Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Little Rock Look Back: Arkansas Arts Center established

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  (In November 1957, the City Council had been replaced by a City Board.)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.

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Little Rock Look Back: Museum of Fine Arts Established

On May 6, 1935, the Little Rock City Council formally established the Museum of Fine Arts by Ordinance 5235.  The ordinance was sponsored by Alderman Henry G. Leiser.

The ordinance authorized the construction of the museum in City Park.  The money for the construction was all privately raised. Once the building was completed, it would become the property of the City.

The ordinance also created the museum’s board. The original members were named by the ordinance.  They were: Fred W. Allsopp (appointed as a life member), Mrs. Frederick Hanger, Mrs. F.B.T. Hollenberg, George B. Rose, Mrs. C.M. Taylor, Mrs. Frank Tillar, and Dr. Frank Vinsonhaler. In addition, the Mayor and President of the Fine Arts Club were ex-officio members.

The building would start construction in 1936. The groundbreaking was in January 1936, and the cornerstone was laid in October 1936. The Museum of Fine Arts opened in October 1937.


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Little Rock Look Back: Groundbreaking for Museum of Fine Arts (forerunner to Arkansas Arts Center)

MFA postcardOn 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 more prominently than it had been since 1963. With the Arkansas Arts Center again slated for renovation and expansion, the original 1937 facade will be maintained and possibly even further highlighted.

But it all began on January 3, 1936.


RobinsoNovember: Mayor R. E. Overman

Overman AuditR. E. Overman assumed the office of Little Rock mayor in April 1935. Around that time, a new wave of New Deal programs were filtering down from Washington DC to cities.  It can be said of Mayor Overman that he did not meet a New Deal program he did not like.  From rebuilding the sewer system, to creating a public water utility, to constructing of structures for the Museum of Fine Arts, Little Rock Zoo, and Boyle Park, Mayor Overman signed the City up for program after program.

While the programs were all worthwhile, and in some cases absolute necessities, Mayor Overman did not seem to consider how these massive projects running concurrently would impact the City finances.  In November 1935, he submitted a proposal to the Public Works Administration for the construction of a new municipal auditorium to be located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Scott Street and Capitol Avenue. It would have taken up three/quarters of that block and wrapped around the Women’s City Club building (now the Junior League of Little Rock headquarters).  Because of other projects in the works, he did not pursue any further action on the auditorium project at the time.

In November 1936, Mayor Overman asked the City Council to place three bond issues on a special election ballot for January 1937, one of which was a municipal auditorium. Though a location had previously been identified in 1935, at this point in time supporters made a concerted effort to disclose that no location had been selected.  After the election was called, there was a concerted effort by supporters of the three separate bond issues to collaborate.  Voters overwhelmingly approved all three issues, and Little Rock’s journey to a municipal auditorium at last was underway. Perhaps.

Over the summer, architects and lawyers were selected. In the autumn, a consultant was hired to help with the selection for the site.  The month of October was consumed with City Council battles over the auditorium site.  Mayor Overman favored a location at Markham and Spring Streets (now site of the Cromwell Building and the Bankruptcy Courthouse). Because the Federal Government owned half the site and did not want to sell it, that location was deemed not feasible – though that did not stop Mayor Overman and others from repeatedly citing it as their first choice.  The only person who favored the location at Markham and Broadway did not have a vote: Planning Commission Chair J. N. Heiskell. Though he had no vote, he had the twin bully pulpits of Planning Commission and the Arkansas Gazette. As other sites fell by the wayside, he kept advocating for it.  Finally, the City Council approved of Heiskell’s choice, and the auditorium had a site.

The groundbreaking had to take place by January 1, 1938, or the money would be rescinded. After finalizing a location, planning could get underway.  With a week to spare, the ground was broken on December 24, 1937.  Mrs. Joseph T. Robinson, widow of the recently deceased US Senator from Arkansas, joined Mayor Overman in the groundbreaking. This ceremony was the first mention of the building being named in memory of the fallen senator, who had died in the summer of 1937.

Construction progressed throughout 1938 and into 1939.  Because of the precarious state of the City’s finances, Mayor Overman lost the support of the business community.  In November 1938, he lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for Mayor and was denied a third two-year term.  He left office in April 1939.


Arkansas Heritage Month – LR Mayor Overman and a municipal auditorium

Overman AuditR. E. Overman assumed the office of Little Rock mayor in April 1935. Around that time, a new wave of New Deal programs were filtering down from Washington DC to cities.  It can be said of Mayor Overman that he did not meet a New Deal program he did not like.  From rebuilding the sewer system, to creating a public water utility, to constructing of structures for the Museum of Fine Arts, Little Rock Zoo, and Boyle Park, Mayor Overman signed the City up for program after program.

While the programs were all worthwhile, and in some cases absolute necessities, Mayor Overman did not seem to consider how these massive projects running concurrently would impact the City finances.  In November 1935, he submitted a proposal to the Public Works Administration for the construction of a new municipal auditorium to be located at the northeast corner of the intersection of Scott Street and Capitol Avenue. It would have taken up three/quarters of that block and wrapped around the Women’s City Club building (now the Junior League of Little Rock headquarters).  Because of other projects in the works, he did not pursue any further action on the auditorium project at the time.

In November 1936, Mayor Overman asked the City Council to place three bond issues on a special election ballot for January 1937, one of which was a municipal auditorium. Though a location had previously been identified in 1935, at this point in time supporters made a concerted effort to disclose that no location had been selected.  After the election was called, there was a concerted effort by supporters of the three separate bond issues to collaborate.  Voters overwhelmingly approved all three issues, and Little Rock’s journey to a municipal auditorium at last was underway. Perhaps.

Over the summer, architects and lawyers were selected. In the autumn, a consultant was hired to help with the selection for the site.  The month of October was consumed with City Council battles over the auditorium site.  Mayor Overman favored a location at Markham and Spring Streets (now site of the Cromwell Building and the Bankruptcy Courthouse). Because the Federal Government owned half the site and did not want to sell it, that location was deemed not feasible – though that did not stop Mayor Overman and others from repeatedly citing it as their first choice.  The only person who favored the location at Markham and Broadway did not have a vote: Planning Commission Chair J. N. Heiskell. Though he had no vote, he had the twin bully pulpits of Planning Commission and the Arkansas Gazette. As other sites fell by the wayside, he kept advocating for it.  Finally, the City Council approved of Heiskell’s choice, and the auditorium had a site.

The groundbreaking had to take place by January 1, 1938, or the money would be rescinded. After finalizing a location, planning could get underway.  With a week to spare, the ground was broken on December 24, 1937.  Mrs. Joseph T. Robinson, widow of the recently deceased US Senator from Arkansas, joined Mayor Overman in the groundbreaking. This ceremony was the first mention of the building being named in memory of the fallen senator, who had died in the summer of 1937.

Construction progressed throughout 1938 and into 1939.  Because of the precarious state of the City’s finances, Mayor Overman lost the support of the business community.  In November 1938, he lost his bid for the Democratic nomination for Mayor and was denied a third two-year term.  He left office in April 1939.


Arkansas Heritage Month – Jeane Hamilton

Photo taken for SOIREE

Photo taken for SOIREE

Happy Mother’s Day.  Today as part of Arkansas Heritage Month, we salute Jeane Hamilton — the “mother” of the Arkansas Arts Center.  In 2007, she was awarded the Arkansas Arts Council’s Lifetime Achievement Governor’s Arts Award.

Arriving in Little Rock a young wife in 1952, she immediately set about to become involved in her new community as she and her husband James set up a household.  In the mid-1950s, the Junior League of Little Rock tapped her to chair the initiative to create a new art museum for Little Rock.  The two decades old Museum of Fine Arts was threadbare through years of neglect and unfocused programming and collecting.

Hamilton, along with Junior League President Carrie Remmel Dickinson and Vice President Martha McHaney, approached Winthrop Rockefeller (then a relatively new resident) to lead the fundraising effort for the new museum.  He agreed on a few conditions: one was that a base amount had to be raised in Little Rock first, and second that the museum would be for the entire State of Arkansas and not just Little Rock.

Hamilton and her colleagues set about to raise the funds. They raised $645,000 at the same time Little Rock’s business climate was stymied by the aftereffects of the Central High crisis.

Now a lifetime honorary member of the Arkansas Arts Center Board, Hamilton has spent much of her life working on Arkansas Arts Center projects since that visit in 1959.  She has served on the Board, chaired committees, chaired special events, served hot dogs, helped kids paint and danced the night away at countless fundraisers.  She was on the committee which hired Townsend Wolfe as executive director and chief curator.  Jeane has led art tours for the Arts Center to a number of countries over the years.

When she is not at the Arts Center, she is often seen at the Rep, the Symphony or any number of other cultural institutions.  While she enjoys seeing old friends at these events, she also loves to see a room full of strangers – because that means that new people have become engaged in the cultural life of Little Rock.


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.