Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Central to Creativity – Deborah Mathis

Deborah Mathis has deep Arkansas roots.  She grew up in Little Rock the daughter of Rev. Lloyd Myers, a Baptist minister, and Rachel A. Myers Jones, a teacher.

Her journalistic pursuits began as early as junior high school, when she became the first black editor of West Side Junior High’s school newspaper. In 1970 she became the first black and first female editor of Central High School’s Tiger student newspaper. From the early 70′s through the early 90′s, Mathis was busy establishing herself as a journalist and broadcaster. She served in various positions ” reporter, editor, columnist and anchor ” at statewide media outlets including the Arkansas DemocratArkansas Gazette, KARK-Channel 4, KTH V-Channel 11, and KATV-Channel 7 From Arkansas, Mathis career took her to briefly to Jackson, Mississippi before she landed in Washington, D.C., where she was a White House Correspondent for Gannett News Service from 1993-2000.

Since 1992, Mathis has been a syndicated columnist, appearing in more than 100 U.S. publications and periodicals. She is also a contributor to such outlets as USA Today and BlackAmericaWeb.com and a frequent commentator on political and public affairs talk shows such as PBS’s Frontline, CNNs Inside Politics NPR’s All Things Considered America’s Black Forum and Oprah, to name a few. She also field-produced, wrote and narrated two nationally aired documentaries: “Edukashun: The Cost of Failure” (1982) and “Return of the Little Rock Nine” (1987).

Mathis is the author of Yet A Stranger Why Black Americans Still Don’t Feel at Home, Sole Sisters: The Joy and Pains of Single Black Women and What God Can Do: How Faith Changes Lives for the Better.  She has also been an assistant professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (Washington office).  In 2003, she was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.

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Central to Creativity – Ben Piazza

 

benpiazza book coverActor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock, and graduated from Little Rock High School in 1951 as valedictorian. He also had starred in the senior play that year (The Man Who Came to Dinner) and edited the literary magazine.

After graduating from Princeton, he moved to New York City to become an actor.  He made his Broadway debut in 1958 in Winesburg, Ohio.  In April 1959, he starred in Kataki and received a Theatre World Award for his performance.

As the 1960s dawned, Piazza joined a small cadre of actors who had achieved status on Broadway who then also returned to acting Off Broadway.  Colleen Dewhurst, George C. Scott, and James Earl Jones were others in this select group who helped establish Off Broadway as an entity in itself, instead of being just a farm team for Broadway.

In February 1963, he took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway.  During the run of this show, Piazza’s novel The Exact and Very Strange Truth was published.  It is a fictionalized account of his growing up in Little Rock during the 1930s and 1940s.  The book is filled with references to Centennial Elementary, Westside Junior High, Central High School, Immanuel Baptist Church and various stores and shops in Little Rock during that era.

In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.  In March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, Piazza toured in many plays nationally and internationally. He also appeared in major regional theatres as an actor and a director.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

Piazza’s film debut had been in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper in The Hanging Tree.  Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, he appeared in a number of TV shows including Studio One, Kraft Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, The Naked City and Dick Powell Theatre.

In the 1970s and 1980s, his appearances included I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, The Bad News Bears, The Blues Brothers, and Mask.  On TV, he appeared in Dallas, Dynasty, Saint Elsewhere, Barnaby Miller, Moonlighting and Family Ties. 

Piazza’s final big screen appearance was in the 1991 film Guilty by Suspicion.  He played studio head Darryl Zanuck in this Robert DeNiro-Annette Bening tale of Hollywood during the Red scare.

Ben Piazza died on September 7, 1991.  In 2016, a meeting room in the new Robinson Conference Center was named in his memory.


Central to Creativity – Bruce Moore

Today’s feature is not a Central alum or faculty member – but he has been an active supporter of Central High School and is looking forward to being the father of a Central High student in a few years.

Bruce T. Moore was appointed as Little Rock City Manager on December 17, 2002, after having served as Assistant City Manager since April 1999. Prior to that appointment, he served in a variety of capacities with the City of Little Rock including Assistant to the Mayor and Assistant to the City Manager.

Bruce is one of a very few people who worked on the 40th, 50th, and 60th anniversary commemorations of the 1957 integration of Little Rock Central High.  He served as Chair of the 60th anniversary activities.

As City Manager, Bruce is the principal adviser to the governing body on all operational matters pertaining to the overall direction and administration of municipal government overseeing nearly 2,500 employees and a budget of $222.6 million. In addition, he served as the lead City Staff person for the development of William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park in downtown Little Rock.

Brucehas a Master of Public Administration degree from Arkansas State University and a Bachelor of Science degree from Henderson State University. He is a member of the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), Arkansas City Manager’s Association (ACMA), immediate Past President of the National Forum of Black Public Administrators (NFBPA) Board of Directors, Chair of the Henderson State University Board of Trustees, Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and Downtown Little Rock Partnership Executive Board. He has been the recipient of the Just Communities of Arkansas Humanitarian Award, one of Arkansas Business’ “40 Under 40” and the United States Army Commendation Medal/Operation Desert Storm.

Bruce was selected by the United States/Japan Foundation as one of twenty Americans to participate in a two-year business and cultural exchange program with Japan. He also completed the Senior Executive in State and Local Government Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and is a graduate of Leadership Greater Little Rock. Bruce is Co-Chair of the Board of City Year Little Rock, and was recognized by City Year as the 2011 Red Jacket Ball honoree.


Central to Creativity – Matt McLeod

Matt McLeod is a painter, sculp­tor and mural­ist, specializing in fine art for residential, commercial and pub­lic art projects. His art hangs in many homes and businesses throughout Central Arkansas and beyond. Arguably his most visible work is the new mural at the corner of 6th and Main in the Creative Corridor.

Growing up in Little Rock, Matt graduated from Central High School.  After grad­u­at­ing from South­ern Methodist Uni­ver­sity in 1987, Matt spent a fifteen-year career in adver­tis­ing, before becom­ing a full-time artist. Matt spent the last eleven years in fine art, devel­op­ing paint­ings into his bold, vibrant style — what he calls Ener­getic Color.

Matt’s energetic color is included in sev­eral pri­vate and cor­po­rate col­lec­tions across the US and has brought significant recognition, includ­ing pieces in the Delta Exhi­bi­tion at The Arkansas Arts Cen­ter and a paint­ing on the front cover of the first Arkansas Artists Cal­en­dar, cre­ated by The Arkansas Governor’s Man­sion Asso­ci­a­tion.

In 2011, Matt was the fea­tured artist for River­fest music fes­ti­val. Matt was the fea­tured artist for MusicFest El Dorado, in 2012. In 2013, Matt was the fea­tured artist for The Thea Foundation’s Annual Spring Fine Arts Fes­ti­val. In October 2015, Matt opened a gallery in down­town Lit­tle Rock, spe­cial­iz­ing in highly col­lectible regional artists and res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial commissions.

In addition to his mural at the corner of Main and Scott Streets, Matt is currently at work on a mural on the side of the Besser Hardware building in the 1000 block of Main Street.


Central to Creativity – Rex DeLoney

Rex DeLoney’s colorful, vibrant artwork conveys the messages of hope, faith, and the everyday joys and struggles of life. His work is reflective of his life, past and present, a life that has been enriched with the love and desire to create art that tells a story and evokes memories for anyone that views his work.

After graduating from Northeast High School in 1983, DeLoney attended the University of Central Arkansas, where he received a B.A. degree in Commercial Art in 1988. It was during his time at UCA, that Deloney set forth a plan to enter into the sports illustration field as a free-lance illustrator.

In 1989 DeLoney moved to the Pacific Northwest and Yakima, Washington, to pursue a career as a free-lance sports illustrator. The move yielded many opportunities for the young artist to display his skills in various venues. As DeLoney evolved as an artist, he began to do more genre work centered on the African American way of life. DeLoney progressed from creating exciting sports imagery and portraiture to the current genre works created from spiritual themes and meaningful, thought-provoking expressions of humanity as it relates the African American’s experience.

Today, Rex DeLoney is an art instructor and Chairman of the Fine Arts Department at Little Rock Central High School, guiding a new generation of creative minds as they seek to tell their own stories through imagery.


Central to Creativity – Kathryn Pryor

While she may be a successful attorney by day, Kathryn Pryor, is also an accomplished singer and actor.

Having grown up appearing on stage (including starring in productions while a student at Central High School), it is no surprise she continues to appear in productions throughout Central Arkansas.

In 2016, she reprised her role of Hillary Clinton in the biennial political spoof Gridiron.   Earlier this year, she appeared in Arkansas Rep’s production of SISTER ACT.   Over the years she has also played leading roles on various Little Rock stages in GYPSY, CABARET, SWEENEY TODD, COMPANY, VICTOR/VICTORIA, SOUTH PACIFIC, and MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG.  

In addition, she has appeared in New York in a cabaret act with her brother Will Trice. For the 2015 edition of the Arkansas Arts Center’s Tabriz, she and Will reprised their act.


Central to Creativity – Eliza Borne

Eliza Borné was named Editor of Oxford American magazine in October 2015.  She had been the Managing Editor of the magazine, prior to that appointment.  Under her leadership, the magazine has won the 2016 Ellie – National Magazine Award in General Excellence.

A Little Rock native and graduate of Central High School, she wrote Children’s Theatre reviews for the Arkansas Times while in high school.  While a student at Wellesley College, she interned for OA.  After graduation, she was an associate editor at BookPage.  In February 2013, she joined the OA as an editor.  When he was in Little Rock earlier this year, author Harrison Scott Key praised Borné’s skills as an editor.  At that appearance, he also lauded her skills as an interviewer. She has also used these skills serving as a moderator for the Arkansas Literary Festival.

While her talents as a writer and editor have been honed through hard work, she is also carrying on a family tradition in promoting Little Rock’s cultural life. A great-grandmother, Adolphine Fletcher Terry, was a member of the Little Rock Public Library Board (a forerunner of CALS) for decades.  Much could be written about what various ancestors have done to help Little Rock, but Borné is not one to rely on the family name as she forges her own career.  Instead, she uses her skills and love of Little Rock to promote good writing, good music, and good living.

Since 2016, Eliza has served on Little Rock’s Arts+Culture Commission.