Scenes from the Clinton Presidential Center Dedication on Nov. 18, 2004

Fifteen years ago, I was on the top level of the press riser during the Clinton Presidential Center dedication. I was the northernmost person on the riser through most of the ceremony. The only people who received more wind or rain than I were the sharpshooters on the rooftop.

Here are some of the photos I took that morning.

Early morning on the Library Site

Dawn is breaking, and a break in the rain on November 18, 2004. Hopes were improving.

Andrew DeMillo (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) and Lance Turner (Arkansas Business) in the print media rows of the press riser. DeMillo is now with Associated Press.

Mayor Jim Dailey prepares to be interviewed by Candy Crowley on CNN.

Crowds gathering.

As the rains started, staffers sought coverage.

The Philander Smith College Choir performed.

The Lyon College Drum and Pipe Band performed.

The Color Guard preparing to enter the ceremony.

The First Ladies entering the ceremony. Barbara Bush (center of the photo) looks like she is having fun!

The Presidents entering the ceremony without umbrellas.

President Jimmy Carter addresses the crowd.

President George H W Bush addresses the audience.

President George W. Bush addresses the gathering.

First Lady Hillary Clinton delivering her remarks (and getting even wetter due to an off center umbrella placement).

President Bill Clinton closing out the ceremony with his comments.

15 Years Ago, Little Rock gave Aretha Franklin R-E-S-P-E-C-T in her concert with ASO

On November 16, 2004, the rafters of Robinson Center Music Hall were shaken by the vocal prowess of Aretha Franklin.

She shared the Robinson stage with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The ASO brought Miss Franklin to town as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the presidential library.  Long a favorite of the Clintons, Miss Franklin sang at his 1993 inaugural festivities the night before he took the oath of office.

Resplendent in a series of white dresses, Miss Franklin was in top form feeding off the love from the audience.  While backstage she may have been dealing with back and knee issues (which the Culture Vulture saw first hand), when she stepped on to the stage she was giving her all as she rolled through hit after hit from her starry career.  She sang, she played the piano, she entertained!

It was a sold out house and her voice and energy reached the last row of the balcony.

Prior to her appearance, the ASO played a few selections including variations on “Hail to the Chief” and “America.”

Earlier in the day, I had the privilege of picking up several copies of Bill Clinton’s autobiography for her to get signed by him.  I delivered them to her as she was resting between rehearsals. She was preparing for an interview with Craig O’Neill, and I hated disturbing her. But I wanted to be sure she got the books.  She was gracious and very appreciative.

Daisy Bates, born 105 years ago on Nov. 11, 1914

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates and her husband were important figures in the African American community in the capital city of Little Rock.  Realizing her intense involvement and dedication to education and school integration, Daisy was the chosen agent after nine black students were selected to attend and integrate a Little Rock High School.

Bates guided and advised the nine students, known as the Little Rock Nine, when they enrolled in 1957 at Little Rock Central High School. President Clinton presented the Little Rock Nine with the Congressional Gold Medal and spoke at the 40th anniversary of the desegregation while he was in office.

Daisy Bates was involved in more than the Little Rock Nine.  In January 1956, she led 27 African American students in their attempt to integrate four Little Rock schools.  While the efforts were not successful, they did serve to put the Little Rock School District on notice that the African American community was expecting action on school integration.

In 1959, she was arrested for refusing to provide City leaders with the membership of the local NAACP chapter. The case ended up going to the US Supreme Court as Daisy BATES et al., Petitioners, v. CITY OF LITTLE ROCK et al.  The decision had far-reaching impact in stopping government entities from requiring membership rolls as a means of intimidation or curbing the right of public assembly.

When Mrs. Bates died, a memorial service was held at Robinson Center on April 27, 2000.  Among the speakers were President Bill Clinton, Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and Rev. Rufus K. Young, pastor of the Bethel AME Church.  Others in attendance included Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, Mayor Jim Dailey, Presidential diarist Janis Kearney, former senator and governor David Pryor, and five members of the Little Rock Nine:  Carlotta Walls Lanier, Ernest Green, Minnijean Brown Trickey, Jefferson Thomas, and Elizabeth Eckford.

It was during his remarks at the service that President Clinton announced he had asked that Bates’ south-central Little Rock home be designated as a national historic landmark.

Artober – Sustainable Art. WASHED ASHORE exhibit at Clinton Presidential Library

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October is Arts and Humanities Month nationally and in Little Rock. Americans for the Arts has identified a different arts topic to be posted for each day in the month. Today’s focus is Sustainable Art.

For a few days more, visitors to the Clinton Presidential Center can experience Washed Ashore is a family-friendly exhibit that will feature more than 20 giant sea life sculptures – made entirely of trash and debris collected from beaches. This exhibit poignantly illustrates the toll trash takes on our oceans and waterways.

The incredible marine life sculptures will be accompanied by educational signage allowing visitors to learn about the fascinating species, environmental stewardship, responsible consumer habits, and how “every action counts” to help save our waterways.

Washed Ashore is a visual reminder of the disposable products that end up in our waters, and that each of us can take action to prevent further pollution. “Hope, creativity, [and] imagination will be required to meet the challenges that we face with our oceans,” said President Bill Clinton to the National Oceans Conference in June 1998. “But they are the traits that first enabled and inspired explorers to take to the sea. They are traits that allowed us to look at our inextricable ties to our environment and invent new ways to protect our natural wonders from harm in the last three decades. In the 21st century, these traits – hope, creativity, imagination – they must lead us to preserve our living oceans as a sacred legacy for all time to come.”

The Washed Ashore exhibit will be primarily displayed inside two of the Clinton Center’s
galleries. Visitors will see Eli the Eel, walk through the Reef at Risk, and be able to play the Styrofoam Drum Set. The exhibit opened to the public on April 27; a second phase featuring additional sculptures opened in June, when Priscilla the Parrot Fish, a 16-foot-long, 1,500-pound brightly-colored sculpture was installed to greet visitors from the water fountains located outside the front doors.

“The sculptures are beautiful, truly works of art, but they are a poignant reminder that our oceans and waterways are precious resources that need our attention now more than ever,” said Stephanie S. Streett, executive director of the Clinton Foundation.

“From the student visitor to the grand parent, we hope that everyone who has the opportunity to enjoy Washed Ashore walks away with a renewed sense of awe and responsibility.”

Washed Ashore presents an opportunity to reflect on the Clinton administration’s efforts to safeguard essential bodies of water and promote environmental stewardship. “President Bill Clinton’s administration took strong action to protect our coasts and waterways,” said Terri Garner, director of the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. “He signed crucial legislation and issued key executive orders designed to improve water quality, protect wetlands and coasts, and reduce waste while increasing the use of recycled products.”

Artober – Public Art: Henry Moore’s Large Standing Figure Knife Edge

Arguably Little Rock’s most famous piece of public art is Henry Moore’s 1961 creation Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, which is known locally as “The Henry Moore Sculpture.”

The original model was created in 1961; this sculpture was cast in 1976 and purchased in June 1978 by the Little Rock Metrocentre Improvement District.

The purchase price was $185,000 — a princely sum at the time but now a bargain for a Henry Moore sculpture. (Adjusted for inflation, that amount would be the equivalent of $705,000 today.)

A committee consisting of Townsend Wolfe (then the director and chief curator of the Arkansas Arts Center), James Dyke and Dr. Virginia Rembert traveled to England to meet with Moore about the sculpture.

It was originally placed on Main Street when the street had been bricked over as part of the Metrocentre Mall pedestrian mall plan. As portions of the street became unbricked and reopened to vehicular traffic, it was moved to the intersection of Capitol and Main. Finally, when the last segment was reopened to vehicular traffic, it was put at its current location of the southeast corner of Capitol and Louisiana. Because it was purchased by the Improvement District, it must stay within the boundaries of the district.

On March 20, 2018, the City of Little Rock and the Metrocentre Improvement District swapped the Henry Moore sculpture for the land on which the District’s parking deck stands. The City will relocate the Henry Moore piece to be in front of the Arkansas Arts Center once that reconstruction project is completed.

A replica of the sculpture is featured in the 1980s classic The Breakfast Club.