Tag Archives: Sharon Priest

Little Rock Look Back: Sharon Priest

Little Rock’s 70th mayor, Sharon Priest, celebrates her birthday on September 12.

She began her public service at the grassroots level when she led the effort to bring flood relief to Southwest Little Rock and Pulaski County following the devastating flood of 1978 that killed 13 people in central Arkansas.

Sharon was appointed to the Little Rock City Beautiful Commission.  Following that, she challenged an incumbent City Director and won her first elective office in 1986. In January 1989, she was named Vice Mayor of Little Rock by her colleagues on the City Board.  Two years later, she was selected Mayor becoming only the second female to serve as Mayor of Little Rock.  During her service to the City of Little Rock, she spearheaded the effort to create a Little Rock flag.  At the conclusion of her second four year term on the City Board, she decided to run for Secretary of State.

In November 1994, she elected Secretary of State, becoming the first woman to be elected to that position in Arkansas.  She was reelected in 1998.   In the summer of 2000, she became President of the National Association of Secretaries of State. After the 2000 presidential election, she was thrust into the forefront of the movement toward election reform. Ms. Priest testified before U.S. House and Senate Committees on election reform. As Secretary of State, restoring the Governor’s Reception Room and the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the State Capitol to their original splendor and restoring the rotunda marble are a few of her proudest achievements.

In January 2003, Priest was selected to serve as Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership. She served in that capacity until early 2015.  She has also been a leading champion for the redevelopment of MacArthur Park, the City’s oldest park.

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Little Rock Look Back: MLK in LR

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Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment — which was probably rare for the three in 1958

Today is the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.  It is an apt time to think about Dr. King and Little Rock.

A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Ernest Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium. Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation.

His attendance was briefly mentioned in the local press, but there was no media photo of him at the ceremony.  The Little Rock School District limited the press to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box.

Ernest Green has a photo of him with Daisy Bates and Dr. King (pictured on this entry).

In 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.

Mayor Borchert pledged City resources to strive for equality.

Another Little Rock Mayor, Sharon Priest, participated in a ceremony 24 years after Dr. King’s assassination to rename High Street for Dr. King in January 1992.  The name change had been approved in March 1991 to take effect in January 1992 in conjunction with activities celebrating Dr. King’s life.  At the ceremony, Daisy Bates and Annie Abrams joined with other civil rights leaders and city officials to commemorate the name change.

Women’s History Month – Sharon Priest, first person to serve as LR Mayor and a Constitutional officer

glass-priestFirst woman to be both Little Rock Mayor and a Constitutional Officer: Sharon Priest

Sharon Priest served as Little Rock’s 70th Mayor from January 1991 until December 1992.  She was a member of the Little Rock City Board of Directors from January 1987 until December 1994.  She had previously been involved with the City Beautiful Commission prior to her service on the City Board.  She continued that involvement and was also a leader of the Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission, serving several terms as chair.

From January 1995 until January 2003, she was the 31st Secretary of State for Arkansas.  She was the first woman elected to the position. (Nancy Hall held it from 1961 to 1963 following the death of her husband, longtime Secretary of State C. G. “Crip” Hall.)

Following her service as Secretary of State, she directed the Downtown Little Rock Partnership from January 2003 until March 2015.

Little Rock Look Back: Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment -- which was probably rare for the three in 1958
Ernest Green, Dr. King and Daisy Bates share a relaxed moment — which was probably rare for the three in 1958

Today is the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday.  It is an apt time to think about Dr. King and Little Rock.  A friend of L. C. and Daisy Bates, he attended the 1958 Central High School graduation to witness Ernest Green receiving a diploma. Each senior only received eight tickets to the ceremony at Quigley Stadium. Dr. King was in the state to address the Arkansas AM&N (now UAPB) graduation.

His attendance was briefly mentioned in the local press, but there was no media photo of him at the ceremony.  The Little Rock School District limited the press to one Democrat and one Gazette photographer. Other press were limited to the press box.

Ernest Green has a photo of him with Daisy Bates and Dr. King (pictured on this entry).

In 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.

Mayor Borchert pledged City resources to strive for equality.

Another Little Rock Mayor, Sharon Priest, participated in a ceremony 24 years after Dr. King’s assassination to rename High Street for Dr. King in January 1992.  The name change had been approved in March 1991 to take effect in January 1992 in conjunction with activities celebrating Dr. King’s life.  At the ceremony, Daisy Bates and Annie Abrams joined with other civil rights leaders and city officials to commemorate the name change.

Little Rock Look Back: LR City Flag Adopted

City FlagOn October 18, 1988, the City of Little Rock Board of Directors adopted the first official flag for the City of Little Rock.

The adoption of Ordinance No. 15,566 was the culmination of a design competition which had been spearheaded by Little Rock City Director Sharon Priest (later Little Rock Mayor, Arkansas Secretary of State and Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership).

Prior to the Official Board of Directors meeting that day, a press conference was held in the Little Rock City Board Chambers for presentation of the City’s flag.  The City Beautiful Commission, a commission of the Department of  Parks and Recreation, sponsored a the contest which received a total of fifteen flag designs.

The flags were judged October 12, 1988, by City Directors and City Beautiful Commission Members. Director Sharon Priest presented the winning flag and introduced David Wilson, a law clerk at the Mitchell Law Firm, who designed the flag chosen for the $1,000 first prize. The second-place winner was Craig Rains, who received $500; and the third-place recipient was David Tullis, who received $250.

The flag was adopted by the City Board that night by a 6-0 vote; former mayor and current director Charles Bussey was absent.  Those voting to adopt the flag were Mayor Lottie Shackelford and directors Sharon Priest, Tom Prince, Buddy Villines, Buddy Benafield and Tom Milton.  Priest would be a future mayor while Prince, Villines and Benafield had all served as mayor.

The official description of the flag is as follows:

As the official flag of the City of Little Rock, its symbolism is described as follows: A clean white background of the banner represents the optimism and open potential that the city has to offer. The royal blue horizontal broad stripe symbolizes the Arkansas River which borders Little Rock, and has served as an economical and historical emblem since the city’s beginning. The forest green stripe runs vertical to the royal blue stripe, creating a cross which symbolizes the location and statute of Little Rock—a city serving not only as the crossroads of Arkansas, but a crossroad of the mid-southern United States as well.

The strong forest green color depicts the fields, parks and forests which contribute to the natural beauty of the city. The seal of the flag is a modernized adaptation of the current Little Rock seal. The razorback red silhouette of the great State of Arkansas shows her capitol, the City of Little Rock, represented by the centered star. The star rises directly above “The Little Rock”—the protruding cliff along the Arkansas River, which was discovered in 1722 by French explorer La Harpe, when the city was given the name. The Arkansas River behind the rock and the symmetrical oak leaves in the border of the seal are a stylized illustration of what the flag’s stripes represent—the natural beauty of the city. Finally, the gold color of the seal and bordering stripes symbolize the superior economic history, and the future economic potential that is available in the City of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Little Rock Look Back: Mayor Sharon Priest

13632023960On September 12, 1947, future Little Rock Mayor Sharon Priest was born in Montreal, Canada. After marrying Bill Priest, she came to Little Rock. She began her public service at the grassroots level when she led the effort to bring flood relief to Southwest Little Rock and Pulaski County following the devastating flood of 1978 that killed 13 people in central Arkansas.

She was appointed to the Little Rock City Beautiful Commission.  Following that, she challenged an incumbent City Director and won her first elective office in 1986. In January 1989, she was named Vice Mayor of Little Rock by her colleagues on the City Board.  Two years later, she was selected Mayor becoming only the second female to serve as Mayor of Little Rock.  During her service to the City of Little Rock, she spearheaded the effort to create a Little Rock flag.  At the conclusion of her second four year term on the City Board, she decided to run for Secretary of State.

In November 1994, she elected Secretary of State, becoming the first woman to be elected to that position in Arkansas.  She was reelected in 1998.   In the summer of 2000, she became President of the National Association of Secretaries of State. After the 2000 presidential election, she was thrust into the forefront of the movement toward election reform. Ms. Priest testified before U.S. House and Senate Committees on election reform. As Secretary of State, restoring the Governor’s Reception Room and the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the State Capitol to their original splendor and restoring the rotunda marble are a few of her proudest achievements.

In January 2003, Priest was selected to serve as Executive Director of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership. She served in that capacity until early 2015.  She has also been a leading champion for the redevelopment of MacArthur Park, the City’s oldest park.

Prior to her work as an elected official, she worked as Director of Membership for Little Rock Chamber of Commerce and was founder and owner of the Delvin Company, a property management firm.

She was a Toll Fellow in 1995, and has won numerous distinctions including the Excellence in Leadership Fellowship, Women Executives in State Government, 1997 and TIME/NASBE Award for Outstanding Leadership in Voter Education, 1996.  In 2013, she was the featured honoree at the Big Brothers/Big Sisters Roast and Toast, becoming the first (and to date only) female to be so honored.

 

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.