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What they’re built for, after all

It was seeking relief from the heat that ignited Angela Danovi’s passion for historic theaters. That respite led to a love of classic movies shown at the Orpheum on mid-afternoon summers in sweltering Memphis. Of all those films, Gone with the Wind was her favorite. It was the now 101 year-old Olivia De Havilland with her portrayal of Scarlett O’Hara’s kindly but fierce sister-in-law Melanie Wilkes that led Danovi to seek out De Havilland’s other films and eventually develop a website dedicated to the film icon.

“I’d seen Gone with the Wind on TV but never in a theater, much less a theater as majestic as the Orpheum,” the now Rogers resident said on a recent call. “At that time ‘pan and scan’ versions of films were shown on television.”

Pan and scan compresses the film for what were square-ish televisions vs. the rectangular projection shown in a movie theater.

“Watching it at the Orpheum, we saw parts of the background and characters who were cropped out for television. Seeing that made me want to see what else I’d missed.”

Part of “seeing what she missed” led to about a dozen road trips throughout the United States to check out historic theaters. She’s been to Marietta, Ga., Franklin, Tenn., Birmingham, Ala., Wichita, Kan., and Knoxville, Tenn., among others. But the highlight of her Historic Theaters road trips was to Austin, Texas’ Paramount Theater for the 75th anniversary showing of Gone with the Wind.

“When I heard that the David O. Selznick Archives (held at the University of Texas, Austin) would be partnering with the Paramount Theater to provide memorabilia from the film, including costumes, I knew I just had to go,” she said.

This was the first time her historic theater tourism required more than a tank of gas. Plane tickets, hotel rooms and a rental car would be involved, not to mention tickets to the 75th anniversary red carpet showing.

“It was an event. A true experience,” she said. “They had the Paramount fully programmed. In every space where there was an activity or experience in every nook and cranny.”

These experiences ranged from costume displays to props with interpretive panels to a photo booth where you could have your picture taken in front of a digital background from the film that was immediately available for online download.

“These are the kinds of experiences we can replicate in our historic theaters in Arkansas,” she said, echoing the advice of League of Historic American Theaters Executive Director Ken Stein gave during his keynote at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference in August. Stein was the executive director of the Paramount Theater in Austin during Angela’s pilgrimage.

Having traveled across the country to visit and experience historic theaters, she’d always wanted to attend the Theatre Historical Society of America conference, where she could learn more about historic theaters and their role in 21st century communities.

“Those conferences are very expensive and have a national focus,” she said. “That’s why I was so glad to have learned about the conference at the Rockefeller Institute. It was nearby, affordable and would be full of other locals passionate about the same things I’m passionate about.”

The Historic Theaters Conference and its 75 attendees from across the state have formed a network where one didn’t exist before. They will be sharing stories of successes, failures, best practices and obscura ranging from lighting issues to how to best deal with the need for wider seats in the modern era and much more. A Facebook group started by the Institute will help keep the dialogue going in between summits like the one held last month atop Petit Jean.

“Who knew that there was a League of Historic Theaters board member who lived in Northwest Arkansas? I had no idea,” she said.

Making these sort of connections and putting smart people in the same room to solve problems facing the state is exactly the thing Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller did repeatedly. This follows directly in his legacy, his love of the arts and passion for historic places.

In the meantime, Danovi will be working on programming classic films in historic theaters in her neck of the woods.

“That’s what they’re built for, after all.”

She’ll also be taking the advice of Ms. De Havilland, who said, “One must take what comes, with laughter.”

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Uncommon Communities initiative begins its third year

Uncommon Communities initiative begins its third year

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (Sept. 5, 2017) — The third year of the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Uncommon Communities initiative will kick off this week with a meeting in Morrilton.

This year’s sessions will differ from previous years in that the bimonthly meetings will take place in the five counties – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – that are part of the initiative. First up is Conway County, which will host the two-day workshop beginning Thursday at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton. In past years, the bimonthly meetings were held at the Rockefeller Institute on Petit Jean Mountain.

“This year’s sessions will highlight the good work that these five counties have been doing since the start of the program in 2015,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Rockefeller Institute. “In addition to bringing in speakers and hearing from our partnering experts, our participating community leaders will help one another assess the potential strengths and opportunities for improvement in each of their communities. They will report on their successes and help each other look ahead to a vibrant and sustainable 21st century economy in rural Arkansas.”

Uncommon Communities marries the wisdom and proven methodology of Dr. Vaughn Grisham, a celebrated community development expert and professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi, with the award-winning Breakthrough Solutions partnership – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and the expertise of Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Uncommon Communities began as a pilot program focusing on five counties in the vicinity of the Institute: Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell. All of these counties are largely rural and have poverty rates between 17 and 23 percent; lost 1,249 jobs between 2007 and 2013; and have unemployment rates that are 109 percent of the state average. Uncommon Communities serves as a model in addressing these critical issues in quality of living and community/economic development.

“The Institute partnered with Drs. Grisham, Peterson and Robertson to create Uncommon Communities because we know it’s the kind of work that Winthrop Rockefeller did,” Harris said. “Gov. Rockefeller made significant contributions to rural Arkansas through personal philanthropy and through policy initiatives. We know he would be proud of the progress these five communities have made over the past two years.”

This week’s session will feature two guest speakers: Greg Tehven, co-founder of Emerging Prairie in Fargo, N.D., and Charlotte Strickland, founder of Strickly Speaking and director of professional development and training at the University of Central Arkansas. While most of the two-day session is restricted only for the community leaders participating in the initiative, the two keynotes are open to public. Those interested in attending the keynote presentation should contact program officer Samantha Evans at 501-727-6257 or sevans@uawri.org.

For more information about Uncommon Communities, visit www.rockefellerinstitute.org/institute-programs/uncommon.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Uncommon Communities spurs community development in Conway County

Spend a few minutes talking with Barry McKuin and it quickly becomes evident how much he loves Conway County. You can hear it in his voice and his choice of words. He’s spent the greater part of his life there. It’s home.

But not too terribly far in the past, he says, he felt that something was missing. He just couldn’t quite put his finger on it. But it kept coming to mind whenever he would discuss economic development and job recruitment in Conway County. In his community.

Then, approximately 20 years ago, McKuin was at a symposium in Batesville where he heard a speech from Dr. Vaughn Grisham, professor emeritus of sociology and founding director of the McLean Institute for Community Development at the University of Mississippi. Something Dr. Grisham said immediately struck the now former director of the Conway County Economic Development Corp. “That’s it! That is what’s missing.”

Community development precedes economic development, Dr. Grisham said. 

“The message from Vaughn Grisham [was about] the history of Tupelo focusing on community development, and how it led to economic development,” said McKuin, who is currently on the board of directors at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “I have never been one to take many notes, but I found myself writing on every blank piece of paper I had.”

Fast forward a couple decades.

In August 2015, the Institute began training sessions for a two-year pilot program based on the methodology and insight of Dr. Grisham. This community and economic development program, Uncommon Communities, was created with the goal of producing community leaders who were equipped to assess the gaps in their communities, as well as mobilize the community to fill those gaps in the areas of economic development, education and workforce development, and quality of life and place, said Cary Tyson, the former program officer who led the pilot program at the Institute. The program was developed as a partnership between the Institute, Dr. Grisham, Breakthrough Solutions – under the direction of Dr. Mark Peterson at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service – and Dr. Roby Robertson, retired professor of public administration and former director of the Institute of Government at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“Before you can do 21st century economic development,” Tyson said, “you have to do community development.”

Tyson also noted that from the beginning, representatives from all five counties who participated in the Uncommon Communities training – counties near the Institute: Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – all participated together. They had to learn to cooperate with each other more as partners and less, perhaps, as competition.

“Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller strongly believed in partnership and regionalism,” Tyson said. “I always called it, ‘coopertition.’”

To that purpose, said current Institute program officer Samantha Evans, year three of Uncommon Communities will feature tours of each participating county, during which representatives will be able to report on their community development progress. This new aspect – which will kick off with a tour of Conway County – will allow communities to learn from each other and assess what might work for them in their own backyards.

“If you want jobs, want economic development, then you have to have leaders – the right people on the bus,” Evans said. “Then you just determine where you want to go.”

Dr. Linda Birkner, vice chancellor of administration at the University of Arkansas Community College at Morrilton, is already on that bus, and she’s already looking forward to touring her neighboring counties to witness the transformations taking place.

“We’re building bridges, really – ‘people-bridges’ – to address any problem that may arise in our community,” said Birkner, who moved to Conway County in 1984.

In fact, to continue with the bridges metaphor, Birkner says she can best describe the work that has been taking place in Conway County under Uncommon Communities as “making connections.” And, nowhere was the importance of community connections more evident than during Munchin on Main Street – a new one-day community festival that was a big success this past spring.

Due to some unforeseen challenges, the joint project of Main Street Morrilton, the Morrilton Area Chamber of Commerce and Uncommon Communities had to come together in a relatively short period of time: music, entertainment, food trucks and activities for kids all had to be finalized within six weeks. Not only did everything come together, it was such a success that another festival is planned for next year, as well.

“That would have never been able to happen in six weeks if we had not already had all those [Uncommon Communities] meetings and made those community relationships,” Birkner said.

Munchin on Main was a dynamic community achievement. Perhaps the type of dynamic achievement McKuin felt was missing from Conway County over the years. It didn’t help that an existing leadership program ended in the mid-2000s, McKuin said. But that’s now slowly coming back.

“As a result of Uncommon Communities, we were motivated to restart the leadership training (Leadership Conway County),” he said. “We had our first graduating class last year and we already have a second class filled for 2017. Through our leadership classes we are identifying community projects that merit working together and developing funding, when appropriate.”

But the success of Uncommon Communities can perhaps be best summed up in something else McKuin said: “This is not the end of the story.”

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A touch of the Unexpected in Fort Smith

Unexpected. Far more than just a catchy name, the word “unexpected” truly captures the spirit of the yearly art celebration in Fort Smith, the Unexpected Mural Festival.

Curated by art network JustKids, the Unexpected is an initiative to bring international artists and creative artwork to downtown Fort Smith, Ark., perhaps not the first venue that would come to mind as the focal point for world-class art. Yet that is part of what makes it the perfect backdrop. Walking through a downtown that has been a lynchpin in Arkansas history and industry and seeing walls and alleyways adorned with bright colors and stunning tableaus serves as a bridge to the present. The murals and installed artworks are also enhanced by the history surrounding them. There is a symbiosis between old and new that helps one appreciate them both through the contrast.

Mural by DFace

That is not to say, however, that the murals and other art don’t have a Fort Smith flavor. Much of the art ties into Fort Smith’s frontier past and its proximity to Oklahoma featuring Western and Native American themes. New Zealand artist ASKEW, for instance, met with a modern Cherokee chief in Oklahoma while conceptualizing his mural. Inspired by the meeting, ASKEW created a mural incorporating the faces of four Cherokee women close to the chief: his mother, wife, daughter and sister.

Mural by ASKEW

The nod to the history and culture of Fort Smith in so many murals was itself unexpected. Artists are given free range to create the murals, without the need for approval or input from the organizers or the business owners on whose walls they are working. This leap of faith has been rewarded year after year with thoughtful and stunning works of art. This running success is a testament to careful selection of world-class artists whose chosen medium happens to be mural work.

Mural by UAFS students

Something else one might not expect as part of a mural festival are the variety of installed elements accompanying the art. From standalone sculptures of local fauna made from metal scraps, to incorporated neon lights, several pieces of art go beyond flat walls and bring the viewer inside of the work. At the Unexpected headquarters in the historic New Theater, artist Doze Green has installed his work “The Divine Sparks Project.” The work pulls visitors into a darkened space, through an entryway lit by dime blue lights that make the stark white figures painted on the walls jump out. Past the entrance, the space opens up into the theater proper with custom neon figures lighting up the walls and a pair of blue giants towering on either side of the proscenium. Standing on the darkened stage, flanked by colossal abstract figures and looking out a ring of glowing outlines on the far wall, you lose yourself for a moment.

Divine Sparks Project 1

Divine Sparks Project 2

Divine Sparks Project 3

Another piece that invites interaction is by Amsterdam artists Circus Family. “TRIPH” is an installed work that features glowing geometric shapes and ambient sounds that react to viewer interaction. In the absence of spectators, the lights are dull and the sounds nearly non-existent. When approached, however, the shapes light up and pulse with different colors, and sounds fill the space. The work is a fantastic blend of art and technology that takes the viewer out of passive role.

Mural by UAFS student

Carved mural by Vhils

There are so many great artworks to discus, from work that was chiseled into plaster, a mural on a print shop storage building appropriately featuring Guttenberg, to abstract pieces that speak for themselves, but words do them only so much justice. You really can’t know what it’s like until you’ve seen it for yourself. Even though the festival is over, the art remains an integral part of Fort Smith. I encourage you to make the trip and take a stroll downtown. Soak in the history, shop the shops and expect the Unexpected.

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97-year-old Royal Theatre remains a gem

If only the brick walls of the Royal Theatre in downtown Benton could talk, I imagine the conversation would be full of amusing, awe-inspiring tales of the different types of people who have graced the interior of the two-story historic structure. From early movie days in the 1920s to the ’50s when concessions were sold to passersby on the street, and later in the ’90s when actor Jerry Van Dyke owned the theater and adjacent Soda Shoppe, the Royal Theatre has touched many lives throughout the past century.

In 2004 when I joined the staff at the Benton Courier (now the Saline Courier), I quickly learned from seasoned reporter and editor Lynda Hollenbeck – a Royal Players board member and veteran cast and crew participant – the important role the theater plays in the community. During my newspaper tenure I would go on to know other key players of the Royal, such as theatre manager Shannon Moss and founding members the late Gayla McCoy, Louann Cameron and Selena Ellis.

The Royal Players (formerly the Central Arkansas Community Players) has called the Royal Theatre home since 2000 when Van Dyke deeded the building to the performance group. Established in 1994, for the first few years the theatre group put on plays at Benton High School’s Butler Auditorium. The Royal Players and the Young Players for youth have produced more than 100 plays.

The original section of the Royal Theatre was built in 1920 when it was known as the IMP, an acronym for Independent Motion Pictures, according to the history section of the theater’s website. The theater was remodeled and the name changed to the Royal in 1949. In 1974, Wallace Kauffman relinquished control of the Royal to his son Warren Lee and his wife, Mildred. In 1986, Warren Lee passed ownership to his son Randy Kauffman, who continued to manage it until 1996 when he sold it to Van Dyke.

Because the Royal Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Royal Players is able to apply for preservation grants and low-interest loans to help maintain the structure for all to enjoy for years to come.

Susan Dill, president of the Royal Players Board of Directors, gives Van Dyke credit for cleaning up downtown. The area has been on the upswing ever since.

“The area continues to improve, and we attract people from all of central Arkansas,” Dill says, adding that the theater “improves the quality of life for all who experience it, from the actors to the people who come to watch.”

The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s very own Jeff LeMaster, director of communications and marketing, grew up in Benton, calling the Royal “our movie theater.” Until Tinseltown theater was built in 1997, LeMaster says the Royal was the only option for seeing movies locally.

“One of my most vivid memories of the Royal was when we went to see The Rescuers Down Under with my family. About halfway through the movie, they stopped the projector and the manager came in and told the audience that it was snowing pretty hard outside and that he would give us a rain check ticket if we wanted to leave. My parents opted to stay and finish the movie even though most people left, and by the time we got out of the theater, there was about six inches of snow on the ground. It took us a while to get home, but I remember thinking how cool it was to have the theater almost all to ourselves.”

LeMaster echoes Dill’s sentiments about downtown’s improvement during the Van Dyke days.

“Back in the ’90s, Benton’s downtown was struggling. Businesses were having a hard time staying open, and there were lots of vacant buildings. The one little glimmer of life was the Royal. That became especially true when Jerry Van Dyke installed the soda shop next door and the Royal installed a stage and began producing live local theater. The soda shop venture didn’t last, but I remember being amazed at how many more people I saw on Market Street during that time.”

With the increased foot traffic came a renewed interest from investors to revive vacant buildings near the Royal that remain occupied.  

Since the Royal Players took control of the building, the Royal Theatre is not only a stellar downtown asset, but also a safe haven for youth and adults to come together to be themselves, establish bonds and gain valuable life lessons.

Payton Christenberry, a program officer at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in charge of arts and humanities programs, also grew up in Benton and recalls fondly his time as part of the Royal Players.

The Royal was a big part of my teenage and early adult years, performing on stage and working behind the scenes,” Christenberry says. “I didn’t appreciate its history at the time, but there was no way to miss the presence the building has. From the classic theater marquee to the towering ceiling inside to the creak of the chairs, everything pulls you into another world.

“What sticks out most, though, is how many people the Royal brings together. I got to meet and work with people from my community on something we all shared a passion for. On top of that, we got to perform for our friends and neighbors. I can’t think of a time I felt more connected to my hometown than standing on stage to take a final bow beside my fellow cast and crew in front of a packed house. I wouldn’t have those memories without the Royal.”

That intrinsic link to the artistic and commercial health of a community will be a key theme at the Rockefeller Institute’s upcoming Historic Theaters Conference, which will be held at the Institute on Petit Jean Mountain Thursday, Aug. 10, through Friday, Aug. 11.

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League of Historic American Theatres CEO to deliver keynote at Historic Theaters Conference

Ken Stein, president and CEO of the League of Historic American Theatres, will deliver the keynote address at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference, which will be held Thursday, Aug. 10, and Friday, Aug. 11. The conference represents a partnership between the Rockefeller Institute, the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council and the city of Morrilton.

Stein, an expert in preservation, fundraising, marketing and management within the arts, will speak about “The Power of the Historic Theatre,” which will explore a case study of a historic theater in Austin, Texas, that went from bankruptcy to being the most profitable arts organization in Texas’s capitol in just three years.

Stein has more than 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector and has raised more than $100 million in his work for various organizations.

“Ken’s vast experience in marketing arts organizations and his proven record of success make him an ideal keynote speaker for the Historic Theaters Conference,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “His insights will be invaluable to our participants in their efforts to preserve and expand their local historic theaters.”

Stein will deliver his presentation at 12:15 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10. The Historic Theaters Conference aims to equip engaged staff, volunteers and other interested people to preserve, promote and prosper the 22 historic theaters in Arkansas, as well as historic theaters in neighboring states. Registration, which includes the conference, overnight lodging at the Rockefeller Institute and all meals, is $75 for the first person from each community or organization and $50 for subsequent registrants from the same community or organization. More information and a link for registration can be found at www.rockefellerinstitute.org/theaters.

 

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Morrilton’s Rialto Theatre undergoes epic transformation through the years

The Hollywood stars who once graced its screen may be gone with the wind (if you’ll forgive the play on words), but the Rialto Theatre still remains a gem in downtown Morrilton today. Actually, the story of the theater — with its myriad stops and starts, and especially its survival in the face of long odds — would arguably be worthy of the sweeping epics that used to screen there.

Not so long ago it appeared the more-than-100-year-old landmark had outlived its relevance: doomed to the same finale as countless aging buildings before it. In the 1990s, the Rialto was slated for demolition – to make room for a parking lot. Progress, it seemed, had caught up with the Rialto and left it behind. Movie-goers had long ago moved onto bigger multiplexes, larger screens and state-of-the-art surround sound.

Rialto-old

The first film showed at the Rialto in 1911. In the 1950s, the building was gutted and seating increased. It reopened to great acclaim with a showing of Lovely to Look At, starring Kathryn Grayson and Red Skelton. In the 1970s, it was again modified to keep up with the times and was converted to three screens. It didn’t last, however, and the following decade, the once-grand theater was shut down.

For years, the Rialto sat there boarded up and empty — a deteriorating relic whose golden age had played out its run. Enter our hero in this script.

Lindell Roberts wasn’t the only person who helped save the Rialto, but if this were one of those “based-on-a-true-story” movies, this gregarious Morriltonian would undoubtedly play a leading role.

“When I would drive through downtown, I would look at it (the Rialto) and think, ‘We need to turn that into a performance theater.’ This was around 1995,” Roberts recounted one morning from the sidewalk outside the Rialto. Occasionally people would honk and wave as they drove past.

“Then one day, our new mayor at the time, Stewart Nelson, called me up and asked, ‘What would you think about making the old Rialto into a performance theater?,’” Roberts recalled between waves. “I said, ‘When do you want to start?’”

And like those feel-good celluloid stories that never get old, hard-working members of the community came together to bring the regal lady back to life. Most of the early labor was made up entirely of volunteers, Roberts said. Improved lighting was installed, a new stage was built and a proscenium added. A capital improvement grant helped renovate the building next door, which became a connected art gallery. A donor, Afton King, paid for the installation of the necessary dressing rooms for performers. A local artist even came in to restore the murals along the walls of the main seating hall that were added in 1952 when the theater was beginning its second life.

“When The Rep (in Little Rock) did their renovation, they gave us the seats that came out of the theater,” Roberts said, recalling just how broad the backing for this success story has been. “We have great community support for this theater. A lot of towns our size don’t have something like this (a downtown theater).”

Current Morrilton Mayor Allen Lipsmeyer agrees. “I’ve been to cities all over Arkansas that deeply regret tearing down their downtown theater,” he said. “In fact, cities are now building replicas of historic theaters. We did a good thing preserving this piece of history. No one regrets saving history.”

Roberts helped create the Rialto Community Arts Center Board, under the auspices of the Arts Council of Conway County, to manage the renovation and operation of the theater, which is now called the Rialto Community Arts Center. He was the first president and currently serves as chairman. The reopened 400-seat venue hosted its first performance in 2000 and has been used frequently ever since for a variety of plays, concerts, murder-mystery dinners and, of course, films, such as the classic Gone with the Wind, which was screened a few years ago. Next door — formerly a hardware store — houses a meeting center (complete with a full kitchen) and an art gallery, which varies its exhibits every few months.

This type of success story is part of what will be highlighted at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference on Aug. 10-11. The conference, which only costs $75 to attend (includes lodging and meals), will feature experts in historic preservation, fundraising and art as a method of community and economic development. It will also include time for networking among people who are all passionate about ensuring their community’s historic theater has its own success story.

Most seem to agree that Morrilton isn’t ready for the credits to roll on the Rialto, a true historic Arkansas landmark.

“Art is a part of what makes communities unique, and artists bring with them passion,” Lipsmeyer said. “I like knowing we have a space for our citizens to enjoy art, perform, celebrate, demonstrate and show their talent. I believe art will be a vital part of our downtown revitalization.

“We are a better city because of the Rialto.”

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Historic Theaters Conference to lift up ‘artistic lifeblood of community’

Historic Theaters Conference to lift up ‘artistic lifeblood of community’

PETIT JEAN MOUNTAIN, Ark. (May 17, 2017) — Historic theaters are far more than old buildings that represent a bygone era. For many small towns, they remain important centers of artistic activity.

That concept is the theme behind the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s Historic Theaters Conference, which will be held Thursday, Aug. 10, through Friday, Aug. 11, at the Institute on Petit Jean Mountain. The Rockefeller Institute is partnering with the Department of Arkansas Heritage, the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, the Arkansas Arts Council and the City of Morrilton to present the conference.

“Historic theaters are often the artistic lifeblood of a community, and there are many ways to leverage their influence and preserve their future,” said Janet Harris, director of programs for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. “We look forward to sharing some of those strategies and re-energizing the efforts of those who care about historic theaters in Arkansas and in our neighboring states.”

The conference will bring in outside speakers to discuss a variety of topics, including innovative ways to utilize historic theaters that engage communities in new ways and also contribute to a theater’s sustainability. On this topic, the Rockefeller Institute will lead by example with a special art display that will be announced in the coming weeks.

Other topics include fundraising, marketing, preservation and more. In addition to hearing from key experts, the conference will include ample opportunities for those working on and passionate about historic theaters to network and share success stories.

“Historic theaters are frequently an important piece of a downtown renaissance,” said Stacy Hurst, Department of Arkansas Heritage director. “We feel this is an opportunity to help communities learn the value these historic theaters hold as resources for redevelopment and community revitalization.”

The conference is open to anyone who is interested in historic theaters, community arts programs and/or historic preservation. Admission for the conference, which covers registration, meals and lodging at the Rockefeller Institute’s premiere conference center, is $75 per person. After one person has registered representing a historic theater, community and/or arts organization, each additional person representing that same entity will be discounted to $50.

For more information, a conference agenda and a link for registration, visit www.rockefellerinstitute.org/theaters.

About the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute

In 2005, the University of Arkansas System established the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute with a grant from the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust. By integrating the resources and expertise of the University of Arkansas System with the legacy and ideas of Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, this educational institute and conference center creates an atmosphere where collaboration and change can thrive.

Program areas include Agriculture, Arts and Humanities, Civic Engagement, Economic Development, and Health. To learn more, call 501-727-5435, visit the website at www.rockefellerinstitute.org, or stay connected through Twitter and Facebook.

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Our own version of March Madness

March came shooting out of a cannon at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. We put on four programs in March, up from our typical 1-2 per month schedule that we typically adhere to.

We kicked off the month with the second annual Under 40 Forum, which brought some of the state’s brightest young leaders, as designated by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal and Arkansas Business, together for a  two-day facilitated discussion on the fractures that divide our state and ways to heal them. The Forum is held in conjunction with the Clinton School of Public Service. One the participants – Eric Wilson, CEO of Noble Impact – offered this feedback on the Forum: “Every state has a 40 Under 40 list, and most of them are photo opportunities and a happy hour. But here in Arkansas, we’re trying to do something more. Instead of just taking a photo, we’re getting everybody together in a room and asking them to discuss some of the biggest challenges facing our state.”

A report detailing the group’s findings is forthcoming and will be distributed to leadership across the state in government, business and communities.

Then about a week later on a cool spring day, more than 65 participants gathered at the Institute for the Business Workshop for Landowners. Part of a partnership with Mississippi State University’s Natural Resource Enterprise Program and the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, the workshop provided experts with in-the-field knowledge on how to manage the land and look at their land with a different focus.

The morning session included a field tour just a short drive from the Institute on the property of Mr. Henry Jones. The property included 288 acres of short-leaf pine and hardwoods. The property has been in Mr. Jones’ family since 1884 and started out as a cotton field and evolved through the years to some timber property and space for the family to hunt and experience nature. During the field tour, participants enjoyed talks from wildlife biologists, foresters and Mr. Jones discussing the history of the property and different forestry management techniques such as thinning to improve forest stands and disking for wildlife. Mr. Jones was able to show his success after implementing these techniques in one year’s time: a quail covey established on the west end of his property. 

After lunch, attendees heard talks on recreational enterprise opportunities, legal liability issues and estate planning. We sold out the event this time and already have folks asking about the next workshop. We hope to have another one in the fall, with an announcement coming late spring or early summer.

The following day, on March 10, we held our ninth Uncommon Communities training. Uncommon Communities is our community and economic development program done in partnership with Dr. Vaughn Grisham, the Cooperative Extension’s Breakthrough Solutions program and the University of Arkansas-Little Rock’s School of Public Affairs. In this session, our five participating counties – Conway, Perry, Pope, Van Buren and Yell – were coached in quality of place and placemaking.

Representatives from Yell County presented to the group their plans for downtown revitalization in Dardanelle. These plans include installation of a hammock park, a dog park, historical re-enactments, bike and walking trails, a Native American heritage museum and more.

Finally, on March 23-24, we held our Rural Health Summit (pictured above), which convened health care leaders from across the state to identify gaps and opportunities related to health care in rural areas. This is the first wide-scale effort to address this pressing need. The Institute will soon report out to the group with a summary of their recommendations, and a group of volunteers from among the participants will work to begin implementing some of those recommendations and identifying other partners to join for another summit in late 2017 or early 2018. This effort has the potential to provide higher quality and more access to care for our state’s rural populations, all through the power of collaboration and cooperation.

There’s lots more to come in 2017 for the Institute, including our Art in its Natural State competition, which kicked off in February, and our annual performance of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre. We’re relieved that the March Madness is behind us and are ready to take on the next challenges.

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Surprise award

The Institute is extremely proud that Program Officer Samantha Evans was honored with the Arkansas Community Development Society’s New Professional Award. Samantha has been actively involved in community development, especially in Arkansas, for most of her professional years.

This past Friday, two representatives from the Society - including Whitney Horton, pictured above on the left with Sam on the right - came to the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute to surprise Sam with the award. Sam was very touched, as you can see on our Facebook page.

Sam comes from five years at Main Street Arkansas serving as its assistant director. In this position, she worked with numerous small- and medium-sized communities throughout the state of Arkansas where she worked to help interested citizens revitalize their downtown.

Sam served both on the board and as peer-elected chair of the Young Nonprofit Professionals of Little Rock. Under her leadership as the board chair, Little Rock was selected to host the annual Young Nonprofit Professional National Conference. It was a very successful event highlighting Change Through Head, Heart and Hands. The Change Through Head, Heart and Hands was a national nonprofit leadership conference that in August 2015 brought 150 young, emerging leaders from throughout the nation to Little Rock. Sam played a strong role in promoting central Arkansas tourism for attendees, further deepening the investment and experience attendees had while expanding the event’s economic impact.

She created the monthly speaker series “Coffee with an Expert,” which brings executive directors across various sectors together to speak with YNPN members.  She also developed a fundraising plan to increase membership and sponsorship for the local organization.

Before working for Main Street Arkansas, Sam was the planning technician for the city of North Little Rock for two years. Originally from Perry County, Sam, now of Conway, worked with her home community to help save the Rosenwald School in Bigelow, once listed as one of Arkansas’ Most Endangered Places. She’s written articles on a variety of issues concerning community development and planning including this one.

Sam holds a Professional Community and Economic Developer Certification from the Community Development Council. She has a master’s degree from the Humphry School of Public Affairs in City/Urban Planning with an emphasis in Community and Regional Planning.

She was selected as a Krusell Community Development Fellow and MacArthur Fellow in 2007 as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. During her fellowships she worked with Model Cities CDC, a community-based development organization, and CommonBond, a large affordable housing development and management organization. Her placement experiences included: assisting with funding applications for tax credits; marketing research; data management and analysis; predevelopment planning and funding applications; assistance with façade improvement program; help with real estate closings. 

Sam is a regular speaker at conferences and events, including for the Community Development Institute, the National Main Streets Conference and innumerable local community sessions.

She received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College with a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science. In a nice Rockefeller connection, Spelman College, which was founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminar, later changed in honor of Laura Spelman, John D. Rockefeller’s wife, and her parents, who were longtime activists in the anti-slavery movement. 

I had the privilege of working with Sam at a previous job, and I was thrilled when we got to be colleagues again here at the Institute. We’re very proud of her and look forward to seeing how her talent moves our programs forward in the future.

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