August 20, 1961 – Groundbreaking for Arkansas Arts Center

On a warm Sunday afternoon, ten golden shovels turned dirt to mark the start of construction for the new Arkansas Arts Center.  The activity followed a series of speeches that day, August 20, 1961.

The speakers and dignitaries sat on the front portico of the original Museum of Fine Arts in MacArthur Park. That building would be incorporated into the new structure.

Among those who took part in the speeches and groundbreaking were Winthrop Rockefeller, Jeannette Edris Rockefeller, Gov. Orval Faubus, Congressman Dale Alford, and Little Rock Mayor Werner Knoop.

The efforts to create the Arkansas Arts Center started in the mid-1950s when the Junior League of Little Rock started an effort to establish a new art museum.  Next, the business community founded a Committee for a Center of Art and Science to accept funds donated.

When a suitable location within Little Rock could not be found, the decision was made to join with the Fine Arts Club and the Museum of Fine Arts.  Under the leadership of the Rockefellers, the drive to form the Arkansas Arts Center was launched. In September 1960, the City of Little Rock formally established the Arkansas Arts Center.

Little Rock Look Back: How LR reacted to Assassination of Dr. King

On April 4, 1968,  when Dr. King was assassinated, Little Rock did not see the unrest that many cities did.  Part of that was probably due to quick action by Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.

The Governor released a statement fairly quickly expressing his sorrow at the tragedy and calling for a day of mourning. He also made the State Capitol available for the NAACP to have a public memorial, as well as worked with a group of ministers to host an interdenominational service.

Little Rock Mayor Martin Borchert issued a statement as well:

We in Little Rock are disturbed about the incident in Memphis. We are disturbed regardless of where it had happened.  Killing is not the Christian solution to any of our problems today.

In Little Rock, we feel we have come a long way in 10 years toward solving some of our problems of living and working together regardless of race, creed or color.

The city Board of Directors in Little Rock has pledged itself toward continuing efforts to make Little Rock a better place in which to live and work for all our citizens.

We feel the efforts of all thus far have proved we can live in harmony in Little Rock and are confident such an incident as has happened will not occur in Little Rock.  We will continue our most earnest efforts toward the full needs of our citizens.

The day after Dr. King was assassinated, a group of Philander Smith College students undertook a spontaneous walk to the nearby State Capitol, sang “We Shall Overcome” and then walked back to the campus.  President Ernest T. Dixon, Jr., of the college then hosted a 90 minute prayer service in the Wesley Chapel on the campus.

On the Sunday following Dr. King’s assassination, some churches featured messages about Dr. King.  As it was part of Holy Week, the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Little Rock had instructed all priests to include messages about Dr. King in their homilies. Some protestant ministers did as well. The Arkansas Gazette noted that Dr. Dale Cowling of Second Baptist Church downtown (who had received many threats because of his pro-integration stance in 1957) had preached about Dr. King and his legacy that morning.

Later that day, Governor Rockefeller participated in a public memorial service on the front steps of the State Capitol. The crowd, which started at 1,000 and grew to 3,000 before it was over, was racially mixed. At the conclusion of the ceremony, Governor and Mrs. Rockefeller joined hands with African American ministers and sang “We Shall Overcome.”

That evening, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral was the site of an interdenominational service which featured Methodist Bishop Rev. Paul V. Galloway, Catholic Bishop Most Rev. Albert L. Fletcher, Episcopal Bishop Rt. Rev. Robert R. Brown, Rabbi E. E. Palnick of Temple B’Nai Israel, Gov. Rockefeller, Philander Smith President Dixon, and Rufus King Young of Bethel AME Church.

Earlier in the day, Mayor Borchert stated:

We are gathered this afternoon to memorialize and pay tribute to a great American….To achieve equality of opportunity for all will require men of compassion and understanding on the one hand and men of reason and desire on the other.

Women Making History – Jeannette Edris Rockefeller

Jeannette Edris Rockefeller only lived in Arkansas for about fifteen years. But her impact on the cultural life of Little Rock and all of Arkansas continues to be felt today.

Born and raised in Seattle, as a young mother she met Winthrop Rockefeller while both were in New York.  He moved to Arkansas in 1953; after their 1956 marriage, she joined him. They split their time between Little Rock and Petit Jean.

In 1959, she was asked to become involved in plans for a new art museum in Little Rock.  She became a tireless advocate and fundraiser for the new Arkansas Arts Center.   In 1960, she assumed the role of president of the Arkansas Arts Center Board of Trustees, a position she held until 1968.  During that time period she oversaw the planning, construction and opening of the building.  She also invited Townsend Wolfe, who she had met when he taught some classes at the Arts Center, to apply to become the museum’s first executive director.

From 1967 to 1971, she was First Lady of Arkansas.  In that capacity, she supervised renovation of the Governor’s Mansion and started the tradition of displaying art on the walls.

Shortly after her 1971 divorce from Rockefeller, she relocated to California.  She continued to be a supporter of the Arts Center.  One of the galleries in the Arts Center is named in her honor.  In addition, one of the sculptures on the lawn of the Arts Center, Standing Red, was dedicated in 1970 in recognition of her service on the Arts Center Board.

Women Making History: Anne Bartley

In 1976, Anne Bartley was sworn in as the first director of what was then known as the Department of Arkansas Natural and Cultural Heritage.  In that capacity, she was the first woman to serve in an Arkansas Governor’s cabinet.  She had encouraged Governor David Pryor to propose establishing the department and then had lobbied the Arkansas General Assembly to create it.  (Her oath of office was administered by the first woman on the Arkansas Supreme Court, Justice Elsijane Trimble Roy.)

Since 1968, Bartley had been involved in historic preservation, promotion of the arts, and civic engagement.   In 1979, Bartley was asked to establish a Washington Office for the state of Arkanas.  She later was involved in founding the Threshold Foundation (1981), the Funders’ Committee for Citizen Participation (1983), the Forum Institute for Voter Participation (1986), the Faith and Politics Institute (1991), Vote Now ’92 and ’94, America Coming Together (2004), Democracy Alliance (2004), America Votes (2005), and, currently, the Committee on States.

Some of the boards she has served on have been the New World Foundation, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rockefeller Family Fund. She is currently on the boards of the Bauman Family Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, America Votes, and on the Advisory Councils for Project New West and TAI SOPHIA.