Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

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Creative Class 2016: Phillip Rex Huddleston

cc16-huddlestonRenaissance Man is probably the best way to describe Phillip Rex Huddleston.  He is a writer, a musician, a composer, an artist, a teacher, an arts promoter, and so many other things.

By day, he is the Visual Art Specialist for eStem Middle School.  There, he teaches his students a variety of styles of art.  His own visual art style varies from realistic sketches, to caricatures, to comic strips and witty distillations of epic literature into a few frames.

As a guitarist and pianist he can often be found performing with his many talented friends throughout Little Rock’s live music scene in formal settings and on front porches.  As a composer, he has contributed compositions and performances to a variety of films made in Arkansas. His most recent effort was in Mark Thiedeman’s White Nights, which premiered in August.

A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas with a BA in Philosophy and an MA in English Literature, he was an Adjunct Instructor at UCA in the English Department before beginning his stint at eStem.  While at UCA, he also worked with the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre.

For several years, he and friends and roommates would host regular Garland House Shows, named for the street on which their house was located. These combined visual art exhibits with live music in celebrations of the art they created and the friends who created and appreciated it.

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Creative Class 2016: Ryan Harris

cc16-harrisRyan Harris serves as the Executive Director for the Oxford American Literary Project, having been named to that new position in January of 2016.

He joined the Oxford American Literary Project in February 2013 as Program Director, and has helped establish regular programs at South on Main (the restaurant and cultural venue owned and operated by Matthew and Amy Bell ) and in the Oxford American’s annex space. Along with free outreach programming to support local and regional musicians, writers, and visual artists, Harris has brought both renowned and emerging artists to Little Rock through the ticketed Oxford American Concert Series. The experiences created through this series have helped enhance the cultural offerings in the region and established South on Main as a desirable stop for touring artists.

In addition to continuing to bring outstanding programming to Little Rock, Ryan is currently focusing on plans for the 25th anniversary of the OA in 2017.  He is also leading efforts for the OA to partner with additional cultural and educational institutions in Central Arkansas.

Prior to joining the Oxford American Literary Project, Ryan served as Director of Facilities and Event Operations at The Sheldon Concert Hall and Art Galleries, a nonprofit arts presenter in St. Louis, Missouri. He holds a BSBA from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis.

Creative Class 2016: Kevin Brockmeier

cc16-brockmeierIn addition to his most recent work, A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, KEVIN BROCKMEIER is the author of the novels The Illumination, The Brief History of the Dead, and The Truth About Celia; the story collections Things That Fall from the Sky and The View from the Seventh Layer; and the children’s novels City of Names and Grooves: A Kind of Mystery.

His work has been translated into seventeen languages. He has published his stories in such venues as The New Yorker, The Georgia Review, McSweeney’s, Zoetrope, Tin House, The Oxford American, The Best American Short Stories, The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, and New Stories from the South. He has received the Borders Original Voices Award, three O. Henry Awards (one, a first prize), the PEN USA Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and an NEA Grant. In 2007, he was named one of Granta magazine’s Best Young American Novelists. He teaches frequently at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

A graduate of Parkview Arts and Science Magnet High School and Missouri State University, he attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop program at the University of Iowa, studying under such names as Frank Conroy and Marilynn Robinson, and graduated in 1997 with an MFA degree.  He is probably the only author to have participated in every single Arkansas Literary Festival.

Creative Class 2016: Bryan Borland

cc16-borlandBryan Borland is the founder and publisher of Sibling Rivalry Press, an independent publishing house based in Little Rock.  Since 2010, SRP has published Poets & Writers Top Debut Fiction, a Poets & Writers Top 12 Debut Poet, a Pushcart Prize winner, a Lambda Award winner for Gay Poetry, a Lambda Award winner for Lesbian Poetry, eight Lambda Literary Award finalists, two Thom Gunn Award finalists, twenty-one American Library Association “Over the Rainbow” recommended LGBT titles, three American Library Association “Over the Rainbow” top 10 favorite picks, one of Library Journal‘s “Best New Magazines,” one of Flavorwire‘s 50 books that define the last five years of literature, and finalists for the Bisexual Poetry Book of the Year, the Oregon Book of the Year, and the Georgia Book of the Year.

SRP was also recognized as the 2013 Bisexual Publisher of the Year from the Bisexual Writers Association for dedication to quality literary content across the spectrum of sexuality. In 2015, the Library of Congress acquired all of SRP’s printed titles for housing in its Rare Books and Special Collections Vault, “housed among history’s greatest writers for all of perpetuity.”

As a poet, Bryan’s first collection of poetry, My Life as Adam was one of only five books of poetry selected by the American Library Association for its first annual “Over the Rainbow” list of recommended LGBT-themed publications. His second collection of poetry, Less Fortunate Pirates: Poems from the First Year Without My Father, was released in November 2012. He is a 2015 Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry and winner of the 2016 Judith A. Marowitz Emerging Writer Award. His third collection of poetry, DIG, was published in September 2016 by Stillhouse Press.

Ben composite

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Little Rock Look Back: Ben Piazza

Ben compositeActor-director-playwright-author Ben Piazza was born on July 30, 1933, in Little Rock.  Piazza 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.

Keeping the Tiger as his mascot, Piazza attended college at Princeton University.  While there he continued acting, including an appearance in a Theatre Intime production of Othello.  Following his 1955 graduation, he moved to New York City and studied at the Actor’s Studio.

Piazza was an understudy in the 1956 play, Too Late the Phalarope at the Belasco Theatre.  In February 1958, he starred in Winesburg, Ohio sharing the National (now Nederlander) Theatre stage with James Whitmore, Dorothy McGuire, and Leon Ames. Other cast members included Claudia McNeil (who originated the part of Lena in A Raisin in the Sun) and Sandra Church (who originated the part of Gypsy Rose Lee in Gypsy).

In April 1959, Piazza starred in Kataki at the Ambassador Theatre. This two actor play also featured Sessue Hayakawa, who played a Japanese soldier who spoke only his native language.  Therefore, Piazza’s part was largely a very lengthy monologue.  For his performance, Piazza received one of the 1959 Theatre World Awards.

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.

piazzaPiazza started the 1960s on Broadway starring at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in A Second String with Shirley Booth, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Nina Foch, Cathleen Nesbitt, and Carrie Nye.   Following that, he started his association with Edward Albee by appearing as the title character in The American Dream.  That play opened at the York Playhouse in January 1961.  Later that year, he appeared in Albee’s The Zoo Story opposite original cast member William Daniels at the East End Theatre.


Also in 1961 Piazza starred in several plays during a South American tour sponsored by the American Repertory Company.  He played Christopher Isherwood in I Am a Cameraand Chance Wayne in Sweet Bird of Youth.  In 1962, he starred in a series of plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre.  Piazza returned to Broadway to star along with Jane Fonda and Dyan Cannon in The Fun Couple at the Lyceum Theatre. This play had a troubled rehearsal period, which was documented in a short film about Jane Fonda.

Ben Piazza stayed on Broadway and returned to Albee in February 1963.  He took over the role of Nick in the original run of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when original actor George Grizzard left to play Hamlet at the Guthrie Theatre.  (He had participated in earlier readings of the play prior to it being mounted on Broadway.)

This play was at the Billy Rose Theatre, which marked a return for Piazza. He had acted at this theatre when it was the National while appearing in Winesburg. Piazza played Nick for the remainder of the run and acted with Uta Hagen, Arthur Hill, fellow Arkansan Melinda Dillon, Eileen Fulton, Nancy Kelly, Mercedes McCambridge, Rochelle Oliver and Sheppard Strudwick.

Exact and Very Strange cover

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.  The Piazza Shoe Store, located on Main Street, was called Gallanti’s.

Following Virginia Woolf, he starred in The Zoo Story at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 1965.  In August of 1967, his play The Sunday Agreement premiered at LaMaMa.  This was Piazza’s first playwright output to be professionally staged.

As Sunday Agreement was opening, Piazza was in rehearsal for his next Broadway opening. He appeared with Alfred Drake in The Song of the Grasshopper in September 1967.  In 1968, he returned to Albee and starred in The Death of Bessie Smith and The Zoo Story in repertory on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theatre.

Later that season, in March 1969, a double bill of his one-acts: Lime Green/Khaki Blue opened at the Provincetown Playhouse.  It was directed by future Tony nominee Peter Masterson and starred Louise Lasser, Robert Walden (who starred in the 2013 production of Death of a Salesman at Arkansas Repertory Theatre), Clinton Allmon and Dolores Dorn-Heft, to whom Piazza was married at the time.

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.  During this time period he was in productions of Bus Stop, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, You Know I Can’t Hear You when the Water’s Running  and Savages.  In 1970, he starred as Stanley Kowalski in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire in New Orleans.  As the 1970s progressed, he turned his focus to television and movies.

BDP early

Piazza’s film debut was in a 1959 Canadian film called The Dangerous Age. That same year, his Hollywood film debut came opposite Gary Cooper, Karl Malden, Maria Schell and George C. Scott in The Hanging Tree.  Though he received positive reviews for his performances, Piazza chose to return to New York and perform in stage and TV productions.

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.  He had a recurring role during one season of Ben Casey and appeared on the soap opera Love of Life.

In the 1970s, he starred in the films Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon; The Candy Snatchers and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  He also starred as the City Councilman who recruits Walter Matthau to coach a baseball team inThe Bad News Bears.

Among his numerous TV appearances in the 1970s were The Waltons, Mannix, Switch, Barnaby Jones, Gunsmoke, Mod Squad and Lou Grant (where he was reunited with Walden).

BDP final

In the 1980s, he appeared in The Blues Brothers, The Rockford Files, Barney Miller, Hart to Hart, Family Ties, The Winds of War, Dallas, Dynasty, Too Close for Comfort, The A Team, Saint Elsewhere, Santa Barbara, The Facts of Life, Mr. Belvedere, Moonlighting and Matlock.

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.

Arkansas Heritage Month – American Institute of Steel Construction honors Polk Stanley Wilcox and CALS

AIA ALA PSW HRCCLCThe American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) in Chicago has announced that Polk Stanley Wilcox Architect’s design of the Hillary Rodham Clinton Library and Learning Center in Little Rock, Arkansas has been honored in its prestigious annual awards.

In all, just ten building projects from around the country earned awards in the 2016 Innovative Design in Engineering and Architecture with Structural Steel awards program (IDEAS2), recently announced during AISC’s 2016 Conference in Orlando, Florida. An award presentation will be scheduled for this summer at the library in Little Rock. A panel of design and construction professionals identified National and Merit Awards in three categories, based on constructed value. Other winners included the National 9/11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York by Snohetta, Rutgers University School of Business by TEN Arquitectos, and Emmerson College in Los Angeles by Morphosis.

East Harding Construction of Little Rock was the General Contractor, while Engineering Consultants Inc. of Little Rock served as structural engineer for the innovative project.

Jury Comments:

“With a community driven mission, the library showcases steel in its purest form and use in a whimsical, but purposeful manner.” – Wanda Lau, Senior Editor ARCHITECT Magazine

“Playful and inspiring inside and out, this project succeeds in its goal of capturing the child’s imagination.” – Jason Stone, Senior Associate Leslie E. Robertson Associates

“The playfulness of the steel structure exterior, combined with the opportunity to utilize the structure as a teaching tool to inspire children to pursue math and science, makes this a natural choice for AISC and the IDEAS2 Awards” – Paula Pritchard, Plant Construction Co., L.P.

According to design architect Reese Rowland FAIA, “This library’s meaning can be seen in the faces of the children – their excitement and wonder, and hopeful smiles that say their future can be limitless with the right opportunities. Some of those opportunities involve teaching simple life skills that build confidence, while others focus on technology not available in the home.

The key to the library’s success comes from a vision set forth by CALS to not only build a functional public library and education facility, but also a symbol that represents hope. Being listed alongside these other nationally recognized projects is a strong indication that this vision was successfully achieved, helping create a new sense of pride for the children of Little Rock. We are grateful to the Central Arkansas Library System, as well as the people of Little Rock that funded this incredible project for our children.”

The Hillary Rodham Clinton Library and Learning Center was also honored in 2015 with Library Architecture’s highest honor, a National AIA/ALA Library Honor Award, one of just six given recognizing the best examples of new libraries from around the world. Learn more about this award at:

This is the fourth AISC National Award for Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, with the others being the CALS Arkansas Studies Institute in Little Rock, The El Dorado Conference Center, and Heifer International’s World Headquarters in Little Rock, which also won architecture’s highest honor: the American Institute of Architect’s National Institute Honor Award.

Arkansas Heritage Month – The architecture of AIA/ALA award winning CALS libraries by Polk Stanley Wilcox

To encourage excellence in the architectural design and planning of libraries, the AIA and the American Library Association/Library Administration and Management Association created this award to distinguish accomplishments in library architecture.  In 2011 and again in 2015, Polk Stanley Wilcox won the award for projects designed for the Central Arkansas Library System.

AIA ALA PSW ASIThe 2011 award went to for work on the Arkansas Studies Institute.  This actually combines three buildings of three different centuries and construction types into one architectural timeline, evoking imagery of pages of an opening book.

The Arkansas Studies Institute is a repository for 10 million historic documents and the papers of seven Arkansas Governors, including President Bill Clinton. Located in a thriving entertainment district comprised of rejuvenated warehouses near the Arkansas River, the design combines significant, but neglected buildings from the 1880’s and 1910’s with a new technologically expressive archive addition. This creates a pedestrian focused, iconic gateway to the public library campus – and the public face of Arkansas history.

The design philosophy is based literally on the book – a physical container of information, with pages flowing into a site-sensitive narrative of the building’s function. Taking cues from the medium for which the Institute was created, the entrance acts as an abstract book cover, pulled away from the building as a double wall, defusing western sunlight and heat in the atrium beyond.

Public Spaces – galleries, a café, museum, and meeting rooms – enliven streetscape storefronts, while the great library research hall encompasses the entire second floor of the 1914 warehouse building. A thin atrium pulls the new structure away to protect the old, stretching the building’s length and flooding all levels with light – a key sustainable strategy. 100 historic images in glass handrails signify that architecture can and should actively engage in storytelling. Suspended bridges span the gap between new and old, open and secure, today and yesterday.

The Arkansas Studies Institute weaves history, research, pedestrians, and a restored streetscape together, healing a gaping wound in the urban fabric, while expanding environmental stewardship into the public realm and serving as a beacon of knowledge.

AIA ALA PSW HRCCLCIn 2015, the award went to PSW for their work on the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center.

Based on experiential learning where hands-on education teaches life skills needed to become responsible adults, a new Children’s Library and Learning Center boosts hopes for a neglected neighborhood, serves as an exemplary tale of urban renewal, and acts as a beacon of hope for an entire city.

This “community embedded, supportive learning center” offers not only books, but also a performance space, teaching kitchen, greenhouse, vegetable garden, and an arboretum. It is the state’s first library holistically imagined as a children’s education destination. The Library Director’s challenge was to create a “playground without equipment” where nature and imagination create grand adventures on an abandoned six acre site in the heart of the capital city. A charrette with youth uncovered a surprising and heartbreaking result: their top desire wasn’t for the latest video game technologies… it was food security. They wanted to learn how to feed themselves. Children also desired a place that was uplifting, inspirational and full of natural light, while in contrast feeling safe, secure, and sheltered. They wanted a place that “lifted expectations”.

An interstate highway—the railroad tracks of our generation—split Little Rock 40 years ago and destroyed a unified city grid, contributing to racial and socioeconomic divisions that separated citizens physically and emotionally. The site’s border condition became a national symbol for gang violence when featured in a 1990’s HBO documentary. Its opposite side, however, continued to be the city’s version of New York City’s Central Park—the place to live, work, and play. The design team’s overarching idea was centered on three moves: bridge the gap by stretching the park across the highway, create a library that is “the place to be” for all children, and develop civic pride in an underserved neighborhood, helping to mend partitions that have plagued the city for so long.

Landscape ecology and urban connectivity themes provide experiential education. Children see natural vegetation representing the state’s varied ecological regions from the Ozark Highlands to the Mississippi Delta. Two bus lines within a quarter mile assure access from distances, while the hundreds of children living within a half mile can walk or bike. An instructional greenhouse, gardens, and teaching kitchen allow children to cultivate, harvest, prepare meals, and sell produce in a planned farmer’s market. A full time ‘Environmental Educator’ oversees programs, teaching proper use of water, energy, and resources, and how we keep healthy through decisions made within the built environment. The lobby’s smart monitors can display real time water and energy consumption. Mechanical and structural systems are purposefully exposed so operations and construction methods can be discussed.

While this Library exceeded expectations by achieving LEED Gold, the true measure of success beyond points is the neighborhood’s feel, which shifted from dangerous to full of life and pride. The library is a safe zone and home to a sustainable-minded community.