Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


Leave a comment

Little Rock Look Back: Benjamin Harrison becomes first sitting president to visit LR

On April 17, 1891, Benjamin Harrison became the first sitting president to visit Arkansas.  He was on a cross-country railroad trip having left DC on April 13.

The morning of the 17th he spoke in Memphis and then took the train to Little Rock.  Accompanying him from Memphis to Little Rock were a delegation which included Governor and Mrs. James P. Eagle, Mayor H. L. Fletcher and Col. Logan H. Roots.  Also in the party was Mrs. W. G. Whipple, a former first lady of Little Rock.

They arrived in Little Rock in the afternoon.  A parade took them from the train station to the State House (now the Old State House Museum) where the Governor formally welcomed the President and his party.

In his brief remarks, President Harrison spoke of the hospitality and the natural resources available in Arkansas.  He also touched on the Civil War, which at the time was less than 30 years in the past. He noted “The commonwealth rests upon the free suffrage of its citizens and their devotion to the Constitution and the flag is the bulwark of its life.  We have agreed, I am sure, that we will do no more fighting among ourselves.” These remarks were met enthusiastically by the crowd assembled.

The President concluded is brief remarks thanking the State officials and the citizenry.  He then took the train to Texarkana where he made his third set of remarks of the day.

Benjamin Harrison was on the Presidential ticket two times. The first time he lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College defeating incumbent Grover Cleveland. The second time he lost both the popular and electoral votes to Cleveland.  He did not carry Arkansas in either election. Though he was the first sitting president to visit Little Rock, there is nothing here named for him.  Since there was already a Harrison Street named after his grandfather, he is skipped between Cleveland and McKinley in the presidential streets.


14ish Cultural Highlights of 2014

2014 was a busy year.  Here are 14 cultural highlights. In no particular order. Except maybe once in while.

The Rep's Bob Hupp and Catherine Hughes flank NEA Chair Jane Chu

The Rep’s Bob Hupp and Catherine Hughes flank NEA Chair Jane Chu

Dr. Jane Chu visits Arkansas. Former Arkadelphia resident Dr. Jane Chu was appointed as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. In October, she paid a visit to Little Rock and northwest Arkansas. While in the Rock, she participated in a discussion at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and toured the new Creative Corridor spaces under construction for the Rep, Ballet Arkansas and Arkansas Symphony Orchestra. Dr. Chu was also the guest of honor at a reception hosted by the Arkansas Arts Council. While here, she had the chance to renew old friendships as well as make new ones.

Carroll Cloar exhibit at Arkansas Arts Center. The Arkansas Arts Center featured the works of Arkansas native Carroll Cloar. Much as the Biblical prophet who is ignored in his homeland, Cloar has long been better recognized outside of his native state.  The Cloar exhibit (which included a painting of future Little Rock mayor J. V. Satterfield playing football, a personal favorite of the LRCV) and the outreach by the AAC staff made great strides towards raising Arkansas’ consciousness about the works by the American treasure.

DSCF0011Robinson Center Music Hall closes for renovation. Opening in February 1940 as the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium, the City’s prime venue for performances and civic gatherings needed an external and internal facelift at 74. The building closed in July 2014 for a two year renovation which will see the reconfiguration of the performance and audience space in the music hall, the creation of a new special events venue overlooking the Arkansas River, and the restoration of this historic main lobby and front façade to 1940 appearance. During this closure tenants such as Ballet Arkansas, the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and Celebrity Attractions have temporarily relocated to other venues including the Pulaski Academy Connor Performing Arts Center and the Maumelle Performing Arts Center.

Ron Robinson Theater opens. Shortly before one Robinson closed, another opened.  The Central Arkansas Library System’s new Ron Robinson Theater opened. This multi-purpose venue has quickly become home to lectures (by the library, the Clinton School and others), films (in partnership with Arkansas Times, Little Rock Film Festival and others) and music (including the Arkansas Sounds series).  Named for famed Little Rock adman Ron Robinson, the public spaces pay tribute to his love of movies and music about Arkansas.

Music Music Music

  • As noted above, Arkansas Sounds has switched from a concentrated music festival to instead offering a variety of music styles and genres throughout the year at the new Ron Robinson Theatre. The music has ranged from Big Band to Klezmer to Country to Rock to Rap.  This is only one of the new music offerings in Little Rock.
  • South on Main completed its first full year of the weekly Local Live free music series sponsored by the Oxford American and Landers Fiat. South on Main also started a Jazz on Main series as well as increased their bookings of other musicians ranging from Rodney Block to Rodney Crowell.
  • Meanwhile, The Undercroft completed its first full year of (mainly) acoustic music offerings at the corner of Capitol and Scott Streets.

New Works of Art.

  • New sculptures were added to the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden and Riverfront Park as well as the Bernice Gardens.
  • In what may be the first for any symphony in the US, the musicians of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra commissioned a new piece in honor of the ASO board of directors. The work, composed by Christopher Theofanidis, was entitled The Wind and Petit Jean.  It was well-received by audience and musicians alike.
  • Ballet Arkansas sponsored a choreography competition “Visions” which featured five choreographers competing to be selected for a full-scale commission.  The winner was Hilary Wolfley whose work will be seen at the spring Ballet Arkansas presentation.
  • Finally, in conjunction with the 175th anniversary of Christ Episcopal Church (the oldest church in Little Rock to be at its original location), a new choral piece was commissioned. Daniel E. Gawthrop’s “Haste the Day” premiered on December 7.

mod delaneyThe Tonight Show with Kevin Delaney. Because Jimmy Fallon is really just a big kid at heart, he wanted to include periodic “cool” science experiments when he took over the “Tonight Show.”  After being contacted by a producer of Fallon’s show and an audition process, the Museum of Discovery’s Kevin Delaney was booked to appear.  He debuted on May 5 performing experiment with Fallon and returned on November 7. When not a guest of NBC, Delaney performs the same types of “Awesome Science” experiments for tens of thousands of children and adults at the Museum of Discovery.

New Festival of Arts. Acansa, a new multi-discplinary, multi-venue arts festival, debuted this year in September.  Over a five day period, ACANSA Arts Festival brought together audiences and cultural resources to present unique and exciting visual and performing works which celebrate the unique influence of the south and champion excellence and innovation in artistry.  There was theatre, dance, instrumental music, choral music, puppetry and visual art.

14 14 4Gridiron Returns. The talk of the return of the Star Wars movie franchise was not the only welcome news of returns. Gridiron, the biennial attorney fundraiser which spoofs politics, current events, sports and everything that is “sacred” to the general populace, returned after a hiatus.  Once again this effort was under the watchful eye of producer Judge Mary McGowan, the creative leadership of Jana Beard, and the writing prowess of the anonymous committee.  As has been the case in the past, many of the targets of the show good-naturedly showed up and laughed along in the audience.

Sculptures Returned.  Gridiron was not the only welcome return. Earlier this year several sculptures were stolen from the Vogel-Schwartz Sculpture Garden in Riverfront Park. After a media blitz about the theft, some people strolling through the park stumbled across a bag containing the missing sculptures. The pieces are in the process of being restored and will be reinstalled soon.

14 14 3Clinton Center turned 10.  Proving that you can come home again, quite a few of the people who were present for the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in 2004 showed up again in 2014 to take part in celebratory festivities.  Among events included several lectures; a day of service benefiting the Arkansas Food Bank; a barbecue picnic; and a concert featuring Nick Jonas, Kool & the Gang and others which was hosted by Kevin Spacey.  The Clinton School also celebrated 10 years of lectures and innovative programs.

Preservation Concentration – The Quapaw Quarter Association marked the 50th Spring Tour this year. The event was co-chaired by First Lady Ginger Beebe and lifestyle expert P. Allen Smith.  Later in the year, the QQA hosted its first Mid-Century architecture tour highlighting some of Little Rock’s buildings from this style. They ended the year with the news that they had purchased the William E. Woodruff House in east Little Rock. One of Little Rock’s oldest houses, it was built by the founder of the Arkansas Gazette.  They will shore up the building to try to ensure no further decay as the building is readied for its next phase.

Huzzahs

  • 14 14 2Reese Rowland, architect and principal at Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects of Little Rock, was named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, awarded to fewer than 4 percent of AIA members.
  • Little Rock native Will Trice earned his third Tony Award in three years, this time for producing All The Way, the Best Play of 2014. His previous Tonys were for Porgy and Bess (Musical Revival-2012) and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Play Revival-2013).
  • Arkansas native and frequent Little Rock performer Al Green was one of the 2014 Kennedy Center Honorees.
  • Little Rock’s Creative Corridor continued to rack up honors. The UA’s Community Design Center, which includes faculty and staff members from the school, won a 2014 Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects for its work on the Creative Corridor, on which it collaborated with Marlon Blackwell Architect of Fayetteville. The project also received the American Society of Landscape Architects Honor Award for Analysis and Planning.

Transitions.

  • 14 14Sharon Priest, a longtime cultural advocate as a City Beautiful Commission member, Little Rock City Director, Little Rock Mayor and Arkansas Secretary of State announced her retirement after 12 years as Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership.  Over the past dozen years, she has continued her cultural advocacy.
  • One of Priest’s successors as a member of the Little Rock City Board, Stacy Hurst, was named by Gov.-Elect Asa Hutchinson to be his choice to lead the Department of Arkansas Heritage. She will oversee seven agencies including three Little Rock museums: Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Old State House Museum and Historic Arkansas Museum.
  • Following the closure of Starving Artists Cafe, the weekly Tales from the South program (which originated from there) had to scramble to find a place.  After several weeks of a completely nomadic existence, it is now settling into a rotating list of locations. The Arkansas Arts Center’s Best Impressions restaurant has been designated a “permanent” site for the first Tuesday of each month.
  • The free outdoor Movies in the Park celebrated its 10th season this year. Founders Blake Rutherford, Heather Allmendinger and Ben Beaumont were honored at the start of the season.  A few weeks into the season, the series screened the film Frozen and set a new record for attendance by logging over 7,000 attendees.
  • After the closure of the Riverdale cinema in 2013, the space sat vacant.  In June 2014, Matt Smith moved the Market Street Cinema operations into the Riverdale space. He upgraded the equipment at Riverdale (which was also a vast improvement over the equipment at Market Street).  The new Riverdale 10 shows a mix of first-run blockbusters as well as the independent films for which Market Street had been beloved.
  • The Studio Theatre was launched adjacent to the new Lobby Bar in downtown Little Rock.  In addition to producing its own performances, it is also the new home of the Community Theatre of Little Rock and Precipice Theatre.
  • Weekend Theatre founder Ralph Hyman retired as the Artistic Director of that group. He will continue to direct productions from time to time.

 


See SPOKES at Old State House as Car-Free Week Concludes in Little Rock

spokes-small-wideA good way to mark the conclusion of the Mayor’s Car-Free Challenge Week is to visit the exhibit Different Spokes at the Old State House Museum. The exhibit looks at the history of bicycling and places cycling in Arkansas within a worldwide historical context. Visitors will be able to view galleries of artifacts, historical pictures and video to learn the history of bicycles.

As cities and towns begin dedicated services and trails for cyclists, it’s important to note that the enthusiasm for bikes in Arkansas has roots that go back over 100 years,” said Old State House Museum Director Bill Gatewood. “The interest at the turn of the 20th century in bicycles was very similar to the one that we are seeing at the turn of the 21st century.”While the exhibit mainly explores the technological advances of cycling in the past 130 years, Different Spokes also tells the story of competition, economics, and social life. The history of trail systems, cycling communities and history in Arkansas is explored in videos produced by the Old State House Museum. From an 1880 wooden bicycle built from white oak and agricultural implements to the world’s first carbon-fiber bicycles made by Brent Trimble of Berryville, Different Spokes contains artifacts that show this history from past to present. Gatewood says the Museum relied on contributions from the cycling community to present this story. The exhibit will remain on view to February 2016.

“I have not participated in any other exhibit that has had this kind of immediate response from the community,” Gatewood said. “The passion these people have for their pursuit is overwhelming, and I believe it will be reflected well in this exhibit.”

The Old State  House Museum is a division of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.


Second Friday Cinema – September 30, 1955

OSH MovieTonight at the Old State House’s “Second Friday Cinema” September 30, 1955.  The screening starts at 5pm.

Starring Richard Thomas and future Oscar winner Lisa Blount, the film is about an Arkansas teen’s fascination with his film idol James Dean, and his reaction to the news of Dean’s death in a car wreck. The movie, set in 1950s small-town Arkansas, was written and directed by Arkansan James Bridges.  It was filmed in and around Conway.  At the time much of downtown Conway and the campus of UCA were largely unchanged since the 1950s.

September 30, 1955 is one of Bridges’s more personal films and is in contrast with his more well-known films which include The China Syndrome, Urban Cowboy and Bright Lights, Big City.  The tagline sums it up with: In twenty-four hours, a nice college kid named Jimmy J. robbed a liquor store, got drunk, held a séance, crawled through a cemetery, raided lovers’ lane, dropped the Homecoming Queen, and went to jail. It happened on September 30, 1955, the day that shook up a generation!

Others in the cast include future Oscar nominees Tom Hulce (before Animal House), Susan Tyrrell and Dennis Quaid.  Tom Bonner’s voice is heard as a radio announcer.

Ben Fry, general manager of KLRE/KUAR and coordinator of the film minor at UALR, will introduce the film and lead a discussion after the screening.


Book on LR Architects celebrated tonight

Architects of LR bookTonight, the Historic Arkansas Museum will be hosting a lecture and book signing for the recently released Architects of Little Rock: 1833–1950, penned by Little Rock architects, Charles Witsell and Gordon Wittenberg.

The evening will begin at 5:30 with a special presentation and lecture discussing the book. Speakers will include Bill Worthen, Historic Arkansas Museum; Tom Adams, WD&D; John Greer, WER Architects/Planners; Bobby Roberts, Central Arkansas Library and a special presentation will be given by Wesley Walls, President AIA Arkansas.

A reception and book signing will begin immediately following the lecture. All are invited to attend this special evening. “There are many ways of knowing the built environment. In their Architects of Little Rock, Mr. Witsell and Mr. Wittenberg explore the always complex relationship between buildings and the visionary thinkers—sometimes ordinary craftsman— who produced them. In so doing, they not only have uncovered the design rationales and circumstances of production that influenced a wide spectrum of Little Rock architecture but moreover have written a significant work of architectural scholarship that addresses the history of the architect’s profession,” Ethel Goodstein-Murphree, architectural historian and professor of architecture, University of Arkansas.

Architects of Little Rock: 1833–1950, is being released this month. The book is co-written by Little Rock architects, Charles Witsell and Gordon Wittenberg and edited by Marylyn Jackson Parins. Architects of Little Rock provides biographical and historical sketches of the architects at work in Little Rock from 1833 to 1950. It is the story of the people behind the city’s most important buildings. Thirty-five architects are profiled, including George R. Mann, Thomas Harding, Charles L. Thompson, Max F. Mayer, Edwin B. Cromwell, George H. Wittenberg, Lawson L. Delony, and others. Famous buildings, including the Historic Arkansas Museum, the Old State House, the Arkansas State Capitol, St. Andrews Cathedral, Little Rock City Hall, the Pulaski County Court House, Little Rock Central High School and Robinson Auditorium are showcased, bringing attention to and encouraging appreciation of the city’s historic buildings.

Charles Witsell and Gordon Wittenberg are retired principals of the Little Rock architecture firms WER Architects/Planners (Witsell, Evans and Rasco) and WD&D (Wittenberg, Delony and Davidson), respectively.


2nd Friday Cinema at Old State House – Burt Reynolds in WHITE LIGHTNING

OSH White LightFor this month’s Second Friday Cinema, the Old State House Museum will present a screening of White Lightning. The screening begins at 5:30 pm.

Released in 1973, “White Lightning” stars Burt Reynolds as Bobby “Gator” McKlusky, a moonshiner serving time in an Arkansas prison. When his brother is murdered, Gator agrees to go undercover with the feds in order to expose a corrupt lawman.

Joining Reynolds in the cast are Jennifer Billingsly, Ned Beatty, Louise Latham, Diane Ladd, Bo Hopkins, Dabbs Greer and Matt Clark.  A six year old Laura Dern made her uncredited screen debut playing Ladd’s daughter. She got the job through nepotism since she really is Ladd’s daughter.

Ben Fry, General Manager of KLRE/KUAR and coordinator of the film minor at UALR, will introduce the film and lead a discussion after the screening.


Big Boo!-seum Bash

Have a HOWLING GHOUL TIME at the 17th Annual Big BOO-seum Bash.

Visitors can start at any of the eight participating museums:

  • Central High School National Historic Site
  • Clinton Presidential Center
  • Curran Hall Visitors Center
  • Historic Arkansas Museum
  • MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History
  • Mosaic Templars Cultural Center
  • Museum of Discovery
  • Old State House

This FREE Safe and Kid Friendly event promises Story Telling, Trick or Treating, Fun & Games and more! 6-8:30 pm

This year, trick-or-treaters are encouraged to hit as many of the above locations as possible, so that they can enter our free giveaway/drawing for a special gift basket and a flat-screen TV.  Game cards will be provided at all locations, and in order to be entered into these drawings, trick-or-treaters must have their game cards stamped at each location they visit.  To qualify for these drawings, participants will need to visit at least six of the above participating member locations for the special gift basket drawing, and all eight for the grand prize drawing for the flat-screen TV. Winners will be notified at a later date.