New Exhibit to Explore Johnny Cash’s Enduring Arkansas Connection

Johnny Cash photoThe Center for Arkansas History and Culture (CAHC) at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has announced plans to premier a new exhibit on Johnny Cash’s relationship with Arkansas. The exhibit, “Johnny Cash: Arkansas Icon,” will open in the Underground Gallery at the Arkansas Studies Institute on October 10, 2014, and run through January 24, 2015. The physical exhibit will be accompanied by a virtual exhibit with educational materials for teachers.

Opening Night

The exhibit opens Friday, Oct. 10, in the Ron Robinson Theatre.

A free concert will be at 7:30 p.m. featuring the W.S. Holland Band, with special guests Jeff Coleman and the Feeders beginning at 6:45 p.m. Seating is limited.

Johnny Cash: Arkansas Icon

The exhibit explores the musician’s Arkansas connections over the decades, covering his 1930s childhood in Dyess, Arkansas, through his comeback at the turn of the 21st-century. The exhibit places special emphasis on connections between his Arkansas roots and his music from his first performance in Little Rock in 1955 to a 2002 music video. Though Cash’s career took him far from Arkansas, the exhibit argues, he never quite severed his Arkansas roots. This exhibit tells that story through narrative and archival photographs from CAHC’s own collections, as well as others.

According to Colin Woodward, the CAHC archivist who proposed the exhibit and wrote its narrative, “While writing an article about Johnny Cash’s work with Governor Winthrop Rockefeller on prison reform, I began to see the thread of Arkansas in Cash’s music and life. He was such a dynamic artist, who persevered through many personal and professional challenges. He was a great Arkansan, and I wanted to show that through historical research and archival images.”

The exhibit will cover the walls of the unique Underground Gallery and immerse visitors in an artistic representation of Cash’s life in pictures and text. Designed by Bachelor of Fine Arts student Nick Sosnoski under the direction of Tom Clifton, Department of Art Chair, the exhibit makes use of key design elements like variety, unity, and texture on a large scale. The exhibit uses rare images from family albums and other sources and incorporates Cash’s lyrics into the design. According to Sosnoski, “The design is meant to reflect Johnny Cash as a man who never forgot his roots.”

The accompanying virtual exhibit will offer deeper exploration of the topics covered in the physical exhibit. The website will include a media gallery and behind-the-scenes information on the exhibit development. Educational materials, including full lesson plans and PowerPoint presentations, will be available for Arkansas teachers to use with students before and after visiting the exhibit. Stan James, an undergraduate Social Studies Education major, worked on the project and says, “It was really exciting to be able to prepare materials that will teach students important world concepts, and at the same time, expose them to one of Arkansas’ true treasures, Johnny Cash.  These materials, along with the exhibit and related events, will guide the students through an exciting journey towards learning about key issues in our state and nation, as well as how celebrities use their influence and talent to further issues that are important to them.”

On opening night, the W. S. Holland Band will perform a free concert in the Ron Robinson Auditorium. Holland spent 40 years performing with Cash’s band, Tennessee 3, and is the only band member to stay with the group until Cash’s retirement in 1997. In his long career, Holland has toured with Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins. The Holland Band performance will start at 7:30, following an opening performance by Jeff Coleman and the Feeders at 6:45. Seating is limited. Also on opening night, Shape Note Singers from Mountain Home, Arkansas, will perform for Second Friday Art Night visitors to the Arkansas Studies Institute.

This project is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Additional funding provided by the Arkansas Community Foundation. The Arkansas Community Foundation is a nonprofit organization that fosters smart giving to improve communities. The Community Foundation offers tools to help Arkansans protect, grow and direct their charitable dollars as they learn more about community needs. By making grants and sharing knowledge, the Community Foundation supports charitable programs that work for Arkansas and partners to create new initiatives that address the gaps. Contributions to the Community Foundation, its funds and any of its 27 affiliates are fully tax deductible.

The UALR Center for Arkansas History and Culture collects, preserves, and enables access to Arkansas records of enduring value; prepares students and the region for the 21st century through academic leadership and education on archival practices and technologies; and engages the community through outreach, programming, and exhibitions.

For more information on the exhibit or CAHC, contact us at or 501.320.5780.

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