Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Opening of the Arkansas Arts Center!

On Saturday, May 18, 1963, amidst fanfare and fans of the arts, the Arkansas Arts Center officially opened its doors.  (This was thirty-five years and three days after the Fine Arts Club had opened the first permanent art gallery in Arkansas in the Pulaski County Courthouse).

The dedication ceremonies on May 18 featured U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright (who was in the midst of championing what would soon be known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), Congressman Wilbur Mills, Governor Orval Faubus, Little Rock Mayor Byron Morse, Winthrop Rockefeller and Jeanette Rockefeller.

On Friday, May 17, 1963, film star Gordon MacRae performed two separate concerts in the theatre space.  There were other assorted small events and tours on May 16 and 17.

The culmination of the weekend was the Beaux Arts Bal.  This black tie event, featured Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), James Rorimer of the Metropolitan Museum, and Dave Brubeck.  Chaired by Jeane Hamilton, the event set a new standard for events in Little Rock.

Among the exhibits at the Arkansas Arts Center for the grand opening was a special exhibit from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York entitled Five Centuries of European Painting.  In Little Rock for six months, this exhibit featured works by El Greco, Titian, Claude Monet, Odilon Redon, Pierre Renoir, Paul Signac, Edgar Degas, and Paul Gauguin among many others and spanned from the fifteenth century Early Renaissance era to the nineteenth century.

Prior to the opening, a profile on the Arts Center in The Christian Science Monitor touted the building as one of the first regional arts centers in the country to be completed. Benefiting from national ties of the Rockefeller family, the events in May 1963, set a high standard for the institution, and for other regional art museums.

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Arkansas Heritage Month – Celebrities and Celebrations open Arkansas Arts Center on May 18, 1963

AAC opening programOn Saturday, May 18, 1963, amidst fanfare and fans of the arts, the Arkansas Arts Center officially opened its doors.  (This was thirty-five years and three days after the Fine Arts Club had opened the first permanent art gallery in Arkansas in the Pulaski County Courthouse).

The dedication ceremonies on May 18 featured U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright (who was in the midst of championing what would soon be known as the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), Congressman Wilbur Mills, Governor Orval Faubus, Little Rock Mayor Byron Morse, Winthrop Rockefeller and Jeanette Rockefeller.

On Friday, May 17, 1963, film star Gordon MacRae performed two separate concerts in the theatre space.  There were other assorted small events and tours on May 16 and 17.

The culmination of the weekend was the Beaux Arts Bal.  This black tie event, featured Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, cartoonist Charles Addams (creator of The Addams Family), James Rorimer of the Metropolitan Museum, and Dave Brubeck.  Chaired by Jeane Hamilton, the event set a new standard for events in Little Rock.

Among the exhibits at the Arkansas Arts Center for the grand opening was a special exhibit from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York entitled Five Centuries of European Painting.  In Little Rock for six months, this exhibit featured works by El Greco, Titian, Claude Monet, Odilon Redon, Pierre Renoir, Paul Signac, Edgar Degas, and Paul Gauguin among many others and spanned from the fifteenth century Early Renaissance era to the nineteenth century.

Prior to the opening, a profile on the Arts Center in The Christian Science Monitor touted the building as one of the first regional arts centers in the country to be completed. Benefiting from national ties of the Rockefeller family, the events in May 1963, set a high standard for the institution, and for other regional art museums.


Art+History Throwback Thursday: Museum of Fine Arts

MFA postcardOn February 9, Little Rock voters will have the chance to say Yes to improving the Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History and MacArthur Park.

Leading up to that election is a good time to look back at the development of these two MacArthur Park sited museums.

The Museum of Fine Arts opened in October 1937.  The groundbreaking was held on January 3, 1936, with the cornerstone laid on October 6 of that year.  Nearly one year later, the Fine Arts Club held its first meeting in the building and hosted a grand open house on October 5, 1937.

The front doorway to the museum is visible today inside a gallery of the Arkansas Arts Center.


Women’s History Month Throwback Thursday: The Fine Arts Club

In 1914, a group of women interested in visual art came together in Little Rock and formed The Fine Arts Club of Arkansas. 

In the early years, they gathered for regular discussions and taught art classes. 

Over time, the Fine Arts Club started acquiring artworks through donations. Originally they displayed these in the Pulaski County Courthouse in a room loaned to them for that purpose. 

Eventually, the County needed the space and the Fine Arts Club needed more room.  In the early 1930s, members approached Mayor Horace Knowlton with the suggestion of the City constructing a fine art museum. 

After securing funding for construction from the WPA, ground was broken and the Museum of Fine Arts opened in 1937 in City Park (now MacArthur Park).

Members of the Fine Arts Club staffed the museum as volunteers and docents as well as arranged for traveling exhibits. From the museum, the club continued to offer classes and guest lectures

By the mid-1950s, there was a desire for larger exhibit space, and the Fine Arts Club joined with the Junior League and the City of Little Rock in creating a new art museum.  

In 1963, the Arkansas Arts Center opened in MacArthur Park. This new facility encompassed the previous museum as well as additional spaces. With the hiring of professional staff to curate exhibits and teach classes, the Fine Arts Club transitioned to a volunteer corps and continued special monthly programming. 

Today, the purpose of the Fine Arts Club is to promote and extend the activities, usefulness and enjoyment of the Arkansas Arts Center.  The Fine Arts Club supports the Arkansas Arts Center by hosting programs featuring knowledgeable and dynamic speakers, and providing volunteers.  


Remembering 14 Cultural Figures from 2014

Little Rock lost several cultural luminaries in 2014. Some were practitioners, others were volunteers and donors.  All were passionate about the role the arts and culture play in not only everyday lives, but in making a city great.

While there are doubtless omissions to this list, these 14 are representative of the loss in 2014 but also the rich cultural legacy of the Little Rock area. They are presented in alphabetical order.

1414mayaThough never a Little Rock resident, Maya Angelou is linked to the City’s cultural life. Throughout her career, she would make appearances in Little Rock at a variety of venues. As an actress, dancer, poet and professor, she lived life to the fullest and encouraged others to do likewise.

1414jeffbJeff Baskin was more than a librarian in North Little Rock. He was a religious scholar, an actor, and an appreciator of many art forms. He was a regular fixture at cultural events on both sides of the Arkansas River. With his sly smile and quick wit, he put others at ease. His charm was disarming and his circle of friends was boundless.

1414BowenAttorney, banker, historian, author, Dean, advisor, raconteur. This was Bill Bowen. And so much more.  He helped build Little Rock and Arkansas into modern entities. As such, he realized the value of arts and culture to the big picture.  He was not only generous with money, he was generous with wise advice.

1414tcT.C. Edwards was far more than the lead singer of TC and The Eddies, TC and The Ponies and The Piranhas. One of the most familiar faces in the Little Rock music scene over the last 25 years, he was an icon. Much more could be said about him, but he’d prefer the music just keep playing.

1414lawrenceBroadway star Lawrence Hamilton. After conquering the Great White Way, he conquered the Rock. Whether with the Philander Smith College Choir, the Arkansas Rep, Arkansas Symphony, surprising Governor Beebe, or at an event, Lawrence was a consummate performer and warm and welcoming individual.

1414anneAnne Hickman was ever-present at the Arkansas Arts Center. For over forty years she gave time and money to make sure this museum could fulfill its mission. Her generous smile and ebullience were also part and parcel of many Arts Center events. In recognition of her dedication, she received the Arts Center’s Winthrop Rockefeller Award in 2008.

1414geraldGerald Johnson was a tenor saxophone player and Little Rock music scene mainstay. Whether headlining a concert or as a side man in a recording session, he brought the same level of cool excellence to his playing. He also mentored younger musicians and worked to instill love of music in many generations.

1414warrenWarren Law lit up Little Rock. For nearly three decades he was lighting designer and a teacher at UALR.  He designed the lighting for many Ballet Arkansas, Murry’s Dinner Playhouse and Arkansas Arts Center productions as well. At the time of his death, he was the lighting designer for Robinson Auditorium and the Little Rock School District.

1414barbaraBarbara Patty was a force of nature, especially when it came to support of music and art. As a singer, master gardener at museums, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra volunteer and board member, Arts Center docent, Aesthetic Club president, and general lover of the arts, she not only enjoyed the arts, she was a mentor and encourager of arts patrons and practitioners.

1414pennickBanker Edward M. Penick served on the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees.  As a longtime leader at Worthen Bank, he was instrumental in helping establish many nascent cultural institutions such as the Arts Center, Arkansas Symphony and Arkansas Rep as they were getting established in the 1960s and 1970s.

1414TTheresa Quick, or “T,” was a founding member of the Arkansas Rep. She spent over three decades on stage as an actress. She also was a teacher and mentor.  In addition to usually stealing the show when she appeared at the Rep, she shone at Murry’s, the Arts Center and countless radio commercials.

1414kayKay Terry Spencer enjoyed being on stage, but also enjoyed volunteering to make sure others had the opportunities to shine in their artistic talents. After moving to Little Rock, she spent countless hours as a volunteer at the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and with the Fine Arts Club.

1414billTBill Trice. That name is synonymous with the arts in Little Rock. He was an actor, director, dancer, singer, teacher, student and mentor. From small blackboxes to large halls, bars to churches, his smile and talents left their mark. He was an expert attorney too. And a lover of music (all types), politics (Democratic), and his exceptionally talented family.

1414pollyCaroline “Polly” Murphy Keller Winter embraced the arts as she embraced all aspects of life – fully and without reservation. She served as board chair for the Arkansas Symphony and established the ASO endowment, which continues to grow.  She was an active supporter of the arts in Little Rock, south Arkansas and other states.


LR Cultural Touchstone: Virginia Bailey

Bailey, Virginia MitchellVirginia Mitchell Bailey was an avid supporter and promoter of visual and performing arts.  A real estate developer, she was a wife, mother, grandmother, and tireless community volunteer as well.  She was a trailblazer in the area of balancing a business career with continued volunteerism.  While today that is common, in the 1960s and 1970s, it was very rare for women to do both.

Virginia served on the Advisory Board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. She was a member of the Fine Arts Club since 1960. She served for 17 years on the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees and for 12 years on the Arts Center Foundation Board. She was Secretary of the Arts Center Board in 1974, President of the Board from 1976 to 1977, and Chairman of the Board from 1977 to 1978. In 1989, she received the Winthrop Rockefeller Annual Award for outstanding service to the Arts Center. In 2001, the Arts Center Board named the Virginia and Ted Bailey Gallery in her honor.

From 1992 to 1995, Virginia served on the Advisory Board of the University of Arkansas School of Architecture. She served as the first President of the Friends of the Arts at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  She was also a board member of Wildwood Park for the Performing Arts.

In recognition of their philanthropic support for so many charitable groups in the community and elsewhere, and by nomination from UALR, Virginia and her husband Dr. Ted Bailey received the Philanthropist of the Year Award from the Arkansas Chapter of the National Association of Fundraisers in 1994. In 1990, Virginia received one of the annual Outstanding Women of the Year Awards sponsored by Boatmen’s Bank. She was honored with the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Award (AHA!) in 1995.