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If you've driven down South Main Street lately and glanced longingly, perhaps, at the former site of the Captain D's at the corner of Daisy Bates (14th Street) and Main, you've seen a sculpture garden.
The concrete pad that supported the fast fish joint, which burned down several years ago, has been spruced up with a fresh coat of white concrete. On its north side is a long area surfaced in gravel.
The graveled and concrete areas are surrounded by landscaping — crepe myrtles, water oaks, bright zinnias, bamboo, tall grasses, rosemary, all to be watered by water collected in a cistern — and long benches on the north and south.
A year from now, six sculptures will have been installed at this once blighted corner, thanks to the vision of the lot's owner, Anita Davis, and a Main Street grant. The Bernice Garden (named for her grandmother) is a “public park on private land,” Davis explained, describing the effort as a “feminine approach to downtown revitalization.” She hopes the neighborhood will be inspired by the garden to gather in community, enjoy art and learn about sustainable landscaping.
To date, Davis, who owns the two buildings facing Main on the south half of the block, has footed the bill for the entire project. She declined to say what her investment is, but says the payoff will be in seeing it used.
Davis, who was born “in the 1940s” and grew up in Murfreesboro, is known to the art community as both an artist herself — she assembles found objects to create what she called “tongue-in-cheek” works — and as a collector of vintage handbags (and their contents). The Historic Arkansas Museum exhibited a portion of her collection in 2006; “The Purse and the Person” is now on exhibit at the Midway Village history museum outside Chicago.
SOMA — which stands for Southside Main Street Project — won a $20,000 grant from the Main Street Arkansas organization to pay $3,000 to six artists who successfully apply to install art in the Bernice Garden (the remainder of the grant will go for publicity). Davis said she hopes the call for artists will be issued soon; a committee composed of representatives from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the Arkansas Arts Council, SOMA and Davis will make the selections. The artists will be able to reclaim the work after a year, when new pieces could go up.
Davis hopes the ACAC artists cooperative, located in the historic structure just south of the sculpture garden (and coincidentally named the Bernice Building), will put the park to good use, as could Audubon Arkansas, which has offices on the second floor of the Lincoln Building next door. She'd also like to see some kind of small farmer's market on the site. She said persons who'd like to use the area should call her building manager, Steve Hendrich, at 664-0800.
Argenta debuts its Argenta Art Walk at 5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15, the first of what will be a monthly event on the third Friday of each month. Friday's event will be a “soft opening,” organizers say, with a formal kickoff in September.
Twenty businesses and galleries along Main Street from Broadway to Eighth will exhibit art, including the Argenta Art Studios in the First Presbyterian Church; Galaxy Furniture; Cornerstone Pub and Grill; Circle Cafe; Reno's Argenta Cafe; The Circle Cafe; Thomason's Furniture; Blake's Furniture; the Thea Foundation; Hicks, Dowty, McCauley & Schell Architects; Sidetracks; Clay Time Studios; Arkansas Art Gallery; Baker House Bed and Breakfast; Clements and Associates; Carousel Ministries; Argenta Seafood; BGP, Priddy-Holifield and Argenta Bead. Some venues will have refreshments. The event runs until 8 p.m.