Essential Little Rock guide 

What follows are 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.


Speaking of...

  • How about cheese dip for lunch Saturday?

    October 21, 2016
    Big day in Little Rock tomorrow, what with the Race for the Cure hordes on the street. What's for lunch?How about the World Cheese Dip Championship from noon to 3 p.m. in the River Market Pavilion. /more/
  • 30th anniversary screening of BMXploitation flick 'RAD', gnarly pre-show events, set for Oct. 15

    September 21, 2016
    Break out your neon spandex and elbow pads! On Saturday, Oct. 15, the Downtown Partnership will be hosting a full afternoon of events centered around the 30th anniversary of the 1986 BMX bike racing epic "RAD," followed by a screening of the film with star Bill Allen in attendance. /more/
  • Arkansas Arts Center: No signs of populism yet

    August 23, 2016
    Check Leslie Newell Peacock's report on the annual meeting of the Arkansas Arts Center. A huge infusion of public dollars in support of the museum doesn't seem to have injected much populism into the proceedings. /more/
  • Happy Birthday, Big Dam Bridge

    August 23, 2016
    A variety of bigshots will gather at 10 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 8, on the Little Rock side of the Big Dam Bridge to mark the 10th anniversary of what is said to be "the world’s longest pedestrian-and-bicycle bridge built and designed solely for that purpose." The investment long ago proved a wise one. /more/
  • Renaissance man

    August 4, 2016
    For 35 years, object conservator and craftsman Andy Zawacki has helped keep the past present at the Historic Arkansas Museum. /more/
  • Power out at the Arts Center

    July 28, 2016
    The Arkansas Arts Center was closed today, due to a power outage in MacArthur Park, and the MacArthur Museum of Military History was likely closed as well. Phones at the latter were being answered by machines.It's a good thing it was today and not next Thursday, Aug. 4,  when the Arts Center is holding an open house for architectural firms interested in applying for the planned renovation and expansion will be held. The Arts Center announced in June its Request For Qualifications for a design architect was ready for interested parties. /more/
  • More Tony Blair in Little Rock today via the web

    July 15, 2016
    Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair will deliver a lecture in the Frank and Kula Kumpuris Lecture Series to an invitation-only audience at noon today at the Great Hall of the Clinton Presidential Center. But the speech will be available to the public on the web at this link. /more/
  • Three former national leaders to meet in Little Rock this week

    July 10, 2016
    Three former national leaders — former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and former British prime minister Tony Blair — apparently are going to be together in Little Rock this week. /more/
  • Tony Blair coming to Little Rock

    July 2, 2016
    Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, is to speak in Little Rock in the Frank and Kula Kumpuris Distinguished Lecture series. The program is set for noon July 15. /more/
  • Bread and curry: Favorites at the River Market

    June 28, 2016
    Word comes from River Market Director of Operations Diana Long that Old Mill Bread and a new Indian restaurant are open now in Ottenheimer Hall — just in time for the Taekwondo event at the Statehouse Convention Center. /more/
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