18 Cultural Events from 2018 – Reopening of MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

After several months of renovations to the building, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History reopened on September 29.

The museum closed in March 2018 for five months of extensive structural work.  The $1.5 million renovation for the 178-year old structure included both interior and exterior upgrades.  The first phase of the project, which began last December, involved renovation to the north and south porches and was partially funded by a Historic Preservation Restoration Grant from the Department of Arkansas Heritage. The interior renovation includes upgrades to the heating and cooling systems, installation of new lighting, and repainting of interior gallery spaces.

Funding for the renovations came from proceeds of a hotel tax which was approved by Little Rock voters in February 2016.

The MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History was created to interpret our state’s military heritage from its territorial period to the present. It is a program of the City of Little Rock’s Department of Parks and Recreation.

Located in the historic Tower Building of the Little Rock Arsenal–the birthplace of General Douglas MacArthur–the museum preserves the contributions of Arkansas men and women who served in the armed forces.  Exhibits feature artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that vividly portray Arkansas’s military history at home and abroad.

In conjunction with the reopening, there will be a belated 125th birthday party for MacArthur Park. (The park actually opened on July 4, 1893.)  Originally known as Arsenal Park, it became known as City Park shortly thereafter. In 1942, it was renamed in honor of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was born there. At the time he was commanding US troops in the Pacific Theatre of Operations during World War II.

At ten that day, Vice Mayor Kathy Webb and other officials cut the ribbon to officially reopen the facility.

 

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Little Rock Look Back: 1936 groundbreaking of Museum of Fine Arts

On January 3, 1936, the ground was broken for the Museum of Fine Arts building in City Park.  The facility would face Ninth Street and be to the west of the Arsenal Tower Building.   That building was the one remaining structure of more than 30 which had populated the grounds when it was a federal military establishment.

Excavation for the building uncovered the foundation for another structure.  New footings for the Museum would be poured into the old footings.

The cornerstone would be laid in October 1936, and the building would open in October 1937.  The building would serve as the museum’s home until the new construction for the new Arkansas Arts Center began in 1961. That construction would enclose the original Museum of Fine Arts.  By that time, the City had long renamed the park in honor of General Douglas MacArthur, who was born there when it had been a military installation.

Subsequent additions to the Arkansas Arts Center over the decades have further expanded the museum’s footprint.  After the 2000 expansion, the original 1937 facade was featured prominently in a gallery, giving it more visibility than since 1963. With the Arkansas Arts Center again slated for renovation and expansion, the original 1937 facade will be maintained and re-exposed as an entrance to the building.

But it all began on January 3, 1936.

18 Cultural Events from 2018 – Death of Cliff Fannin Baker

On September 6, 2018, Arkansas Rep founder Cliff Fannin Baker died after suffering a brain aneurism a week earlier in New York.

Patrons and actors from the Rep’s earliest days up to the current effort to reopen the Rep were in shock by the news. From the time the news about his hospitalization was announced on September 2, friends and fans alike came together to share their thoughts, love, prayers, bright lights, etc. in a wish for his recovery.

A memorial service was held in October at the Rep. It featured remarks from longtime colleagues as well as music by Vivian Morrison (accompanied by composer Michael Rice) in a song from PAGEANT and members of the cast of SISTER ACT, the last show Cliff directed at Arkansas Rep.

Cliff founded the Rep in 1976 and led it until 1999. He oversaw it as it went from a small group of actors in an abandoned church into a professional theatre. After retiring from the Rep, he would come back every season or so to direct a production.

Below are excerpts from what I wrote about Cliff upon the news of his death.

Cliff Baker willed Arkansas Rep into existence.  He had a merry band of players to join him.  But in the end, it was his vision, his determination, his blood, his sweat, and his tears that made the dream a reality.

[In 1976], the Arkansas Rep was born in an abandoned church space adjacent to MacArthur Park.  Operating for the first few years as a true repertory company, the same core cadre acted, sold tickets, built sets, and cleaned the building. What Cliff was creating in Little Rock was rare at the time.  Professional theatre did not exist in cities of its size.

He had the ability to make people feel connected, to make you feel you were the most important person in the room.  It was that gift that made him a good director, actor, producer, and fundraiser.

….Alas, just as the Rep is on the cusp of a new phase, Cliff won’t be there to direct.  But Cliff WILL be there.  He will always be a part of the Rep. It is more than him, but it is very much him…  Cliff Fannin Baker was a Pied Piper, and we were all glad to follow along.

18 Cultural Events from 2018 – Arkansas Arts Center unveils plans for expansion

South entrance of new AAC

On February 27, the Arkansas Arts Center unveiled design plans for a renovation that would cost $70 million.

Construction for the museum is scheduled to begin in 2019, and the center is expected to open in 2022. The upgrades, led by architecture firm Studio Gang, include new exhibition areas, a children’s theater space, an expanded educational facility, a glass-enclosed walkway, a garden, and the uncovering of the institution’s original facade from 1937. The $24 million budget increase, which does not include additional costs such as architectural or consultants’ fees, will be taken care of by private funds.

Officials originally explained that $50 million in private donations would complement general obligation bonds approved by Little Rock constituents for the expansion of the museum, whose artworks are owned by the nonprofit Arkansas Arts Center Foundation. “It’s a more expensive project than we originally thought it would be,” Studio Gang owner Jeanne Gang said. “You discover things. There’s a lot to it. There’s a lot of, also, ambition for the project to make it visible, to make it really bring the institution up to the next level.”

The building is currently made up of eight different structures that were added over a period of time to the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, built in 1937. Studio Gang’s aim is to offer a more coherent layout, as well as provide additional space for the AAC’s expansive public arts programming of classes, lectures and film showings.

Among the main features of the project is the introduction of a new axis, which will cut through the center of the building. It will lead from the northern entrance facing Crescent Drive to the 36-acre MacArthur Park on the southern side.

Four glazed volumes featuring curved walls and folded roofs will join up to form the axis – a new entrance will be placed at the front with walls angled to open up to the city, while three others will trail towards the park at the rear, ending with a double-height dining room.

Around 127,000 square feet of space will be added or revamped. The enhanced location will feature an edition of British sculptor Henry Moore’s Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge, 1976, which is currently on view in the city’s Union National Plaza.

Polk Stanley Wilcox is the associate architect and SCAPE is the landscape architect.  More members of the consulting team were added throughout 2018.

9th annual Holiday Music at the Arsenal this afternoon

This afternoon from 2pm to 4pm, visitors to the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History can enjoy a seasonal concert given by pupils of the Margaret Wyatt Vocal and Piano Studios.

Wyatt enjoyed a career in both opera and musical theater, working throughout the United States and locally with the Arkansas Repertory Theater and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  She has taught piano and voice in Little Rock for over 25 years.  Included in the concert will be holiday favorites from around the world.  The concert is free and open to the public.

Located in the historic Arsenal Tower in MacArthur Park, the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History honors the Arkansans who have served in the armed forces.  Exhibits feature artifacts, photographs, weapons, documents, uniforms and other military items that vividly portray Arkansas’s military history at home and abroad.

42 Years of Arkansas Rep

On November 11, 1976, the curtain went up on the first Arkansas Repertory Theatre production.  It was the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht musical The Threepenny Opera.  Rep founder Cliff Baker directed the show and played the leading role of Macheath aka Mack the Knife.

Others in the cast included local attorney Herb Rule, Jean Lind, Theresa Glasscock, Connie Gordon and Guy Couch.  Byl Harriell was the technical director and production designer while Donia Crofton was the costume designer.

The production took place in the Rep’s home which was the converted former home of Hunter United Methodist Church on the eastern edge of MacArthur Park.  (Harriell’s business Bylites is now in that location.)

Baker had previously worked at the Arkansas Arts Center theatre when it was attached to a degree granting MFA program. He had also directed shows in other parts of Arkansas.  He returned to Little Rock and founded the Arkansas Philharmonic Theatre which performed in Hillcrest.  The Arkansas Repertory Theatre was a step forward with the establishment of a professional repertory company.

The first season of the Rep would include Company, Suddenly Last Summer, Marat/Sade, and Stop the World–I Want to Get Off. Season tickets for a total of seven shows were $30.

Baker served as Artistic Director of Arkansas Rep from 1976 until 1999.

Little Rock Look Back: TR in LR AR

On October 25, 1905, President Teddy Roosevelt, recently elected to a four year term in his own right, made an appearance in Little Rock.

He was greeted at the train station by Governor Jeff Davis and was the guest of honor in a parade up Main Street to City Park (now MacArthur Park) in where a public meeting was held featuring remarks by the President.  During this remarks, speaking to a largely Democratic crowd, the Republican Roosevelt noted: “The candidate is the candidate of a party; but if the president is worth his salt he is the president of the whole people.”

According to media reports at the time, Main Street from Markham to Tenth was a solid mass of cheering spectators for the parade.  This was the first time a sitting President had spent time in Little Rock away from a train station. The only other incumbent President to visit Little Rock had been Benjamin Harrison, who had made only a brief layover.

Roosevelt would make three more visits to Arkansas.  In 1910, he spoke at the Arkansas State Fair in Hot Springs.  In April and September 1912, he made several campaign stops in the state as he was running to reclaim the presidency, this time heading the Progressive (or Bull Moose) ticket.  Though Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft, would visit briefly once in office and once after leaving office, it would not be until Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited in 1936, that another sitting President spent much time in the state after TR’s 1905 visit.