Eleven for 2011 

This year, the Arkansas Times Natives Guide starts at the top — the top 11 places we think help define Little Rock and our surrounds. They're the places you take your out-of-town friends, where you yourself make repeat visits, the places that say something about us. Sometimes what they say is that we've made mistakes, and the Central High School Museum Visitors Center makes sure we don't forget them. But mostly they say show off our culcha (the Arts Center), our history (the Historic Arkansas Museum), our political savvy (the Clinton Library), our worn hiking boots (Pinnacle Mountain State Park), the barbecue sauce on our shirts (Sims Barbecue), a penchant for bicycles (the River Trail and the Big Dam Bridge), our foot forward (the River Market district), fine architecture (the Quapaw Quarter), and our brilliant legislators (the State Capitol). Last but not least: A river runs through us. It brought us here in the first place, and we're finally thankful, as our new attention to it — the renewal of Riverfront Park, for example — attests.

Arkansas Arts Center

For half a century, the Arkansas Arts Center has been the preeminent museum in the state, a place where Rembrandt and Van Gogh shake hands with Georgia O'Keeffe and Jackson Pollock. The fire almost went out when Winthrop and Jeannette Rockefeller decided that the people of Arkansas and not the rich couple up on Petit Jean should support the Arts Center, but a public campaign kept the doors open, and the Arts Center began to grow in stature; it doubled in size a decade ago. The Arts Center adopted a smart strategy for an institution with limited dollars: It began to build a collection by buying works on paper. The nationally recognized collection includes works by contemporary new world artists as well as European masters. The Arts Center carved out another high-profile niche with its recognition (and collecting) of contemporary crafts as one of the most exciting American art forms today. The Arts Center's Children's Theatre is hugely popular, selling out its seasons. If you want to learn how to blow glass, sign up for the museum school; the glassblowing program here was one of the first in the country. You can, of course, take classes in drawing, painting, pottery, photography or sign up for special workshops offered by artists brought to the Arts Center by the Friends of Contemporary Crafts group. The Arts Center also manages the Terry House community museum at 411 E. 7th St., two blocks north, where various exhibits are hung in an antebellum home once owned by one of the state's most prominent families.

Arkansas State Capitol

Of all the great, crazy stories that have come out of the building, one of the wildest of all is the story of the Capitol itself. After rogue pieces of ceiling began to fall from the Senate chamber in the Old State House at the close of the 1800s, Arkansas's lawmakers put their newly endangered noggins together and resolved to jump ship and construct a new, grand Capitol on the site of a downtown state penitentiary. Fifteen years later, after a storm of wheeling, dealing, lawsuits, injunctions and dirty politicking that led to burglaries, briberies and at a jell cell for a state senator, the political comedy was finally over and Little Rock was left with the stately neo-classical monument, limestone-filled and golden-domed, that inspires both love and frustration from Arkies the state over. Since, the 247,000-square-foot edifice of halls, offices and chambers has become a town unto itself with elevator operators and snack bar employees becoming as much of the building's colorful history as the parades of legislators whose pictures hang on the walls. And next time you're driving down Capitol Avenue, check out the building's accidental "swagger." When future governor George Donaghey laid out the foundation, he passed over land surveying tools and decided to just eye it. Now the building itself is like so many lawmakers past and present, a little off the grid. The Capitol Building is open to the public Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with free tours weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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