Though a native of Batesville (and a proud booster to this day), James L. “Skip” Rutherford has lived in Little Rock for many years. While he was a student at the University of Arkansas, he probably never envisioned the impact he would have on the cultural scene of Little Rock.
After moving to Little Rock, Skip (and his wife Billie) became civic boosters which often involved attending or promoting cultural events. However, by the mid-1990s, this moved into a whole new realm.
Skip was one of the visionaries behind the creation of a Central High Visitors Center. His interest in this project combined his interests in public service, public policy, and public schools. This was an extension of his work as an aide to Senator David Pryor from 1979 to 1983 and a Little Rock School Board member from 1987 to 1991. As the 40th anniversary of the integration of Little Rock Central High approached, Skip worked with Mayor Jim Dailey and others to plan the 1997 commemoration activities as well as the 1998 recognition of the Women’s Emergency Committee.
A few weeks after the Central High 40th anniversary events in September 1997, President Clinton announced that Little Rock would be the site of his Presidential Library. As President of the Clinton Foundation, he was involved in the planning for not only the construction of the building but also the grand opening festivities. Through his efforts, the City’s major cultural institutions all had events in conjunction with the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center.
In 2006, he followed Sen. David Pryor in the role of Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service. Among his accomplishments in this role has been the expansion of the Clinton School Speaker Series. This free series of lectures and public discussions has added immensely to Little Rock’s cultural life. Topics range from foreign relations to domestic policy, from social services to community philanthropy, The lecture series has also focused on productions at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, guest artists with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, books by historians, and many other cultural topics over the years.
That he would oversee the expansion of this lecture program should not be a surprise. He is also the founder (in 1983) of the Political Animals Club. While the original, non-partisan group still meets regularly in Little Rock, several other affiliates have been created in other portions of the state. He has always been one for civil, civic dialogue.
In April and May 2018, Skip was one of the civic leaders who stepped up to promote efforts to save the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. He was also involved in the planning and promotion of the Elizabeth Eckford Bench which was installed near Little Rock Central High School in September 2018. Later that month, he presided over an event celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Women’s Emergency Committee.
Earlier this month, the Clinton School partnered with UA Little Rock Downtown for the a Clinton School program which discussed the 1930s mural which has been restored and now hangs in the new UA Little Rock space. 2019 will offer more opportunities for his civic and cultural boosterism, as well.