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StudioMain: an architectural Dreamworks 

New South Main design center opens Friday.

click to enlarge Jennifer Herron image
  • Brian Chilson
  • AT STUDIOMAIN: Architect Jennifer Herron talks about the design incubator, which opens Friday.

Imagine planning a neighborhood or commercial area that considers building design, materials and construction; economics; the environment; aesthetics; social interaction; safety, landscaping and transportation, all incorporated in a way the people who will live or work there want — and all before the first swing of a hammer. Then imagine StudioMain.

StudioMain, at 1423 S. Main St., created by a collective to bring designers together to share ideas, present talks and exhibit architectural designs, will hold its grand opening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Feb. 10, as part of the 2nd Friday Art Night event downtown. On exhibit will be plans and a model for Pettaway Park, a pocket neighborhood proposal for land owned by the Downtown Little Rock Community Development Corp. on Rock Street between 17th and 19th streets. Funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and a city grant, 5th year architecture students and faculty of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center in Fayetteville have drawn up plans and created a model for the neighborhood, a development of houses facing a shared central park. Architects, Pettaway residents and members of the DLRCDC worked together on the plan, tweaking it to suit neighborhood desires for porches, for example, and various floorplans that would allow construction of nine homes at a cost of $100,000 a unit.

Pettaway Park may never be built — at least not in this economy — but the plans for it will serve as a starting point for conversation about how the neighborhoods of the future could develop. That is one of the goals of StudioMain — to be an incubator of good design.

"Emerging professionals" — the architects' term for young colleagues who are just out of school or just licensed — put in "sweat equity" to get the storefront ready for Friday's opening, architect Jennifer Herron said. But the idea to bring architects, builders, suppliers, advocates for trails and parks, engineers and more together to forge workable design ideas has been plotted for four years. Herron and others, including architect Joe Stanley, developer Page Wilson and young professionals like James Meyer, want StudioMain to be a resource to urban planners and a creative outlet for architects outside the workplace, a place where problems are worked out ahead of construction and where community input is welcomed. StudioMain should be useful to the city of Little Rock, which has no urban planning department of its own.

Future exhibits will include plans for the Southside Main Street Project (SOMA) that UA Community Design Center students are working on, ideas for the Creative Corridor north on Main around the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, and a third home designed for the Pettaway neighborhood by the UA's other student design studio, Design Build. Meyer envisions lectures on topics as varied as public art, needed changes in city codes, bike paths and furniture design.

If it sounds like the use of StudioMain is open-ended, it is. Meyer, who has worked the past three months getting lighting and furniture and materials donated to the space, said, "We'll finish the space and then figure out what the heck it is we're actually doing."

FYI: The Green Corner Store next door will be offering free tastings of Kent Walker Artisan Cheese and Loblolly Creamery ice cream.

StudioMain is not the only new venue on this month's 2nd Friday art event, one that is particularly packed with things to do. The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at Ninth and Broadway will exhibit new additions to its Creativity Arkansas collection of work by African-American artists. Canvas Community Gallery, 1111 W. 7th St., rejoins 2nd Friday with the exhibition "The Art of Science and the Science of Art," part of the Darwin Day 2012 events sponsored by the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. University of California at Berkeley professor Dr. Kevin Padian, who will speak at the Clinton School for Public Service at 6 p.m. Friday and UALR at 1:15 p.m. Saturday, will join the Canvas Community reception. Christ Episcopal Church, 509 Scott St., returns to the fold with "The Cross," interpretations of the cross in a variety of media by Wes McHan, Melverue Abraham, Sister Maria Liebeck, Betsy Woodyard, Susan Peterson, Janet Copeland, Lynn Frost, Jai Ross and Mark Aldefer.

At the Butler Center Galleries in the Arkansas Studies Institute at 401 President Clinton Ave., an exhibit of art quilts, "Connecting Threads," opens. The Historic Arkansas Museum raises that with two new exhibits and music by Bonnie Montgomery and her band Montgomery Trucking; the new shows feature sculpture by Bryan Massey, paintings by Tom Richard and cabinets by woodworker Doug Stowe.

And there's more: Hearne Fine Art has opened a new show, "Southern Spirit," folk art by Melverue Abraham, William Clarke, Alonzo Ford, Sylvester McKissick, Ms. Otis and W.E. Robinson. Painter Matt Coburn will demonstrate at the Courtyard Marriott, 521 President Clinton, where The Maumelle Art Group shows its work.

A rubber-wheeled trolley will provide transportation to 2nd Friday venues, but you might need a personal jet pack to make it to all of them. Good luck.

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