UA Little Rock honored for exhibit preserving history of Robinson Center

Photo of students visiting the historic timeline exhibit at Robinson Auditorium

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture has been recognized for its efforts to showcase the history of the Robinson Center.

Preserve Arkansas awarded the center an honorable mention in the Outstanding Achievement in Preservation Education category for the mural/timeline exhibit at Robinson Memorial Auditorium.

The Arkansas Preservation Awards, held annually in January, recognizes preservation efforts across the state. These achievements range from outstanding examples of rehabilitated structures, revitalized neighborhoods, and commercial districts.

The “Timeline of Historic Robinson Center” was unveiled Nov. 9, 2019, in the Robinson Center. The exhibit was a collaboration between UA Little Rock’s Center for Arkansas History and Culture, Department of Art and Design, Department of History, and the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

The timeline stretches more than 50 feet along the interior wall, detailing the history of the center from the 1930s to the present. At one end of the timeline is a 10-foot-tall photograph of Joseph Taylor Robinson, the former Arkansas governor and U.S. senator for whom Robinson Auditorium was named. At the other end is a reproduction painting of the newly remodeled building that re-opened Nov. 10, 2016, following a 28-month, $70-million restoration, renovation, an expansion led by the Little Rock Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Shannon Lausch, an archivist at the Center for Arkansas History and Culture, was the lead researcher and wrote the primary text panels for the exhibit. Charles Romney, associate professor of history, and Vincent Vinikas, professor of history, also contributed to the research. Kevin Cates and Thomas Clifton, professors in UA Little Rock’s Department of Art and Design, oversaw the exhibit design.

“I coordinated the research and writing for the Robinson Center exhibit,” Lausch said. “The exhibit’s success came from the collaboration among many people with different talents. I enjoyed working with my colleagues and getting to know people outside of my department. Many of the historic images used in the exhibit were taken by a Little Rock architectural photographer, whose collection I was working on at the time. It was gratifying to see his photographs used to illustrate the exhibit.”

The Robinson Center was constructed during the Great Depression as a building project under President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. At the groundbreaking ceremony on Dec. 14, 1937, city officials dedicated the building to Sen. Robinson, who had died six months earlier. The city saw it as a fitting tribute to name the structure after Robinson, whose work in supporting the New Deal had enabled projects like the Robinson Auditorium.

Over the years, Robinson has hosted theater, music, dance, lectures, sports, and civic events. When it opened, it became the first auditorium in the South with air conditioning. Conventions, theatrical shows, and numerous musical acts all came to Little Rock. In fact, the first recording of Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” was made on Robinson’s stage.

“Remembering the connections between past and present allows us to build a brighter future,” Vinikas said.

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