UA to Sportify Greek Theater

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — University of Arkansas trustees have approved expanding the use of the Chi Omega Greek Theater into an all-weather sports complex suitable for croquet, badminton and squash, the last using a glass-walled court on an elevator in the stage floor.

Greek Theater at the University of Arkansas. Credit Wikimedia Commons
Greek Theater at the University of Arkansas.
Credit, Wikimedia Commons

The proposal, bandied about by the nonprofit Razorback Foundation for nearly the entire 81 years the amphitheater has been in existence, was brought at the Jan. 27 meeting in Little Rock by longtime Trustee Crystal Britches, the Fayetteville philanthropist.

Although he invariably has supported Britches in all her projects, fellow Trustee and former U.S. Sen. David Pryor abstained on this project, estimated to take three semesters for construction and cost $16 million, a tenth of the expansion of Reynolds Razorback Stadium, plans for which also were tentatively approved, both on the Fayetteville flagship campus. A final vote on the stadium is to come.

The Fayetteville football stadium project will add 3,000 to 3,200 seats at its now open north end. Home games rarely approach sell-out status for its current 72,000 seats.

Britches in her motion said while a gorgeous landmark, the Greek Theater is never used outside of a lunch spot by at best a handful of students, faculty and staff. Hardier students had studied there up to a decade ago, but they found the bleached concrete bleachers (which can seat 2,750) cast an impossible glare on the screens of their electronics.

The annual sorority “Bid Day” does fill the stands. With the renovation, it can be a rain-or-shine event.

“I was horrified to learn that the Division of University Advancement was developing — under the table, per policy —  a parking lot proposal for the acreage,” she said, “You should’ve seen the look on their faces when I told them the Greek was on the National Register of Historic Places.”

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A Day at the Museum

Copyright 2011 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Crystal Britches was speechless, standing in the setting sun on a recent afternoon in a parking lot in Bentonville, Ark.

“She did it. My old BFF really pulled it off,” Ms. Britches said of her periodic Best Friend Forever Alice. I, her ghost-publicist Noah Vale, had driven Crystal from her Fayetteville homestead north to see Raveenia, the Ozark Museum of Other People’s Art (o’MOPA) earlier this week. While we attended its dedication on the Bentonville Square Friday, 11-11-11, we avoided the site itself on the First Day as well as the exclusive previews in the days before that, to not detract from Alice’s Warholian moment.

“Noah, we’ve just spent nearly five hours in Raveenia. People want to hear my impressions, but I’m no expert on architecture. I hit museums whenever I can, but am not capital-C art Critic. You’re good with words, you do it. That’s why I hired you.”

“I’ll try; we certainly talked enough walking around,” Noah said. “But Crystal, I’m not trained in art or architecture. But this will work out, because if I attribute my hick thoughts to myself, you’ll look brilliant.”

“Thank you, Mr. Vale,'” said the plastic-pantsed philanthropist. On Sunday the 13th, the museum was surprisingly full of people from Little Rock, 216 miles away. Being the provincial capital, in several definitions, Ms. Britches drew stares from the preppy Rockers at her vinyl leggings covering loose khaki shorts, fairly modest for a still-trim woman in shall we call it late middle age. A brisk fall day, on top she wore a red Razorback hoodie.

“Here we go,” I said. I’ll throw together this commentary and if you sign off on it, we’ll have it posted on the blog Brick. She agreed.

A Moat Runs Through the Castle

Alice set up a series of connected buildings, forming a square with a jointed tail. That’s more or less six extant structures, Rather, architect Moishe Zaftig figured that out. Two of the structures, parallel to one another are built over a dammed creek so they’re also pedestrian spans. With air conditioning, Continue reading

Bentonville Picture Show

Copyright 2011 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — What a lovely day for a dedication. This is free-range journalist Noah Vale, preparing a live blog for my client Crystal Britches.

We are here for the opening of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, although Ms. Britches prefers calling it the Raveenia Museum, the Ozark Museum of Other People’s Art (o’MOPA), in Bentonville, Ark.

Below begins the live blog. She’ll dictate, and I’ll write. Readers unfamiliar with Crystal Britches should understand she is a philanthropist “of a certain age” living in Fayetteville. Ark. Like her friend since childhood Alice Walton (well, they’re close confidantes some years and other periods, well …), Ms. Britches prefers behind-the-scenes acts of charity, manipulation and activism — whatever it takes for the Ozarks to realize its potential without compromise. “Which is a total contradiction!” she says laughing raucously. I should note the mid-day — nearing 60 degrees — is perfect for Crystal’s plastic pants over loose khaki shorts, the better to show off her older but still firm showgirl legs.

Friday, Nov. 11, 2011. Posts by Crystal Britches, straight chrono order

10:47 a.m. Museum creator Alice Walton — you go, girl! — and her architect Moshe Safdie walk to the front row from the street to the right. Who are those other dignitaries, Noah? Oh, Mayor Bob McCaslin with Arkansas Secretary of State Dustin McDaniel. What, Gov. Mike Beebe blew Alice off?

Cool Wrist Bands at Crystal Bridges dedication 11-11-11Looking around: This is a portable but rather large stage, with metal roof and also shade mesh hanging on the back and rear sides. The sound quality is top notch. As it should be. To the audience’s left is a portable Jumbotron, although it may be another brand.

The official Crystal Bridges promotion tent has stacks of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s 32-page supplement from Nov. 6, “Crystal Bridges: An American Spirit.” As well as commemorative rubber wristbands, museum brochures, special regional magazines and a pamphlet from a local bed & breakfast. Why that particular B&B?

The security is everywhere — city police, Wal-Mart badged security, unlabeled but uniformed guards. Continue reading

Our Raveenia Museum

Copyright 2011 Ben S. Pollock

I. Crossing the Line

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — Should her museum-progress trek be now or wait till it’s further along? My client Crystal Britches calls Fayetteville and Washington County home. For her, Bentonville and the rest of Benton County are places to visit. Unlike, say, Springdale, which she sees as merely one town up.

Fayettevillians know exactly what she means. Vice versa surely applies as well.

At Miss Britches’ bidding, I went to inspect the progress of the world-class museum that’s being built up there. Fayetteville is a classic college town but offers little art. We have a few galleries, artists open their studios sometimes and the university has some exhibit space, but no public or private art museums.

Bentonville has none at the moment, but that will change this year.

While I drive beyond the Benton County line a few times a month, I hadn’t taken time for the museum project of Alice Walton and her family. It’s been under construction a few years, with many opening date revisions. To keep onlookers away, its eventual roads either are blocked or unfinished at the points they join existing streets.

Trail from downtown Bentonville to museum. Photo from city,
City of Bentonville photo

Instead, the art lover has to walk the one footpath to approach the proverbial knothole in the construction fence.

Now that the opening date 11/11/2011 has been set in concrete and mortar — unless it’s changed — the connected buildings are taking final form. The news media report that progress can be seen through that knothole.

Crystal Britches travels to Benton County far less than me. Mainly it’s to drive through and north to Kansas City for ballroom dance competitions, of which she is fond and why she wears over her clothes heat-retaining rain pants, an old-fashioned and perhaps wrongheaded way to keep her legs looking good.

Yet she has great love and pride for the entire area. Miss Britches not only gives money, but time and labor. With her personal plastic, she is a walking drop cloth. Yet her efforts are strictly behind the scenes. She hires me for public relations work precisely to avoid relating to others publicly.

Crystal Britches and Alice Walton have some things in common. They’re brilliant, personally and in business. They’re both wealthy enough for their personalities to not only be tolerated in their respective communities but celebrated. Still, Ms. Walton is a billionaire, Miss Britches but a millionaire, so the former’s quirks Continue reading

Belly Up with Dickson Street

Copyright 2010 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — I grabbed a take-out coffee from Common Grounds and headed across Fayetteville’s Dickson Street to the rose garden of the current Walton Arts Center. I sat on the terraced brick wall, waiting for my client-friend Crystal Britches, and shivered. The flower bushes were faded, matching the mood.

“Hon’, it just turned winter. Let’s take the coffee back inside,” Crystal said, walking through the gate. She had a cup, too.

“In a while, Boss. This amphitheater garden helps form my thoughts about the Fayetteville municipal auditorium moving. Will you be warm enough?”

Crystal Britches grinned. Under her infamous plastic gear, she wore woolly gray leggings and a red Razorback hoodie. Ms. Britches is a Fayetteville millionaire. Though opinionated, she’s more of a watcher than a joiner. She is remarkably fit for her age, from ballroom dancing. Under the radar I advise her on journalism and public relations. Her philanthropy is known only to nonprofit administrators as she gives anonymously. Her ego is not dependent on being seen in newspaper or local magazine Society Pages. This is a theater column so let’s call it a preference to work behind the scenes.

“Noah Vale, I’ve been away since Thanksgiving, but I have been keeping up online with the town theater and how it’s going to move to Bentonville. The Fayetteville City Council vote last night clinched it. The officials and the university say it seems unseemly, if legally correct, to sue a volunteer board of directors, but it’s the individual directors that intimidate them. It only makes sense if you don’t think about it.”

“I know. The city and UA, taxpayers and private contributors, all four teamed up to build the complex of three theaters, gallery and teaching-studio, give or take 20 years ago. The Walton family was the naming-rights main benefactor. The area’s population has been moving north toward Bentonville, but more than that the power is up there. That makes moving the center nearly inevitable.”

“It’s ironic, though, Noah. Benton County is so conservative. What would be more hypocritical than a public performing arts facility up there? Theaters haven’t been run on a business model in decades; not even executives often could afford tickets without underwriting. And the residents may not appreciate how so many of the shows feature dancing girls, dirty jokes and cuss words.”

“Or it might be right up the Republicans’ alley. Continue reading

From Moma to Mopa

Copyright 2010 Ben S. Pollock

DATELINE MIRTHOLOGY — My client Crystal Britches was sweltering in her plastic rain gear. It neared 90 this morning at the Fayetteville Farmers Market — nearly all the summer veggies were available but no musicians or sidewalk artists — but the forecast had projected rain.

“Hon’. I thought I’d find you here,” she said to me. “Let’s talk about the new art museum up the road. The name could be better.”

“Why wear that vinyl storm suit, Ms. Britches? It’s June 24th.”

“Hon’, you know to call me Crystal. The walkabout sauna helps me keep my figure. I’m the same size I was 40 years ago. And with my shorts, I can show off these old showgirl legs.”

We ran into one another on the Square. We usually do. A scheduled meeting wasn’t till the end of the week, but neither of us minded talking business casually, at a sleek conference table or on a shady bench tucked in a hosta bed.

What an awkward name for the very first world-class museum in Northwest Arkansas,” said Crystal. “It would be as bad as if I built one to show off my philanthropy. But if I had, it’d be simple. If it were me, Crystal Britches, Museum of American Art. That’s it. But it all boils down to being a Museum of Other People’s Art.

“But the set-up is by a foundation, and it’s one I don’t belong to, closely held. They’re listening to the Northwest Arkansas Council. They’re the sort that thinks of an acronym then the words for it. Mopa, Museum of Ozark Pride — and Academy.”

“Oh,” I said. “It’s like Moma, Continue reading