Little Rock Arts Community Response on September 11, 2001

As all sectors did, the Little Rock arts and culture community responded to September 11.

Two of the groups in particular come to mind. When airspace was closed on September 11, several flights were grounded in Little Rock. The passengers on those planes became unexpected visitors to Little Rock.   Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey and Assistant City Manager Bruce Moore led efforts to make sure that everyone had a place to stay that evening.

The Arkansas Rep had opened its production of You Can’t Take It with You on Friday, September 7. The show was already scheduled to be dark on September 11, but on Wednesday, September 12, 2001, the performances resumed. That night the Rep offered these unexpected Little Rock guests free tickets to the performance.

Seeing a play which was both heartwarming, comic and full of Americana was the perfect balm for audiences who were weary, confused and nervous in the wake of the terrorist attacks. Most of the cast of that production was from New York City. Luckily, all of their friends and family back in New York were all safe.

Also on September 12, 2001, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra presented a previously scheduled concert with Michael Bolton.  He had been traveling by bus so was able to get to Little Rock.  His concert was cathartic for the 2000 plus attendees at Robinson Center Music Hall. It offered not only a communal experience but also a welcome break from 24 hour coverage.

Three days later, on September 15, the ASO kicked off its MasterWorks series.  As has been tradition since the days of Francis McBeth as conductor, that first concert of the season began with the National Anthem.  The audience and musicians gathered and sang and played with unprecedented gusto that night.

Advertisements

Little Rock Look Back: Establishment of Arkansas Arts Center

Architectural model of the original Arkansas Arts Center which would open in 1963.

On Tuesday, September 6, 1960, the City of Little Rock Board of Directors adopted ordinance 11,111 which formally established the Arkansas Arts Center.

In July 1957, the City Council of Little Rock granted the Museum of Fine Arts the authority to solicit and receive funds for expanding that museum’s physical plant.  During that process, it had been decided that the museum needed an expanded mission and a new name.  By the summer of 1960, the museum supporters had raised sufficient funds to proceed with constructing the new facility.  Therefor the new ordinance was prepared and submitted to the City Board.  (In November 1957, the City Council had been replaced by a City Board.)

Ordinance 11,111 set forth that the Museum of Fine Arts would be known as the Arkansas Arts Center and that the previous museum’s board would serve as the board for the new museum.  The Board of the Arkansas Arts Center was given the authority to have the new building constructed in MacArthur Park and the existing building modified.  As a part of the planning for the new museum, the City committed $75,000 for the capital campaign.

The groundbreaking for the new museum would take place in August 1961.  Mayor Werner Knoop, who signed Ordinance 11,111, took part in the groundbreaking.

Media attending the September 6, 1960, City Board meeting were more interested in discussion about a potential leash law for dogs within the City limits.

LR Women Making History – Faith Yingling Knoop

Faith Yingling Knoop was the first Little Rock First Lady during the City Manager era.  Her husband, Werner Knoop, served as Mayor from November 1957 until December 1962.

She was a nationally known author of children’s books.  She also wrote short stories, THE Arkansas History Book which was used for decades in the state, and more than 250 articles.

Viewing her writing as a hobby instead of a career, she nonetheless was a dedicated author who spent hours researching her books. Many of her books were biographies.  One of her most notable one was 1950’s Zebulon Pike, which was reviewed in The New Yorker magazine.

In addition to writing numerous books, Knoop penned many short stories for magazines such as Highlights for ChildrenAmerican GirlWee Wisdom, and American Red Cross.

At the time a school teacher, she wrote Arkansas: Yesterday and Today in 1935 after not finding an adequate Arkansas history textbook.  It was used in classrooms for over twenty-five years.

Among her many accolades were  won first prize in the 1948 National League of American Pen Women’s Contest and being named the 1955 Alumni of the Year Award from Trenton State College.

Little Rock Look Back: Civic Leader John Herndon Hollis

On February 5, 1870, future Little Rock alderman and acting mayor John Herndon Hollis was born shortly before his family moved to what is now Cleveland County. His parents were originally from Georgia and came from prosperous and longtime families there.

The Hollis family came to Arkansas after the Civil War and settled in Union County. A portion of that county was carved off and became Dorsey County (named after a Republican US Senator from Arkansas) but was renamed Cleveland County after Grover Cleveland was elected President. Cleveland was the first Democrat to be elected President in over 20 years. This name change also reflected the political shift in Arkansas from the Reconstruction-led Republican politics to the Democratic Party politics which would dominate for the next century.

John Herndon Hollis was one of six children, and the only one with a middle name. Herndon had been his mother’s maiden name. As one of his brothers described their childhood in Cleveland County, “they all went to country schools in their home neighborhood, worked hard on the farm in the summertime, and were inside their little Methodist Church every time the doors were open.”

Around 1900, Hollis and his new wife Malinda M. “Linda” Taliaferro Hollis (formerly of Rison) moved to Little Rock.  Together the couple had six children. In Little Rock, Hollis worked in the banking industry. For years he worked for People’s Building and Loan Association.

Hollis was first elected to the Little Rock City Council in April 1904. He would serve as one of the Aldermen from the city’s Fourth Ward until April 1918.  This was on the western border of Little Rock at the time. The family lived at 1510 S. Schiller, which is one block east of Central High, though at the time neither the school nor its predecessor (West End Park) existed.  From 1907 until 1913 he also served on the Little Rock School Board.

In April 1908, at the first City Council meeting in the new City Hall, Mayor W. E. Lenon announced his resignation. Because the resignation was effective immediately, there was a vacancy in the office of mayor.  Hollis was selected by his colleagues to serve as acting mayor until a successor could be elected. So from April 1908 through June 1908, Hollis was the City’s chief political and executive leader.

Though he was never formally mayor (and did not resign his position as alderman), since 1908, Hollis’ name has appeared on the list of mayors of Little Rock. The reason seems to be as a sign of respect since there was a vacancy.

There previously had been acting mayors when the mayor would be absent on business or due to illness. But in those instances, the mayor had not resigned. This is the only instance in Little Rock history when a mayor resigned immediately with no successor in place. So John Herndon Hollis holds a unique role in Little Rock history.

After leaving the City Council, Hollis remained active in civic affairs.  He co-chaired a successful campaign in 1929, to raise a tax for a variety of civic issues.

Hollis’ wife died in 1920.  He later married Ann Jewell of Little Rock (who was a cousin of his first wife). They were married until his death on October 23, 1941.  Ann Hollis lived in Little Rock until her death in 1980.  The Hollis family is entombed in the mausoleum at Mount Holly Cemetery.

Both of John Herndon Hollis’ wives are distant cousins of the Culture Vulture, so he is particularly fond of John Herndon Hollis.

CALS renames Ark Studies Institute for former Director Bobby Roberts

The Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) has renamed the Arkansas Studies Institute (ASI) the Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History and Art in honor of the former CALS executive director who served in the position for more than twenty years before retiring in 2016. CALS Board of Trustees approved the motion in December.

“Bobby established a new normal at CALS by creating new concepts of what the public library could offer the community and by constructing unique spaces to make the library more appealing and accessible to all sorts of groups with varied interests in learning, enrichment, and entertainment,” said Nate Coulter, CALS executive director. “The library’s primary purpose has always been to provide access to information, but Bobby transformed and expanded what it means to be a library by placing a particular emphasis on Arkansas history and culture.”

Since the early 1990s, CALS has undergone several changes and expansions, now consisting of fourteen library locations in Little Rock, Perryville, and throughout Pulaski County. The Main Library moved from its original location at 7th and Louisiana to its current home in the River Market District, which helped trigger the revitalization of downtown Little Rock. That Main Library is now the centerpiece of a campus that includes the Ron Robinson Theater, the Cox Creative Center, and the Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History and Art (formerly ASI). Former CALS Board members spoke of Roberts’s leadership and his vision for the library system. Susan Fleming and Sheila Wright, former board vice-president and president, respectively, said Roberts’s vision and commitment to excellence are reflected in the building that will be displaying his name. Former CALS board member Frederick Ursery expanded on their thoughts:

“Our library system has been fortunate throughout its history to have strong leadership from numerous members of our community,” said Ursery. “However, I am not aware of any single person who has done more than Bobby Roberts to make CALS the dynamic asset that it is today. He deserves to be recognized for his achievement.”

Roberts’s efforts in building striking library structures, in ecologically sustainable construction, and in adaptive reuse have been recognized by local, state, national, and international organizations. That includes the newly named Roberts Library. Opened in 2009, as the Arkansas Studies Institute, the structure houses the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, CALS’s Arkansas history department, and five galleries that feature art depicting the state or created by artists living in or from Arkansas.

“This complex of buildings certainly wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for Bobby Roberts. It is truly fitting for this edifice to be named in his honor,” said David Stricklin, director of the Butler Center.

Roberts’s special interests in Arkansas history and art and CALS’s long-held practice of collecting materials for the benefit of patrons interested in those topics helped inspire the conception of the ASI, which also houses the UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture. The university’s Arkansas-related documents and photographs were moved to the facility and are available for public use under an arrangement Roberts developed with former UA Little Rock Chancellor Joel Anderson. The building is also home to the Arkansas Humanities Council’s headquarters and classrooms and offices for the Clinton School of Public Service.

Central to Creativity – Phyllis Brandon

Phyllis D. Brandon played a unique role in shaping and supporting Little Rock’s cultural life.  As the first and longtime editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette‘s High Profile section, she promoted cultural institutions, supporters and practitioners.

Since it started in 1986, being featured in High Profile has been akin to the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.  It exposes cultural institutions and events to new and wider audiences.  There is no way to put a monetary measure on the support Brandon gave to Little Rock’s cultural life during her time leading High Profile from 1986 to 2009.  From 2009 to 2011, she served as editor of Arkansas Life magazine, again supporting and promoting cultural life.

With her unassuming manner, she coaxed stories out of interview subjects and captured photos which highlighted events.  A journalist since her junior high school days in Little Rock, Brandon has also been a witness to history.  As a recent graduate of the University of Arkansas, Brandon returned to her alma mater, Little Rock Central High, to cover the events in early September 1957 for the Arkansas Democrat.  Eleven years later, she was in Chicago for the contentious and violent 1968 Democratic National Convention as a delegate.

From 1957 until 1986, she alternated between careers in journalism and the business world, as well as being a stay-at-home mother.  Upon becoming founding editor of High Profile, she came into her own combining her nose for news and her life-long connections within the Little Rock community.  As a writer and photographer, she created art in her own right. A look through High Profile provides a rich historical snapshot of the changes in Little Rock and Arkansas in the latter part of the 20th Century and start of the 21st Century.

Little Rock Look Back: Duke Ellington refuses to play in segregated Robinson

Newspaper ad for the concert that was not to be

In August 1961, it was announced that Duke Ellington would perform in concert at Robinson Center.  He had previously played there in the 1940s and early 1950s.  His concert was set to be at 8:30 pm on Tuesday, September 5.

Due to the changes of times, the NAACP had a relatively new rule that they would boycott performers who played at segregated venues.  When it became apparent that Robinson would remain segregated (African Americans restricted to the balcony), the NAACP announced they would boycott any future Ellington performances if he went ahead and played Robinson.

The music promoters in Little Rock (who were white) petitioned the Robinson Auditorium Commission asking them to desegregate Robinson – even if for only that concert.  The Commission refused to do so.  Though the auditorium was finding it harder to book acts into a segregated house, they felt that if it were integrated, fewer tickets would be sold.

On September 1, 1961, Ellington cancelled the concert.

Robinson remained segregated until a 1963 judge’s decision which integrated all public City of Little Rock facilities (except for swimming pools).