Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Mahlon A. Martin

On July 19, 1945, future Little Rock City Manager Mahlon A. Martin was born in Little Rock.

After graduating in 1963 from Horace Mann High School, he attended Philander Smith College.  (He had received a baseball scholarship to Grambling, but chose to remain in Little Rock to be near his ailing grandmother.)  Martin graduated from Philander Smith in 1967 with a degree in business administration.

After working in the private sector for two years, Martin was hired by City Manager Jack T. Meriwether to work for the City of Little Rock in 1969 after the City had received a Model Cities grant.  Martin started working with community organizations and then became promoted to the City’s recruiting officer.

In 1972, he was named to leadership posts at the four-county Central Arkansas Manpower Program.  Three years later, he returned to the City of Little Rock to work on the staff of City Manager Carleton McMullin.  In 1976, Martin was named Assistant City Manager for Little Rock.

Martin left City Hall in 1979 to become a top executive at Systematics, Inc.  However, his stint in the private sector was short-lived.  In 1980, the City Board of Directors asked him to come back and be Little Rock’s sixth City Manager.  At thirty-four, he was one of the youngest chief administrators of a major city in the country and the first African American City Manager for Little Rock.

In 1983, Governor Bill Clinton asked him to join the state of Arkansas as the Director of the Department of Finance and Administration.  He was the first African American to lead that or any major Arkansas state department.  Throughout his tenure with the State, he oversaw numerous initiatives to restore the state to sound financial footing.

Martin joined the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation as president in 1989.  He held that position until his death in 1995.

The name Mahlon Martin lives on in a son and grandson named after him, in an apartment complex on south Main Street, in a street in Clinton Presidential Park, and in the City of Little Rock’s Employee of the Year award.  The latter was created by City Manager Bruce T. Moore in 2004.  At the time Moore noted that Martin had been so popular while City Manager, “It was said you could criticize the Razorbacks to a City of Little Rock employee, but you better not say anything bad about Mahlon Martin to them.”

In 2001, Mahlon Martin was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  A decade later, the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies created a fellowship in his memory.  It supports research and programming in the field of public policy in Arkansas.  In 2015, he was included in the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail.

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Little Rock Look Back: Robinson Center closes for renovation

On July 1, 2014, Robinson Center Music Hall closed so that renovations could commence.  Instead of having a groundbreaking ceremony, Gretchen Hall and LRCVB arranged for a “stage breaking.”  Slats from the stage flooring were pried up with crowbars.

Twenty-eight months later, Robinson Center reopened on-time and on-budget.

(As a side note:  the Culture Vulture announced the countdown before Governor Mike Beebe and various Little Rock leaders used their crowbars for the first breaking of the stage flooring.)

Here are some photos from that ceremony.


Susan Altrui is new director of Little Rock Zoo

cc15 altruiSusan Altrui will take the helm as the Little Rock Zoo’s new director, City Manager Bruce T. Moore announced today.  Altrui, who has been with the state’s only accredited zoo since 2005, fills the position left open by the retirement of longtime director Mike Blakely in October.

“Our goal is for the Little Rock Zoo to become one of the top mid-sized city zoos in the country,” Moore said. “Susan is the person to get us there because of her experience, dedication and vision. I’m excited to have her leading the Zoo as it continues its growth as a world-class institution focused on education, conservation and recreation.”

Altrui began her career at the Zoo as the director of marketing and development and executive director of the Arkansas Zoological Foundation. In July 2015, she was named the Zoo’s assistant director. She has been responsible for marketing, public relations, special events, development, government relations, and fundraising for the Zoo and has helped to maintain the Zoo’s accreditation.

“I couldn’t be more thrilled to take on this important new role as the next director of the Little Rock Zoo. I’m ready to work hard with our city leaders, staff, volunteers, board members and other members of the community to grow and develop our Zoo,” Altrui said. “The Zoo is a place that nurtures our passion for animals and encourages respect for all living things. It’s a place where learning lives.”

Under Altrui’s guidance, the Zoo has raised funds for the Laura P. Nichols Penguin Pointe exhibit, the Laura P. Nichols Cheetah Outpost, Diamond Express Train and the Arkansas Heritage Farm exhibit, which opened in April of this year.

Altrui served as project manager for a new master plan and strategic plan. She also worked on the Zoo accreditation by attending hearings on three separate occasions before the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Accreditation Committee. She has developed several successful fundraisers, including Zoo Brew and the annual Wild Wines event, which is now one of Arkansas’s largest food and wine festivals.

Altrui holds a master’s degree in Applied Studies in Communication from Colorado State University and a bachelor’s degree in the same area from Arkansas State University.

Ninety years ago, the Little Rock Zoo brought wildlife to the citizens of Arkansas with just two animals: an abandoned timber wolf and a circus-trained bear. Today, the Zoo is one of Arkansas’ most attended attractions, with approximately 300,000 visitors annually. It cares for more than 700 animals representing 200 different species, many endangered.

The Zoo is part of the AZA Species Survival Plan aimed at saving threatened/endangered species through cooperative breeding, a program that Altrui seeks to expand.

My goal as Zoo director is to enhance our conservation education efforts and to provide an engaging experience for every guest every time they walk through our gate,” Altrui said. “Updating and renovating the Zoo is essential and we have already begun the planning process for the next major animal exhibit. We are also revamping education efforts to provide exciting, engaging programming that helps inspire who you want to be and who you can become. We will help cultivate the next generation of biologists, wildlife scientists and conservationists.”


Little Rock Look Back: A Dozen Years of the Clinton Library

SkipIt has been twelve years.  Have you warmed up yet?

Many remember November 18, 2004, for the rain and cold wind which greeted visitors to the opening of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park.  In the years which lead up to that day, November 18, 2004, was known simply as “Game Day” for a group of people.  The chief one was Skip Rutherford.

Overseeing the planning for the Clinton Presidential Center and the events surrounding it had been the focus of James L. “Skip” Rutherford for many years. A FOB for decades, he had stayed in Little Rock when so many went to Washington DC in 1993.

He oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and led the Clinton Foundation.  No detail was too small or insignificant for him to consider. For months leading to the opening he led meetings to help restaurants, hotels, and attractions understand the scope of the opening.

Together with Dean Kumpuris and Bruce Moore on behalf of the City of Little Rock and Stephanie Streett of the Clinton Foundation, he reviewed plans for the Clinton Presidential Park and the streets and neighborhoods around the Clinton Presidential Center.

Skip used his connections with the business community in Little Rock and throughout the state to discuss the importance of a Presidential Library regardless of one’s personal political affiliations.  He withstood critics who second-guessed everything from the cost, the design, the location, the purpose, and even the anticipated tourism and economic impacts.

Finally the big day had come.  If the weather was not ideal, that was almost inconsequential. It was still the culmination of more than seven years hard work.  As he remarked later that evening when discussing the weather “Many who attended today go to events like this all the time.  This is one they won’t forget!”

However, the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center was not the end of the task. It merely was the move from one phase to another. A few years later, Skip’s role would change as he would leave the Foundation and become the second Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service.


Little Rock Look Back: Clinton selects Little Rock as library site

ClintonCenterConstruction-48

Refuse littered the future site of the Clinton Presidential Center

On November 7, 1997, President Bill Clinton announced his intentions to locate his presidential library in Little Rock at the end of a warehouse district.

The Little Rock City Board met in a special meeting that day to rename part of Markham Street, which would lead to the site, as President Clinton Avenue.

While the announcement was met with excitement in many quarters, there were still some skeptics who had a hard time envisioning a presidential library and park in the middle of a wasteland worthy of a T. S. Eliot poem.

There would be many hurdles between the November 1997 announcement to the December 2001 groundbreaking. But for the moment, City of Little Rock leaders, celebrated the achievement.  Then Mayor Jim Dailey had appointed City Director Dean Kumpuris and City employee Bruce T. Moore to lead the City’s efforts.  Moore and Kumpuris worked with Skip Rutherford and others to narrow the potential sites.

In September 1997, the Clintons were in town for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High School.  They surprised Kumpuris and Moore with a decision for a Sunday afternoon visit to the warehouse district proposed site. Secret Service would not let the limousine drive in part of the property, so the Clintons, Moore, Kumpuris, and Rutherford walked up a path to the roof of the abandoned Arkansas Book Depository.  It was there that the Clintons could see the Little Rock skyline which would be visible from the library.

Of course by the time the library had opened in November 2004, the Little Rock skyline was different. Spurred on by the library, several new highrises had been constructed in downtown.


Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Library Groundbreaking

bill groundbreak14 years ago today the groundbreaking for the Clinton Library took place on December 5, 2001. It was dry and about thirty degrees warmer than the actual opening would be in November 2004.

The former president was joined by then-Mayor Jim Dailey, City Director Dean Kumpuris, then-Assistant City Manager Bruce Moore, contractor Bill Clark, then-Clinton Foundation executives Skip Rutherford & Stephanie Streett, and other dignitaries in turning the dirt. The location for the ceremony is now actually the parking lot for Sturgis Hall – the home of the Clinton School of Public Service and Clinton Foundation offices.

President Clinton was the only member of his family to attend the ceremony, which drew over 400 people. His wife, then the junior Senator from New York, was expecting some important floor votes in Washington DC, and daughter Chelsea was studying in England.

At the ceremony, Clinton joked “We’re going to try to build it in less than it took to build the medieval cathedrals and the Egyptian pyramids, but if I can’t rein in my team it may cost as much!” Of course by then the date was set for November 2004. Coordinating schedules of the current and former Presidents is an intricate act.


Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Center Opened 11 Years Ago Today

SkipMany remember November 18, 2004, for the rain and cold wind which greeted visitors to the opening of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park.  In the years which lead up to that day, November 18, 2004, was known simply as “Game Day” for a group of people.  The chief one was Skip Rutherford.

Overseeing the planning for the Clinton Presidential Center and the events surrounding it had been the focus of James L. “Skip” Rutherford for many years. A FOB for decades, he had stayed in Little Rock when so many went to Washington DC in 1993.

He oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and led the Clinton Foundation.  No detail was too small or insignificant for him to consider. For months leading to the opening he led meetings to help restaurants, hotels, and attractions understand the scope of the opening.

Together with Dean Kumpuris and Bruce Moore on behalf of the City of Little Rock and Stephanie Streett of the Clinton Foundation, he reviewed plans for the Clinton Presidential Park and the streets and neighborhoods around the Clinton Presidential Center.

He used his connections with the business community in Little Rock and throughout the state to discuss the importance of a Presidential Library regardless of one’s personal political affiliations.  He withstood critics who second-guessed everything from the cost, the design, the location, the purpose, and even the anticipated tourism and economic impacts.

Finally the big day had come.  If the weather was not ideal, that was almost inconsequential. It was still the culmination of more than seven years hard work.

However, the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center was not the end of the task. It merely was the move from one phase to another. A few years later, Skip’s role would change as he would leave the Foundation and become the second Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service.