Remembering Dr. David O. Belcher

As a undergraduate and later graduate student at then-Southwest Missouri State University, I first became aware of Dr. David O. Belcher.  I had several friends who were music majors, and they would speak glowingly of him.  Another friend, an accounting major, took piano lessons from him.

As the College of Arts and Letters had leadership vacancies, Dr. Belcher was tapped to fill them.  He was chosen because he was a visionary, a perfectionist, and a consensus builder.

My favorite memory of him during the time we were both in Springfield, however, is of him playing the piano portion of “Rhapsody in Blue” at the Grand Opening Gala of Juanita K. Hammons Hall for the Performing Arts.  Backed by the Springfield Symphony, he deftly handled this classic piece.  As a graduate assistant on the staff, I was able to listen to several rehearsals.  He always gave his all during every run-through.

A few years after I returned to Little Rock, I received a phone call from Jo Jones in the Chancellor’s office at UALR.  Dr. Joel Anderson was considering David to be his Provost.  Jo (a family friend) knew I had attended SMSU and wanted to know my thoughts about him.  I told her that due to the fact I was not involved directly in the music department, I had probably said fewer than 10 words to him, outside of “Hello” but then proceeded to tell her of his reputation, of what I had observed, and what I had heard from others.   A week or so later, she called to tell me that Dr. Anderson had just announced to the UALR faculty the hiring of Dr. Belcher.

I sent him an email to welcome him to Little Rock. Since he was a musician, and cultural affairs were part of my duties at the City of Little Rock, I was especially excited to have him come.  Some mutual friends asked me to also reach out to Susan. (I think they were not yet married but were engaged.) I was thrilled to do so.

Once they arrived, the Little Rock arts community embraced them, and they embraced it.  It was a definite mutual admiration society.  They became involved with the Symphony, the Rep, Wildwood, the Arts Center,  Accademia dell’Arte, and numerous music organizations.  They promoted the UALR arts to the community and supported on-campus efforts with their attendance and participation.  I was eventually able to convince David to serve on the City’s Arts+Culture Commission.  After service of  few months, he was asked to be the chair. Though busy with numerous major tasks at UALR, he agreed.

From time to time we would meet for lunch. Our conversations would veer between Springfield, Little Rock, and the arts in general.  They were always delightful.

In 2005, he was a finalist to become the next president at what would be Missouri State University.  At the time, I joked to Dr. Anderson that either way the selection went, I would benefit. He responded with a smile that he appreciated my response, but that he did not benefit if David left. He followed up by saying, “He is so good, I know I won’t be able to keep him here forever, but I want a few more years.”

While it was not meant for David and Susan to return to Springfield, he maintained many close ties. (He also poached several excellent faculty and administrators from Springfield to come to Little Rock.)

Alas for Little Rock, in 2011 he was hired by Western Carolina University to lead that campus.  Not only did it give him the chance to be a Chancellor, but it also took him closer to his family and his roots.

By all accounts, he was as dynamic and respected at WCU as he had been in Springfield and Little Rock.  Unfortunately, in 2016, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Through two years of treatments, surgery, improvements, and setbacks, he kept up as well as possible with his duties.

A page on the WCU website posted updates. He felt it was important for the faculty, students, and donors to know about his status.  A photo on that page shows hundreds of people standing in the rain at a rally to show support for him as he battled this.  On August 1, 2017, he announced the tumor had returned.  Later in the semester, he announced he would be going on medical leave effective December 31, 2017.

On June 14, 2018, the first update of the year was made. It noted he was in a care facility and receiving only family and close friends. It encouraged people to write notes and stressed that the Belchers wanted any tributes to be made for scholarships at WCU.

Following his death on June 17, 2018, his obituary also encouraged memorials be made to Furman (his alma mater), Missouri State University, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  Unselfish to the end, his last wishes paid tribute to the institutions which had prepared him to lead WCU.

Godspeed Dr. David O. Belcher.  The music will continue to play. But it will be a slightly different tune without your contributions.

15 Highlights of 2015 – New Visual Arts Building Announced for UALR thanks to gift from Windgate Foundation

Entry DriveFor the final fifteen days of 2015, a look back at some of the cultural highlights of 2015.

Up next–

In May, UALR announced plans for a new Visual Arts Building.  With a target date to open in fall 2017, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s newest building will be among the finest higher education facilities in the country for visual arts education.

UALR unveiled the design concept for the 71,636 square-foot building during a news conference in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. The visual arts building will be funded by a $20.3 million grant award approved by the Trustees of the Windgate Charitable Foundation, headquartered in Siloam Springs. The grant, designated for building construction and equipment, is the second largest gift in UALR’s history.

UALR serves about 1,000 students each year who are enrolled in visual arts classes. This semester, 180 students have designated visual arts as their major, and there are 16 full-time faculty devoted to visual arts programs.

The new facility, to be located on the UALR campus at 28th Street and East Campus Drive, will bring together under one roof the applied design program currently located at University Plaza and the art history and studio arts programs currently in the Fine Arts Building, a structure built in 1977 to house the departments of art and music.

The new building will integrate UALR’s Applied Design, Art History and Studio Arts classes into a facility that promotes collaboration and creativity between students, faculty and guests under one roof. Drawing/Painting/Printmaking/Art History and 2D Design and Illustration classrooms will be located on the north side of the building to make use of the large expanse of glass along 28th Street.

Faculty and administrative offices will be oriented on the south side to take advantage of the campus and natural plaza views. Photography and Graphic Design spaces will complete the programs that are housed within the visual arts track.

Students and visitors have the opportunity to experience two generous art galleries within the building showcasing both permanent and transitional exhibits or attend a guest lecturer speaking in the 80-seat lecture hall and reception venue on the ground floor.

The Applied Design spaces will be organized within a single story industrial high bay section of the building to take advantage of the expansive volumes of space necessary for Sculpture/Metalsmithing/Furniture Design /3D Craft & Fibers/Ceramics. Each of these spaces has access to an outdoor studio space that allows work on large pieces with natural ventilation and sunlight.

The building will be designed to achieve a LEED Silver rating with the USGBC LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Art/Applied Design track, a unique program in Arkansas, primarily serves students interested in the study of traditional arts and crafts representative of the South Central region of the U.S., with particular emphasis upon craft practices within Arkansas.

“The vision of the Department of Art is to be a destination center for students intent on pursuing lifelong careers in the visual arts,” said department chair Tom Clifton. “This new facility will enable the department to embrace traditional, contemporary, and technological approaches to the visual arts in central Arkansas and provide opportunities for students throughout the southern region of the United States.

The Windgate Charitable Foundation has provided consistent and visionary support of the UALR Department of Art through scholarships, program support, visiting artists, workshops and gallery exhibitions.

Fourteen new names added to 2015 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail

2015 ACRHTLast month, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Institute on Race and Ethnicity unveiled the 2015 Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail markers. This year’s theme is “Politics and Law” to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The fourteen new markers are installed at Scott and Markham Streets near the Statehouse Convention Center.

Established in the summer of 2011, the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail honors those who made significant contributions to civil rights in Arkansas. The trail raises public awareness of the long and rich legacy of Arkansas’s civil rights history.

A 12-inch bronze marker is placed in the sidewalk for each honoree. The trail begins in front of the Old State House Convention Center on Markham Street and will eventually extend to the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park and other points throughout the downtown corridor.

This year’s 14 honorees are:

  • Annie Mae Bankhead, who was a community activist in Pulaski County’s black College Station neighborhood
  • Wiley Branton, Sr., who was head of the Southern Regional Council’s Voter Education Project in the 1960s
  • Charles Bussey, who was leader of the Veterans Good Government Association and became Little Rock’s first black mayor in 1980
  • William Harold Flowers, who laid the foundations for the Arkansas State Conference of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branches
  • Jeffrey Hawkins, who was for decades the unofficial mayor of Little Rock’s black East End neighborhood
  • Irma Hunter Brown, who was the first black woman elected to the Arkansas General Assembly
  • Scipio Africanus Jones, a leading black Republican who defended 12 prisoners for their role in the 1919 Elaine Race Riot
  • Mahlon Martin, who was the first black city manager of Little Rock
  • I.S. McClinton, who was head of the Arkansas Democratic Voters Association, a forerunner of today’s Black Democratic Caucus
  • Richard L. Mays and Henry Wilkins III, who were among the first blacks elected to the Arkansas General Assembly in the 20th century in 1972
  • Olly Neal, who was the first black district prosecuting attorney in Arkansas and later served on the Arkansas Court of Appeals
  • Lottie Shackelford, who was the first black woman mayor of Little Rock
  • John Walker, who for more than five decades has been involved in civil rights activism in the courts, most notably in school desegregation cases

Dr. John Kirk is the director of the Institute.  At the November ceremony, he spoke along with UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson. At a reception following the ceremony, Senator Joyce Elliott gave a toast in honor of the 14 and several of the honorees or their descendants spoke.

Arts & culture advocate, Dr. Joel Anderson to retire as UALR Chancellor

jeasmile-444x668University of Arkansas at Little Rock Chancellor Joel E. Anderson announced today that he will retire following a 13-year tenure as chancellor and a 45-year career at the university. His retirement will be effective June 30, 2016.

Anderson became UALR chancellor in 2003, bringing with him more than 30 years of university and community service. He had previously served UALR as provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs and as founding dean of the Graduate School.

Chancellor Anderson’s announcement comes on the heels of a 1.2 percent increase in enrollment at UALR, including a 19 percent increase in first-time college students and a 7.1 percent increase in first-time transfer students.

“It has been a tremendous pleasure to see UALR grow and mature into the excellent, comprehensive university that it has become,” said Chancellor Anderson. “The faculty and staff of UALR deserve more credit than they will ever receive for their tireless efforts to help students achieve the dream of a college education that will enable students to adjust to a changing future and support themselves and their families.”

University of Arkansas System President, Donald R. Bobbitt will form a search committee in the coming weeks with the goal to complete the search by July 1, 2016.

One of the achievements he was most passionate about was the founding in 2011 of the Institute on Race and Ethnicity, a center designed to move Arkansas forward on the broad front of racial and ethnic justice through education, research, dialogue, community events, and reconciliation initiatives.

As professor, dean, provost, and chancellor, Anderson always related success of the university to success of the students UALR served. As chancellor, he launched numerous initiatives to recruit and retain more students and to reach out to underserved student populations. His signature is on more than 26,836 diplomas and the university’s fall-to-fall retention rate is the highest it has ever been.

“Joel is a true gentleman who cares about the university more than himself”, said Dr. Dean Kumpuris, chair of the UALR Board Visitors.  “He has no ego and has sought our advice and support more than he probably had to,” “His primary goal has been to shepherd the university to a better place, which he has done. We are lucky to have had him as a leader for so many years.”

Anderson, who grew up on a farm east of Swifton in northeast Arkansas, received a BA degree in political science from Harding University, an MA degree in international relations from American University, and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Michigan. He also completed the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard University.

“The university has good momentum. I need time to catch up on a backlog of books and also to see my grandchildren more often,” Anderson said.  “All the while I will watch with pride as UALR grows and changes.”

Highlights of his service as chancellor include:

  • The Windgate Charitable Foundation awarded UALR a grant of $20.3 million for a new Visual Arts and Applied Design center.
  • Since 2003, UALR has purchased the University Plaza shopping center which is now home of KUAR-KLRE Public Radio as well as the current home of the applied design center.

  • As part of the Coleman Creek Greenway project, the Trail of Tears Park was completed in 2011 to recognize the historical significance of the location on the south end of campus where the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes stopped for water along Coleman Creek.

  • Establishment of a Dance major, the only one in the state, within the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance.
  • Much of the campus’s infrastructure has undergone substantial renovations including the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. Likewise, there has been an added emphasis on the promotion and maintenance of public art on campus.

  • Chancellor Anderson served as a “Scholar in Residence” in 2010 at the Center on Community Philanthropy at the Clinton School for his work on issues of race and ethnicity.

  • Dr. Anderson launched the Institute on Race and Ethnicity in 2011 to move Arkansas forward on the broad front of racial and ethnic justice through education, research, dialogue, community events, and reconciliation initiatives.  One of their projects has been the annual Civil Rights Heritage Trail installation.

  • In 2015, as part of its 40th anniversary celebration, the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation honored Chancellor Anderson as one of 40 Community Leaders in the categories of community, education, nonprofits, and prosperity.

New Visual Arts Building Announced for UALR thanks to gift from Windgate Foundation

With a target date to open in fall 2017, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s newest building will be among the finest higher education facilities in the country for visual arts education.

UALR unveiled the design concept for the 71,636 square-foot building today during a news conference in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. The visual arts building will be funded by a $20.3 million grant award approved by the Trustees of the Windgate Charitable Foundation, headquartered in Siloam Springs. The grant, designated for building construction and equipment, is the second largest gift in UALR’s history.

UALR serves about 1,000 students each year who are enrolled in visual arts classes. This semester, 180 students have designated visual arts as their major, and there are 16 full-time faculty devoted to visual arts programs.
Entry Drive
The new facility, to be located on the UALR campus at 28th Street and East Campus Drive, will bring together under one roof the applied design program currently located at University Plaza and the art history and studio arts programs currently in the Fine Arts Building, a structure built in 1977 to house the departments of art and music.

The new building will integrate UALR’s Applied Design, Art History and Studio Arts classes into a facility that promotes collaboration and creativity between students, faculty and guests under one roof. Drawing/Painting/Printmaking/Art History and 2D Design and Illustration classrooms will be located on the north side of the building to make use of the large expanse of glass along 28th Street.

Faculty and administrative offices will be oriented on the south side to take advantage of the campus and natural plaza views. Photography and Graphic Design spaces will complete the programs that are housed within the visual arts track.

Students and visitors have the opportunity to experience two generous art galleries within the building showcasing both permanent and transitional exhibits or attend a guest lecturer speaking in the 80-seat lecture hall and reception venue on the ground floor.

The Applied Design spaces will be organized within a single story industrial high bay section of the building to take advantage of the expansive volumes of space necessary for Sculpture/Metalsmithing/Furniture Design /3D Craft & Fibers/Ceramics. Each of these spaces has access to an outdoor studio space that allows work on large pieces with natural ventilation and sunlight.

The building will be designed to achieve a LEED Silver rating with the USGBC LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system.

The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Art/Applied Design track, a unique program in Arkansas, primarily serves students interested in the study of traditional arts and crafts representative of the South Central region of the U.S., with particular emphasis upon craft practices within Arkansas.

“The vision of the Department of Art is to be a destination center for students intent on pursuing lifelong careers in the visual arts,” said department chair Tom Clifton. “This new facility will enable the department to embrace traditional, contemporary, and technological approaches to the visual arts in central Arkansas and provide opportunities for students throughout the southern region of the United States.

The Windgate Charitable Foundation has provided consistent and visionary support of the UALR Department of Art through scholarships, program support, visiting artists, workshops and gallery exhibitions.