Happy Mother’s Day. Today as part of Arkansas Heritage Month, we salute Jeane Hamilton — the “mother” of the Arkansas Arts Center. In 2007, she was awarded the Arkansas Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Governor’s Arts Award.
Arriving in Little Rock a young wife in 1952, she immediately set about to become involved in her new community as she and her husband James set up a household. In the mid-1950s, the Junior League of Little Rock tapped her to chair the initiative to create a new art museum for Little Rock. The two decades old Museum of Fine Arts was threadbare through years of neglect and unfocused programming and collecting.
Hamilton, along with Junior League President Carrie Remmel Dickinson and Vice President Martha McHaney, approached Winthrop Rockefeller (then a relatively new resident) to lead the fundraising effort for the new museum. He agreed on a few conditions: one was that a base amount had to be raised in Little Rock first, and second that the museum would be for the entire State of Arkansas and not just Little Rock.
Hamilton and her colleagues set about to raise the funds. They raised $645,000 at the same time Little Rock’s business climate was stymied by the aftereffects of the Central High crisis.
Now a lifetime honorary member of the Arkansas Arts Center Board, Hamilton has spent much of her life working on Arkansas Arts Center projects since that visit in 1959. She has served on the Board, chaired committees, chaired special events, served hot dogs, helped kids paint and danced the night away at countless fundraisers. She was on the committee which hired Townsend Wolfe as executive director and chief curator. Jeane has led art tours for the Arts Center to a number of countries over the years.
When she is not at the Arts Center, she is often seen at the Rep, the Symphony or any number of other cultural institutions. While she enjoys seeing old friends at these events, she also loves to see a room full of strangers – because that means that new people have become engaged in the cultural life of Little Rock.