Celebrating Arkansas’s Arts11/18/2016
Arkansas has a rich history of leaders whose contributions have done much to increase the quality of life for the people of our state. From business leaders who employed tens of thousands across generations to philanthropists whose gifts have made the arts accessible to all Arkansans, these leader’s contributions have made their mark.
One Arkansan who had a large impact on the state was Joseph T. Robinson. Joe Robinson was born in Lonoke County, Arkansas, and in 1894, he became the youngest member of the Arkansas General Assembly at the age of 22. He served as the twenty-third Governor of Arkansas and then in the United States Senate. Robinson passed away at the age of 64, but the impact he had on our state endures to this day.
One of the reminders of his legacy is the Robinson Memorial Auditorium, which was first completed on December 8, 1939. Through the years, the auditorium has served as a Little Rock icon, hosting some of the most influential performers and speakers of the past century including Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bob Hope.
As a native Arkansan, I have many special memories from the Robinson Center. My favorite performance at the Robinson center was an event produced by Ballet Arkansas in 1983, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov. I also have a picture in my office from May 2000, when a crowd of more than 2,000 gathered at the Robinson Auditorium to honor the memory of Daisy Bates on her birthday, just months after she had passed away.
Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the grand re-opening of the Robinson Center in Little Rock. The new state-of-the-art facility received an incredible makeover to bring the 75-year-old performing arts center into the modern age.
Tomorrow, I will be in attendance at the grand re-opening of the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville after the completion of a $23 million renovation and expansion project. The beautiful performing arts venue was made possible by a partnership between the University of Arkansas and Arkansas’s most influential family – The Waltons. I am excited to see the new facility and to hear of all of the exciting programs that will be on display for Northwest Arkansas in the coming year.
The need for updated facilities and increased seating for these two theaters underscores the growing attention the arts are getting in Arkansas. The Robinson Center and the Walton Arts Center are both well positioned to stimulate increased tourism and leisure spending in Arkansas. As Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft put it, “the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.”
I am proud that here in Arkansas, we are ensuring that the arts remain accessible to all, and that future generations will be able to experience the exciting new offerings at these two outstanding venues for generations to come.