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: Grant in Little Rock (but not the Capital Hotel elevator)

On April 15, 1880, former president Ulysses S. Grant spoke in Little Rock as part of his world tour. While here he made a couple of appearances and participated in a parade. It was Grant’s first visit to Arkansas either as a soldier or a politician.

At his outdoor speech, his remarks followed brief comments by Governor William R. Miller and Mayor John Gould Fletcher (erroneously referred to as John C. Fletcher in the Memphis Appeal story the next day). Grant’s comments were brief and flowery. He thanked Arkansans for a warm welcome, praised the future prospects of Arkansas and discussed the demise of what he termed “sectionalism” which was undoubtedly a reference to the division between the Union and and former Confederate states.

Also that day, Grant addressed a banquet in Concordia Hall (now part of the Arkansas Studies Institute complex on the Central Arkansas Library downtown campus). His was one of fifteen toasts that evening. It was simply “The United States of America, forever United.” He expounded briefly on the theme of unity of citizens from all states. He also discussed immigration noting, “All foreigners find a welcome here. We make them American citizens. After we receive them, it is but one generation until they are Americans.” He noted that he could speak much more on the topic, but that since he was but one of fifteen toasts and that there was to be music after each toast, “It will be to-morrow (sic) morning when we get through if we all take as much time as the subjects admit of.”

Not everyone was thrilled to have the former commander of the Union Army in Little Rock. The story goes that when he was parading down the street, some Little Rock women (in a display of Souther un-hospitality) sat in chairs with their backs to the parade route. But all in all, it appears to have been a successful visit for the man who was the only Republican in the 19th Century to win Arkansas’ Electoral votes.Grant arrived in Little Rock on the night of April 14 and lodged at the Capital Hotel. He undoubtedly enjoyed some whiskey and cigars while at the Capital. Grant had originally planned on departing in the afternoon of April 15, but Little Rock leaders pled with him to stay so that he could be honored at the banquet. He assented.

Incidentally, there is an urban myth that, while in Little Rock, General Grant rode his horse in the oversized elevator of the Capital Hotel.  This is a relatively recent story. The oversized elevator was not installed until the 1980s, over 100 years after Gen. Grant was a guest of the facility.


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.


Tonight at 7, Arkansas Sounds salutes composers Florence Price and William Grant Still at Ron Robinson Theater

AR Sounds price_stillTwo of the leading American classical music composers in the first half of the 20th Century were from Arkansas and were African American.  Tonight (February 26) Arkansas Sounds pays tribute to Florence B. Price and William Grant Still in a program at 7pm at the Ron Robinson Theater.

Arkansas Sounds pays tribute to two of Arkansas’s most highly acclaimed African American classical composers with a screening of The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price followed by performances of Price’s and Still’s compositions by members of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and the ASO Youth Orchestra. The film’s length is approximately 1 hour.

Little Rock native Florence Price (1887-1953) was the first African American female classical composer to have her composition played by a major American symphony orchestra. The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price traces Price’s life, detailing her cultured childhood in an extraordinarily gifted family, her struggles and eventual departure from the South due to racial tension, and her great artistic impact and success. Her compositions were favored by famed soprano Marian Anderson, and in 1933, her “Symphony in E Minor” was performed at the Chicago World’s Fair by the Chicago Symphony.

Born in Woodville, Mississippi, and raised in Little Rock, William Grant Still (1895-1978) achieved national and international acclaim as a composer of symphonic and popular music and, as an African American, was hailed for breaking race barriers of his time. His Afro-American Symphony was the first symphony composed by an African American to be played by a major symphony orchestra and is still performed today. Still was a prolific composer whose work includes symphonies, ballets, operas, chamber music, and works for solo instruments, totaling nearly 200. He also received numerous honors and achievements such as the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1934, 1935, and 1938. He also received eight honorary degrees from institutions such as Oberlin College, the University of Arkansas, Pepperdine University, and the Peabody Conservatory of Music.

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra (ASO) comprises the state’s most sought-after professional musicians and is celebrating its 50th season. The ASO Youth Orchestra comprises over 200 student musicians, ages 9-18, who travel from over thirty-seven communities throughout Arkansas.


Black History Month Spotlight – Arkansas Studies Institute

ASI CALS UALRThe new Arkansas Civil Rights History Audio Tour was launched in November 2015. Produced by the City of Little Rock and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock allows the many places and stories of the City’s Civil Rights history to come to life an interactive tour.  This month, during Black History Month, the Culture Vulture looks at some of the stops on this tour which focus on African American history.

The Arkansas Studies Institute building is a Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) facility. It houses both the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies (a CALS department) and the Center for Arkansas History and Culture, a department of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR).

Exterior and interior panels are featured showing Arkansas African American life through historic photographs. Both archives offer genealogy and photography collections, and visual, audio and reference materials relating to African American history and civil rights topics in Arkansas. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, a Butler Center project, has many entries on African American history.

The Arkansas Sounds music collection contains materials relating to black musicians William Grant Still, Florence Price, Louis Jordan, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Al Bell. The Butler Center’s galleries feature local art, jewelry and crafts, many by Arkansas black artists.

The UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture contains extensive archives, including virtual exhibits relating to the Civil War, Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, and the city of Little Rock. Adding another dimension to the struggle for civil rights are documents and art from the World War II Japanese American Relocation Camps at Rohwer and Jerome, Arkansas, and two large Jewish history collections.

The app, funded by a generous grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council, was a collaboration among UALR’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity, the City of Little Rock, the Mayor’s Tourism Commission, and KUAR, UALR’s public radio station, with assistance from the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.


Your Heart will be filled with ART at tonight’s 2nd Friday Art Night

2FAN logo Font sm2It is 2nd Friday Art Night again. From 5pm to 8pm (times may vary at individual locations), a variety of museums and galleries downtown are open with free events to enjoy art, music and exhibits.

Highlights include:

Mosaic Templars Cultural Center – Opening reception for “I WALKED ON WATER TO MY HOMELAND” FEATURING WORKS BY DELITA MARTIN (6pm to 8pm)

“I Walked on Water to My Homeland” is a series of mixed media works that explore the power of the narrative impulse. These works capture oral traditions that are firmly based in factual events and bring them to life using layers of various printmaking, drawing, sewing, collage and printing techniques.

The opening will feature an artist talk, refreshments and live entertainment by Acoustix with Rod P. featuring Bijoux.

Matt McLeod Fine Art – (5pm to 8pm)

A chance to see the art at the gallery and perhaps pick up a Valentine’s gift.

Historic Arkansas Museum – Opening reception for ARKANSAS CONTEMPORARIES: THEN, NOW, NEXT (5pm to 8pm)

Check out the new exhibit and enjoy a free evening of art, history, Museum Store shopping and live music by Shannon Wurst!
Enjoy a craft cocktail by Pink House Alchemy(They will also have Pink Lemonade)
Enter to win a box of chocolates from Cocoa Rouge-The winner will be announced at 6:30 pm (must be present to win)

“Arkansas Contemporaries: Then, Now, Next” – The museum’s Trinity Gallery for Arkansas Artists and Second Floor Gallery for Emerging Artists focus on exhibitions by contemporary Arkansas artists. This exhibit features exemplary selections from the museum’s permanent collection and reflects upon the work of the talented Arkansans who have been represented in these galleries over the past ten years and a glimpse to future exhibitions.  Featured artworks in this exhibit represent important points in the careers of contemporary Arkansas artists like Bryan Massey, Warren Criswell, Katherine Strause, John Harlan Norris, Katherine Rutter, Grace Mikell Ramsey and others.  Exhibit continues through May 8, 2016.

Old State House Museum – Felice Farrell, cello (5pm to 8pm)

Join the Old State House as Arkansas Symphony Orchestra cellist Felice Farrell performs solo works for cello by the well-known 18th century German composer Johann Sebastian Bach and 20th century Spanish cellist and composer Gaspar Cassado. The Old State House Museum is one of several downtown locations that hosts this evening of entertainment and exhibits. While here, shop the Museum Store. Visitors can ride the trolley to visit other Second Friday venues, including the Historic Arkansas Museum.

Butler Center for Arkansas Studies – Opening reception for PAINTING 360: A LOOK AT CONTEMPORARY PANORAMIC PAINTING (5pm to 8pm)

On view through Saturday, April 30, artists whose work is featured in Painting 360° include Marcia Clark, Nicholas Evans-Cato, Christopher Evans, Amer Kobaslija, Jackie Lima, Matthew Lopas, Carrie O’Coyle, Dick Termes, and Melissa Cowper Smith.
Featured artist: Julie Holt, an artist who handbuilds clay objects and vessels.
Featured musician: The Rolling Blackouts


Arkansas and the Southern Manifesto explored at Butler Center’s Legacies & Lunch today

southern_manifestoAt Legacies & Lunch, John Kyle Day, associate professor of history at University of Arkansas at Monticello, will discuss the efforts of the United States Congress to delay desegregation in the 1950s and onward.  The program will take place today (February 3) at 12 noon at the Darragh Center on the CALS campus.

On March 13, 1956, ninety-nine members of the United States Congress promulgated the Declaration of Constitutional Principles, popularly known as the Southern Manifesto. This document formally stated opposition to the landmark United State Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, and the emergent civil rights movement. This allowed the white South to prevent Brown‘s immediate full-scale implementation and, for nearly two decades, set the slothful timetable and glacial pace of public school desegregation. The Southern Manifesto also provided the Southern Congressional Delegation with the means to stymie federal voting rights legislation, so that the dismantling of Jim Crow could be managed largely on white southern terms.

Day’s book, The Southern Manifesto: Massive Resistance and the Fight to Preserve Segregation, narrates this single worst episode of racial demagoguery in modern American political history and considers the statement’s impact upon both the struggle for black freedom and the larger racial dynamics of postwar America.

Legacies & Lunch is free, open to the public, and supported in part by the Arkansas Humanities Council. Programs are held from noon-1 p.m. on the first Wednesday of each month. Attendees are invited to bring a sack lunch; drinks and dessert are provided. For more information, contact 918-3033.