Little Rock Look Back: Establishment of Arkansas Arts Center

Architectural model of the original Arkansas Arts Center which would open in 1963.

On Tuesday, September 6, 1960, the City of Little Rock Board of Directors adopted ordinance 11,111 which formally established the Arkansas Arts Center.

In July 1957, the City Council of Little Rock granted the Museum of Fine Arts the authority to solicit and receive funds for expanding that museum’s physical plant.  During that process, it had been decided that the museum needed an expanded mission and a new name.  By the summer of 1960, the museum supporters had raised sufficient funds to proceed with constructing the new facility.  Therefor the new ordinance was prepared and submitted to the City Board.  (In November 1957, the City Council had been replaced by a City Board.)

Ordinance 11,111 set forth that the Museum of Fine Arts would be known as the Arkansas Arts Center and that the previous museum’s board would serve as the board for the new museum.  The Board of the Arkansas Arts Center was given the authority to have the new building constructed in MacArthur Park and the existing building modified.  As a part of the planning for the new museum, the City committed $75,000 for the capital campaign.

The groundbreaking for the new museum would take place in August 1961.  Mayor Werner Knoop, who signed Ordinance 11,111, took part in the groundbreaking.

Media attending the September 6, 1960, City Board meeting were more interested in discussion about a potential leash law for dogs within the City limits.

Central to Creativity – Phyllis Brandon

Phyllis D. Brandon played a unique role in shaping and supporting Little Rock’s cultural life.  As the first and longtime editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s High Profile section, she promoted cultural institutions, supporters and practitioners.

Since it started in 1986, being featured in High Profile has been akin to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  It exposes cultural institutions and events to new and wider audiences.  There is no way to put a monetary measure on the support Brandon gave to Little Rock’s cultural life during her time leading High Profile from 1986 to 2009.  From 2009 to 2011, she served as editor of Arkansas Life magazine, again supporting and promoting cultural life.

With her unassuming manner, she coaxed stories out of interview subjects and captured photos which highlighted events.  A journalist since her junior high school days in Little Rock, Brandon has also been a witness to history.  As a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, Brandon returned to her alma mater, Little Rock Central High, to cover the events in early September 1957 for the Arkansas Democrat.  Eleven years later, she was in Chicago for the contentious and violent 1968 Democratic National Convention as a delegate.

From 1957 until 1986, she alternated between careers in journalism and the business world, as well as being a stay-at-home mother.  Upon becoming founding editor of High Profile, she came into her own combining her nose for news and her life-long connections within the Little Rock community.  As a writer and photographer, she created art in her own right. A look through High Profile provides a rich historical snapshot of the changes in Little Rock and Arkansas in the latter part of the 20th Century and start of the 21st Century.

Butler Center Legacies & Lunch today at noon: Frank Sata

legaciesEach month (usually the first Wednesday), the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies hosts “Legacies & Lunch”.  This month the program features Frank Sata discussing Unlikely Foundation: How WWII Internment in Arkansas Shaped a Family’s Life in Art and Architecture.  

Mr. Sata’s appearance is also presented in partnership with the Clinton School of Public Service’s speaker series.

sataAs a young boy, Frank Sata was one of thousands of Japanese Americans who spent time in Arkansas during World War II, imprisoned by their own country merely because of their ancestry. He was eight years old when his family was shipped from their home in California to Jerome, where one of two Arkansas internment camps for Japanese Americans was built by the War Relocation Authority. Mr. Sata’s father, J.T. Sata, was an accomplished artist who documented his family’s time in camps in Arkansas and Arizona in a series of remarkable oil paintings and charcoal drawings. Much of that art is currently on display in Concordia Hall of Butler Center Galleries, as part of Drawn In: New Art from WWII Camps at Rohwer and Jerome, and will remain in the Butler Center’s collection following the closing of the exhibition on August 23, 2014.

Mr. Sata, who lives in Pasadena, California, went on to become an architect. His own work was influenced by his experience of the World War II camps, his father’s art and photography, and famed American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s fascination with Asian architecture. He will discuss the internment experience, his father’s art, and the ways his work as an architect reflects his memories of his years in Arkansas.

Despite the sadness embedded in the injustice of the World War II camps, Mr. Sata says, “I have since developed a sense of comfort and place for Arkansas.” He says, “Sometimes words do not come easily for me to describe that special meaning, but he is an eloquent interpreter of the power of a harsh experience visited upon a country’s citizens by wartime frenzy and the healing power of creativity to overcome anger and bitterness.

Legacies & Lunch is sponsored in part by the Arkansas Humanities Council. Bring a sack lunch; drinks and dessert are provided. For more information, visit

May 7 Architeaser

hamMay is Arkansas Heritage Month.  As a way to celebrate it, the next few Architeasers will focus on facilities connected to the Department of Arkansas Heritage.

Today’s Architeaser features architecture from the past and present.  These structures sit side by side on the city block which is home to part of Historic Arkansas Museum.  The center of the photo is anchored by the 2001 expansion to the museum which was designed by the firm of Polk Stanley Yeary (now Polk Stanley Wilcox). Framing the building on either side of the photo are some of Little Rock’s oldest structures.

Historic Arkansas Museum opened in July 1941 as the Arkansas Territorial Restoration.  It includes Little Rock’s oldest structure, the Hinderliter Grog Shop, built in 1827.  In 2001, the name was changed to Historic Arkansas Museum in conjunction with the opening of a 51,000 square foot museum center which capped off a three phase capital building program.

Architect Kevin McClurkan in conversation tonight

Kevin_McClurkanTonight at 6pm at the Arkansas Arts Center, award-winning architect and Arkansas native Kevin McClurkan, AIA, will make a presentation entitled THREADS: Ennead Architects’ Recent Works.  This is part of the monthly Architecture and Design Network lecture series.

A founding partner and management principal of  Ennead  Architects, New York-based architect Kevin McClurkan, has Arkansas roots and  continuing connections. An alumnus  of Pine Bluff High School, McClurkan earned his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, where, in 1983, he received the Edward Durell Stone Award for Excellence in Design.

McClurkan has  continued to earn awards – a prestigious national American Institute of Architects Honor Awards among them. His  commitment  to design excellence, supported by  technical innovation,  is the hallmark of his work.  Little Rock’s William J.  Clinton Presidential Center; the Newseum/Freedom Forum Foundation World Headquarters, Washington D.C.; New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts  and  the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law are among the firm’s recent award-winning projects.

Ennead is the name of the firm formerly known as Polshek Partnership Architects. The firm’s  2010 renaming emphasizes  its identity as a group of architects rather than that of a single design leader.  The new name,  which means a group of nine,  reflects the democratic and collaborative culture of the partnership.

Currently working with Little Rock’s  Polk Stanley Wilcox on the redesign of the city’s  Robinson Auditorium, McClurkan  is a member of the  the University of Arkansas Fay Jones School of Architecture’s Professional Advisory Board.  Of interest to the whole community,  his April talk is  free and open to the public.

For additional information, contact

Architeaser – April 29

Yesterday’s Architeaser was a detail of brick designs on the old Heights Theatre, which was built as a single screen, 850 seat movie theatre. Opening in 1946, it was designed by Edwin B. Cromwell. The movie theatre closed in 1985. Since then the building has been repurposed and now houses shops and restaurants.

Today’s Architeaser starts a week of looking at shadows that architectural elements can cast.


Art of Architecture: William E. Massie – “Physical Delineations”

This month brings two editions of the “Art of Architecture” lecture series.  Tonight is the second as William E. Massie discusses Physical DelineationsThe program begins at 6:00pm in the lecture hall of the Arkansas Arts Center.

William E. Massie received a Bachelor of Fine Art in Architectural Studies from Parsons School of Design, New York, NY. He subsequently received a Master of Architecture from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture. Upon graduation he worked for Robertson + McAnulty Architects and James Stewart Polshek and Partners. In 1993 he started his own company while simultaneously accepting a teaching position in the Graduate School of Architecture at Columbia University where he was appointed as the Coordinator for Building Technologies Research.

Massie is currently the Architect-in Residence / Head of Architecture Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and a Tenured Professor of Architecture at Rensselear Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY. He has taught at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana and Parsons School of Design in New York City.

He has participated as a visiting critic at many institutions nationally including, Harvard, Yale, California Polytechnic Institute and Lawrence Technological University. In 2005 he participated as the Keynote Speaker and appointed Bruce Goff Chair at the University of Oklahoma on the future of technology and digital processes in architecture and architectural education.

The 2011-2012 Art of Architecture lecture series is sponsored by the Architecture and Design Network, with support from the Central Arkansas Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Arkansas Arts Center and the Fay Jones School of Architecture.