Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area


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Little Rock Look Back: Clinton Center opens in 2004

wjc library openingIt has been thirteen years since the Clinton Presidential Center opened on a wet, cold Thursday.

The days leading up to it has been glorious.  And while the weather may have literally dampened spirits a bit, it was still an important day for Little Rock and Arkansas.

The events leading up to the opening included a concert by Aretha Franklin with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and an appearance by Senator John Glenn at the Museum of Discovery.  Events were hosted by the Arkansas Arts Center, Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Historic Arkansas Museum, and Old State House Museum.  There were scores of receptions and parties as Hollywood, New York, and DC descended on Little Rock.

November 18 dawned rainy and cool.  As the day continued on the precipitation continued while the temperature did not warm up.  Years of planning for a grand opening ceremony came down to this.  But at the appointed time, festivities began.

On the site of an abandoned warehouse district and unofficial dump which had previously been a train station, many leaders of the free world were gathered.  They rubbed shoulders with thousands of Arkansans from probably every county in the state.

It had been seven years and eleven days since Bill Clinton had announced the site of his presidential library.  It had been five years since artifacts and articles started arriving from Washington DC in Little Rock.  There had been lawsuits, threats of lawsuits, the threat of a Counter-Clinton Library, and countless meetings.

After speeches from Presidents Carter, Bush 41 and Bush 43, remarks from President Clinton and then-Senator Clinton (who was made even wetter by water pouring off an ill-placed umbrella), and even a musical performance by Bono and The Edge, Chelsea Clinton turned over the ceremonial key from the Clinton Foundation to the National Archives to officially open the Clinton Presidential Center.

In his capacity leading the Clinton Foundation, Skip Rutherford oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and the grand opening festivities.  He, along with the foundation’s Executive Director Stephanie Streett, oversaw a phalanx of volunteers and staff to anticipate every detail.  The 1,000 days countdown sign that had been on the construction site (the brainchild of Tyler Denton) finally reached 0.

Isabelle Rodriguez, Shannon Butler, Mariah Hatta, Jordan Johnson, Lucas Hargraves, and Ben Beaumont — among others — had been putting in twelve plus hour days for months on end to get ready for the opening.  City Manager Bruce T. Moore led a team of City officials who had assisted on the planning and execution of the site preparation and making sure Little Rock was ready to welcome the world.  Moore and City Director Dean Kumpuris had been appointed by Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey to lead Little Rock’s efforts to land the library.  After Clinton’s announcement of the site, Dailey, Kumpuris and Moore continued to work together to ensure the library would be successful.

While the weather on November 18, 2004, may have been a disappointment, the people who were gathered knew they were witnesses to history.  And thirteen years later, is a day people still talk about.

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Little Rock Look Back: Bill Clinton announces LR as site for his library

Refuse on the site where the Clinton Center would be built

On November 7, 1997, President Bill Clinton announced his intentions to locate his presidential library in Little Rock at the end of a warehouse district.

The Little Rock City Board met in a special meeting that day to rename part of Markham Street, which would lead to the site, as President Clinton Avenue.

While the announcement was met with excitement in many quarters, there were still some skeptics who had a hard time envisioning a presidential library and park in the middle of a wasteland worthy of a T. S. Eliot poem.

There would be many hurdles between the November 1997 announcement to the December 2001 groundbreaking. But for the moment, City of Little Rock leaders, celebrated the achievement.  Then Mayor Jim Dailey had appointed City Director Dean Kumpuris and City employee Bruce T. Moore to lead the City’s efforts.  Moore and Kumpuris worked with Skip Rutherford and others to narrow the potential sites.

In September 1997, the Clintons were in town for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High School.  They surprised Kumpuris and Moore with a decision for a Sunday afternoon visit to the warehouse district proposed site. Secret Service would not let the limousine drive in part of the property, so the Clintons, Moore, Kumpuris, and Rutherford walked up a path to the roof of the abandoned Arkansas Book Depository.  It was there that the Clintons could see the Little Rock skyline which would be visible from the library.

Of course by the time the library had opened in November 2004, the Little Rock skyline was different. Spurred on by the library, several new highrises had been constructed in downtown.


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Little Rock Look Back: Sixty Years of the Little Rock Nine

Sixty years ago today the Little Rock Nine entered Central High School and stayed. On one hand, this brought to the end a nearly month long standoff between segregationists and those who wanted to obey the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board decision.

In the bigger picture, the struggle did not end that day.  Throughout the remainder of the school year, the Little Rock Nine were subjected to threats, isolation and hostility.  Outside of the school, while the crowds may had dispersed after September 25, the raw feelings did not subside.

This was evidenced by the fact that the following year the high schools were closed to avoid having them integrated.

But September 25, 1957, was an historic day in the United States. Under guard of members of the 101st Airborne Division of the Army, the Little Rock Nine were escorted into Central High School. This action by President Dwight Eisenhower was the result of the intrusive efforts of Governor Orval Faubus who had used the Arkansas National Guard to keep the nine students out.

The City of Little Rock was largely a bystander in this issue. The form of government was changing from Mayor-Council to City Manager in November 1957. Therefore Mayor Woodrow Mann and the entire City Council were lame ducks. Mann, whose son was a senior at Central, tried to focus on keeping the peace in Little Rock. Most (if not all) of his Council members sided with the Governor.

Congressman Brooks Hays, a Little Rock resident, had tried to broker an agreement between the President and the Governor but was unsuccessful.  Following that, Mayor Mann was in discussions with the White House about the ability of the Little Rock Police Department to maintain order.  Finally, in the interest of public safety, the President federalized the National Guard and removed them. This paved the way for the Army to come in.

Though the school year was not easy, the nine youths who became known worldwide as the Little Rock Nine were finally in school.  They were Minnijean Brown, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo, Gloria Ray, Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls.

In 1997, President Bill Clinton, Governor Mike Huckabee and Mayor Jim Dailey, famously held open the doors of Central High for the Little Rock Nine on the 40th anniversary.  Ten years later, Clinton, Huckabee and Dailey returned joined by Governor Mike Beebe and Mayor Mark Stodola to host the 50th anniversary events.

Today, President Clinton was once again at Central.  This time he was joined by Governor Asa Hutchinson and Mayor Stodola.  Two people who have played parts in organizing all three of these commemorations are City Manager Bruce T. Moore and Central High Principal Nancy Rousseau.  Others, such as Skip Rutherford and Annie Abrams have participated in all three commemorations.

In light of its role in history, the school is a National Historic Site, while still functioning as a high school.


Sculpture, Bridge dedicated today in memory of Cindy Miller

This afternoon at 4pm, a ceremony will take place for the dedication of the Cindy Coates Miller Bridge and an accompanying angel sculpture in the Clinton Presidential Park on the river trail immediately east of the pedestrian bridge.

Miller, who was the Arkansas representative of the Roy and Christine Sturgis Charitable and Educational Trust for over 20 years, died in 2013.

During her Sturgis career, she played a significant role in awarding grants totaling over $60 million including Sturgis Fellowships at the University of Arkansas, her alma mater; Arkansas Children’s Hospital; UA-Little Rock; Hendrix College; Our House; Heifer International and many other organizations. At the time of her death, she was working on a proposal for the bridge that is now completed and bears her name thanks to a gift from the Sturgis Trust in her memory.

The bridge makes it possible for people to visit and explore an island in the Arkansas River in its untouched state. This island will offer a unique natural experience in the heart of an urban setting.  Walking trails and a fishing pier are planned on the eastern part of the island.

The sculpture, entitled Angel, was designed by Clay Enoch of Loveland, Colorado and paid for by friends of Miller.  This three-quarter, life-sized bronze of a seated angel measures three feet from the bottom of its carnation wreath to the top of its wings with an arrow pointing upward. It is placed on a column of pink granite making the base and angel together 6 1/2 feet tall.

Miller’s husband, Pat; Little Rock City Director Dean Kumpuris; Rev. Danny Schieffler, Rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church; and Clinton School Dean Skip Rutherford will participate in the brief dedication ceremony.


Little Rock Look Back: A Dozen Years of the Clinton Library

SkipIt has been twelve years.  Have you warmed up yet?

Many remember November 18, 2004, for the rain and cold wind which greeted visitors to the opening of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Center and Park.  In the years which lead up to that day, November 18, 2004, was known simply as “Game Day” for a group of people.  The chief one was Skip Rutherford.

Overseeing the planning for the Clinton Presidential Center and the events surrounding it had been the focus of James L. “Skip” Rutherford for many years. A FOB for decades, he had stayed in Little Rock when so many went to Washington DC in 1993.

He oversaw the planning for the Clinton Library and led the Clinton Foundation.  No detail was too small or insignificant for him to consider. For months leading to the opening he led meetings to help restaurants, hotels, and attractions understand the scope of the opening.

Together with Dean Kumpuris and Bruce Moore on behalf of the City of Little Rock and Stephanie Streett of the Clinton Foundation, he reviewed plans for the Clinton Presidential Park and the streets and neighborhoods around the Clinton Presidential Center.

Skip used his connections with the business community in Little Rock and throughout the state to discuss the importance of a Presidential Library regardless of one’s personal political affiliations.  He withstood critics who second-guessed everything from the cost, the design, the location, the purpose, and even the anticipated tourism and economic impacts.

Finally the big day had come.  If the weather was not ideal, that was almost inconsequential. It was still the culmination of more than seven years hard work.  As he remarked later that evening when discussing the weather “Many who attended today go to events like this all the time.  This is one they won’t forget!”

However, the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center was not the end of the task. It merely was the move from one phase to another. A few years later, Skip’s role would change as he would leave the Foundation and become the second Dean of the Clinton School of Public Service.


Little Rock Look Back: Clinton selects Little Rock as library site

ClintonCenterConstruction-48

Refuse littered the future site of the Clinton Presidential Center

On November 7, 1997, President Bill Clinton announced his intentions to locate his presidential library in Little Rock at the end of a warehouse district.

The Little Rock City Board met in a special meeting that day to rename part of Markham Street, which would lead to the site, as President Clinton Avenue.

While the announcement was met with excitement in many quarters, there were still some skeptics who had a hard time envisioning a presidential library and park in the middle of a wasteland worthy of a T. S. Eliot poem.

There would be many hurdles between the November 1997 announcement to the December 2001 groundbreaking. But for the moment, City of Little Rock leaders, celebrated the achievement.  Then Mayor Jim Dailey had appointed City Director Dean Kumpuris and City employee Bruce T. Moore to lead the City’s efforts.  Moore and Kumpuris worked with Skip Rutherford and others to narrow the potential sites.

In September 1997, the Clintons were in town for the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High School.  They surprised Kumpuris and Moore with a decision for a Sunday afternoon visit to the warehouse district proposed site. Secret Service would not let the limousine drive in part of the property, so the Clintons, Moore, Kumpuris, and Rutherford walked up a path to the roof of the abandoned Arkansas Book Depository.  It was there that the Clintons could see the Little Rock skyline which would be visible from the library.

Of course by the time the library had opened in November 2004, the Little Rock skyline was different. Spurred on by the library, several new highrises had been constructed in downtown.


Today at noon – Legacies and Lunch with Bobby Roberts

robertsThe Butler Center for Arkansas Studies and Clinton School of Public Service present today’s Legacies and Lunch program which features a conversation with Bobby Roberts.

Roberts has been the director of the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS) since 1989. During his tenure at CALS, it has been recognized as one of the premier library systems in the United States, noted for outstanding public service and innovative programming. Roberts is retiring from CALS on March 4. On March 2, he will talk with Clinton School of Public Service Dean Skip Rutherford at the Butler Center’s monthly Legacies & Lunch presentation series.

A native of Helena, Ark., Roberts became a historian and archivist, a writer of Civil War history, a university faculty member, and a member of Governor Bill Clinton’s staff before taking leadership at CALS. At Legacies & Lunch, Rutherford will interview Roberts about his interest in history and politics, the transformation of CALS, and what he sees for the future of the library system, the city of Little Rock, and the state of Arkansas. This special program is sponsored in part by the Arkansas Humanities Council.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 12:00 Noon
CALS Ron Robinson Theater