlooked.

The 1940s was a decade of tremendous change for the world, for Western art, for New York City’s place in the art world and for Mark Rothko (1903-1970). The most important result was the formation of what became known as The New York School, a collection of artists working in a nexus of artistic approaches, the best known of which were Gesturalism, or Abstract Expressionism and Color Field. What most members of this group shared was a faith in the power of art effectively to address the pressing historical problems of their era writ large in the movies, news reports, and photographs of the war and its uncertain aftermath.

One of the major members of the New York School was Mark Rothko, the most important of the School’s Color Field wing. For Rothko, like many of his colleagues, the 1940s was the critical decade for his development. Mark Rothko in the 1940s is an examination into the artistic maturation—a decade of searching and rapid evolution– of one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century that deserves not only closer attention but also a re-evaluation.

Mark Rothko in the 1940s will be the first exhibition and catalogue to reevaluate this work in the context of Rothko’s thoughts about art from the period. Mark Rothko in the 1940s will bring to light many works not seen before by scholars or the public and highlight a period of his career that is often overlooked.

Mark Rothko in the 1940s: The Decisive Decade is organized by the Arkansas Arts Center, the Columbia Museum of art, the Columbus Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum, in conjunction with the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The exhibition is funded in part by the Dedalus Foundation and is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities. It is sponsored locally by Harriet and Warren Stephens; Chucki and Curt Bradbury; The Brown Foundation, Inc. of Houston; Mary Ellen and Jason Vangilder and the Capital Hotel.

Hayes Carll at the Rev Room Tonight – with Bonnie Montgomery opening

181891_C18_044_004Hendrix College alum Hayes Carll returns to Little Rock for a concert tonight at the Rev Room.  Doors open at 7pm and the concert starts at 9pm.   Bonnie Montgomery, a renowned singer-songwriter in her own right, will open for him.

“Another Like You,” Carll’s stereotype’s attract duet of polar opposites, was American Songwriter’s #1 Song of 2011 – and KMAG YOYO was the Americana Music Association’s #1 Album, as well as making Best of Lists for Rolling Stone, SPIN and a New York Times Critics Choice.

Playing rock clubs and honkytonks, Bonnaroo, Stones Fest, SXSW and NXNE, he and his band the Gulf Coast Orchestra merge a truculent singer/songwriter take that combines Ray Wylie Hubband’s lean freewheeling squalor with Todd Snider’s brazen Gen Y reality and a healthy dose of love amongst unhealthy people.

Born in Houston, he went to college at Hendrix College in Conway – getting a degree in History, then heading back to Crystal Beach to play for a wild assortment of people either hiding out, hanging on or getting lost in the bars along Texas’ Gulf coast.

After releasing Flowers & Liquor in 2002, Carll was voted the Best New Artist of 2002 by The Houston Post. He would go on to release Little Rock, on his own Highway 87 label, which became the first self-owned project to the top the Americana charts.  His third album was 2008’s Trouble in Mind.

For those who live in and/or love Little Rock, Carll’s paean to the Capital City of Arkansas contains probably one of the best descriptions ever:  “A piece of this Earth for my peace of mind.”