126 Years of MacArthur Park in Little Rock

On July 4, 1893, Arsenal Park opened in Little Rock.  This was the City’s first municipal public park.  Though it predated the establishment of a formal Parks and Recreation Department by several decades, it is the oldest part of that department.

The land now known as MacArthur Park had originally served as a horse racetrack in the early days of Little Rock.  By 1836, the federal government purchased the land for construction of a military arsenal.  The flagship building, the Arsenal Tower building, is the only remaining structure from that time period.

The land served as a military outpost until 1892.  On April 23, 1892, a land swap took place where in the City of Little Rock was given the property with the stipulation that it would be “forever exclusively devoted to the uses and purposes of a public park.” (Never mind that the federal government took part of the land back for the construction of the Wilbur Mills Freeway.)  Congressman William L. Terry was active in negotiating the land swap. (His son David would also serve in Congress.)

In return for giving the City this land, the federal government took possession of land on the north side of the Arkansas River (then part of Little Rock) – that 1,000 acres became Fort Logan H. Roots.

The park officially opened on July 4, 1893, with the name Arsenal Park. Since it was the City’s first and only park at the time, residents started referring to it as City Park. In time, the designation Arsenal Park fell from use.  In fact, it is referred to as City Park exclusively and officially in City documents throughout the first 42 years of the 20th Century.

On March 9, 1942, Little Rock’s first public park was renamed by the Little Rock City Council.  By a vote of fourteen ayes, zero nays and four absent, the alderman approved Ordinance 6,388 which renamed the park in honor of General Douglas MacArthur.

In 1952, General MacArthur (contemplating a run for the GOP nomination for President) visited Little Rock in March.  Later that year, the eventual GOP nominee (and 34th US President) General Dwight Eisenhower visited the park.

Today, MacArthur Park is the anchor of the burgeoning MacPark district as well as the MacArthur Park Historic Distric.


Final day to visit current Arkansas Arts Center galleries

At 5pm today, the galleries of the Arkansas Arts Center will close in MacArthur Park. They will not reopen until sometime in the first half of 2022.

While Arkansas Arts Center programming will continue in its Riverdale location and at various partner sites, the galleries, as they have been configured since February 2000, will be changed forever.  When the Arkansas Arts Center reopens in MacArthur Park, there will be new gallery spaces.

The current exhibits are:

  • Pop! Out of the Vault: Andy Warhol’s Little Red Book
  • Then, Now, Next: Reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center
  • 58th Young Arkansas Artists Exhibition
  • 61st Annual Delta Exhibition

Today also marks the final chance to eat at Watercolor in the Park.  Though the famous Petit and Keet Sunday Brunch will continue at the namesake restaurant, this will be the final time to enjoy it in MacArthur Park.

Museum School classes and youth summer programming will continue in MacArthur Park through the remainder of the summer sessions.  The Museum School will start the Autumn Quarter of classes in the new Riverdale location in September.

Party tonight at the Arkansas Arts Center with film premiere, and chance to say farewell to exhibits

Image result for Delta 60 filmSay goodbye to the 61st first edition of the Delta Exhibition, bid a fond farewell to the Arkansas Arts Center galleries as they are currently configured, and see the premiere of a film about 60th Delta (from 2018) all in one evening!

Tonight the Arkansas Arts Center is hosting a special event.

5:30 p.m. Wine Bar | 6 p.m. Film Screening | 7 p.m. Reception

Join the AAC for the world premiere of DELTA 60, a documentary produced by the Arkansas Arts Center exploring the essential work featured in the Annual Delta Exhibition through the eyes of 10 Arkansas artists whose work appeared in the 60th anniversary exhibition in 2018. DELTA 60 proves the power of art to challenge its viewers – and its makers.

After the screening, join us for hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and music from the film performed live by Isaac Alexander as we say goodbye to the 61st Annual Delta Exhibition – closing June 30.

$10 | Free for members

DELTA 60 was sponsored by the Arkansas Humanities Council, Anne and Merritt Dyke, and the Philip R. Jonsson Foundation.

A Broadway Cabaret tonight on CALS Ron Robinson Theater stage performed by The Muses

The Muses’ Broadway Cabaret in concert is presented tonight at the CALS Ron Robinson Theater.

The performance starts at 7pm.

This “best of” Broadway concert is an impressive display of professional musical artistry, spectacular dancing, and extraordinary showmanship! The Muses Professional Performance Troupe of highly skilled, nationally touring professional vocalists, instrumentalists, and resident artists, will present beloved tunes from popular Broadway shows, including: “Cabaret”, “Kiss Me Kate”, “Hello, Dolly!” “My Fair Lady’, “South Pacific”, “Company”, “Wicked”, and “Rent”.

Driven by a live big band sound, these musical theater classics, are performed in colorful and engaging combinations of solos, duets, and ensembles, along with lovely and energetic dance performances sprinkled throughout the show.

Professionally executed, high quality artistic programming, are the distinguishing features of all Muses’ productions. Professional and undeniably first rate, the Muses Broadway Cabaret, Seasons of Love concert, embodies the charm, passion, wit, and powerful storytelling found on the Broadway stage, right here in central Arkansas! Don’t miss this highly entertaining summer highlight!

Sponsored by Arkansas Arts Center, First Security Bank, UA Little Rock Downtown, Central Arkansas Library System, Merritt Dyke & Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

51 years of continuous community art classes at the Arkansas Arts Center

AAC classes in the 1960s

Though it was not yet officially called the Museum School, the Arkansas Arts Center’s first day of community art classes started on June 3, 1968.

To call it the first day of community art classes is a bit of a misnomer.  Even before the institution opened in May 1963, there were community art classes.  But once the degree-granting program launched in autumn 1964, the consistent, regular offering of those classes went away.

With the January 1968 announcement that the degree-granting program would end by May 31, 1968, plans were underway to bring back community arts classes.  Monday, June 3, 1968, started that program. Since that day, the Arkansas Arts Center has consistently offered arts classes to the community.

The session which began on June 3, 1968, was six weeks in length.  There were fourteen faculty members teaching 48 different classes for both adults and children.  The registration ranged from $10 to $22, depending on the course.   Among the course topics were painting, drawing, print-making, sculpture, crafts, design, children’s and teenage theatre, and art appreciation.  The faculty came from local artists.

Plans were already underway to offer twelve week sessions in the autumn of 1968 and spring of 1969 in a variety of art and dramatic disciplines.

As the Arkansas Arts Center prepares to vacate the space in MacArthur Park for the re-imagining of the building, Museum School classes will not go away.  They are continuing (along with the AAC summer academies) in MacArthur Park through August. Then they will move to the Arkansas Arts Center at Riverdale for the next several quarters.

Little Rock Look Back: Plans for Arkansas Arts Center unveiled on May 22, 1961

In a dinner at the Hotel Sam Peck, plans for the new Arkansas Arts Center were unveiled on Monday, May 22, 1961.

It was estimated the project would cost $600,000. A total of $646,000 (the equivalent of $5.5 million in 2019) had been raised by the Junior League of Little Rock, Fine Arts Club, and the Board of the Museum of Fine Arts.

At the time the project was getting underway, it was one of the first types of multidisciplinary arts facilities in the United States.

Ground was broken in August 1961 and the building would open officially in May 1963 (though parts of it were already in use by December 1962).

The firm of Ginocchio, Cromwell, Carter & Neyland did the architectural design.  Pickens-Bond Construction Company was the general contractor.

The May 1961 plans featured a slight expansion of existing gallery space (which was the 1937 Museum of Fine Arts building). It included the addition of a theatre, classrooms, administrative offices, a library, and more gallery space.  While the original entrance would be kept, the main focus of the building would be shifted from 9th Street into MacArthur Park with a new south entrance.

Over the years, the building underwent several additions.  These were tacked on to the existing edifice without truly linking it into one building.  On July 1, 2019, the facility will be closed to begin the work on the re-imaging and renovation. That process will unite the existing and new spaces into one seamless structure.