UA Little Rock at home in the River Market Kicks off opening with mural unveiling

December 10-16, 2018

By Becca Bona


On Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, UA Little Rock patrons and friends took to the newly opened River Market location to witness the unveiling of a restored historic mural – Joe Jones’s “The Struggle of the South”.


The space will offer a link between the university and the hustle and bustle of the River Market, which only strengthens UA Little Rock’s title of metropolitan university.


Chancellor Rogerson echoed this sentiment when he said, “I think it’s important to recognize that UA Little Rock is the only urban university in the state of Arkansas. If you want to think about it, we’re not just a university in a city, we’re a university of the city.”


The space will serve as a venue for receptions and events as well as potentially serve as a backdrop for classes, as well. 


Rogerson described the space, “When you walk in the first thing you see is a large space full of info about the university – videos about the campus we have a mere five miles away. You’ll also see that there’s a classroom space there. Or perhaps you want to learn about the Joe Jones Mural.” 


The story of the mural is an interesting one. UA Little Rock Gallery Director Brad Cushman, said, “In 1984 Bobby Roberts got a phone call about this painting that had been discovered in a house in Western Arkansas. And they said you might be interested because it was a mural that had been painted at the Commonwealth College.”


Roberts, the former director of the Central Arkansas Library System, followed up on that call, and drove to pick up the pieces of the mural. 


The graphic nature of the work was intended originally to be read from right to left, and wrapped around the walls of the dining commons at Commonwealth College in Mena, Arkansas. Jones worked amid the Great Depression and achieved national acclaim with his work in the ‘30s as he showcased the American Struggle depicting vibrant paintings tackling a myriad of topics. 


The college closed in 1940 and the mural made its way elsewhere. That call in 1984 began the decades-long project UA Little Rock would take on to restore and display it. 


Cushman said, “In 1933, Jones made his vision clear: ‘I am not interested in painting pretty pictures to match pink and blue walls. I want to paint things that knock holes in the walls.’”


Jones challenged and dared his audience to keep up, as he believed art could made a difference and change peoples principles and opinions. 


Cushman continued, “The compelling imagery in the mural will continue to stimulate conversations and debate in years to come. Today, the contemporary struggles we see around us in the news and on social media are reflected in this mural painting 83 years ago. As you view this mural please reflect on the past and the present to understand our civic responsibility to one another.”


The mural, while provocative and commanding, makes a good choice for a communal space. Chancellor Rogerson’s wife Janessa said, “It heals.”


And while the mural is one piece of the equation at the new downtown space, Rogerson said the layout was calculated – “It was very intentional that we didn’t want this to be a museum space. We wanted it to be multifunctional. And that’s what it is. […] We’re a real driver of economic development – I think it’s important to recognize that we are a Carnegie Research 3 University, which means we’re not only just producing the workforce of tomorrow at the bachelor’s level – 20 percent of our students are graduate students. We’re producing the master’s and the Ph.D. level workforce that this city urgently needs.” 


This was echoed by Associate Provost Deborah Baldwin, who already spends some time downtown with the UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History & Culture, as she said, “I think our students could benefit from interacting with the people who work downtown, and the people downtown could benefit from seeing what we have to offer.”


And the River Market couldn’t be a more vibrant spot. Gabe Holstrom of the Downtown Little Rock Partnership said, “As the students of today and the new businesses of tomorrow meet and gather and come up with these new ideas and plans on what the future looks like – I can’t think of a better place for that to occur than down here in downtown Little Rock.”


The complete restoration of the mural was made possible with grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Arkansas Natural & Cultural Resources Council. 


Source: UA Little Rock Communications   


(Photos by Becca Bona)


  • UA Little Rock’s downtown space in the River Market is officially open.
    UA Little Rock’s downtown space in the River Market is officially open.
  • Dr. Bruce Murphy, Troy Wells, Christian O’Neal
    Dr. Bruce Murphy, Troy Wells, Christian O’Neal
  • Dr. Deborah Baldwin, Brad Cushman
    Dr. Deborah Baldwin, Brad Cushman
  • UA Little Rock Chancellor Andrew Rogerson with his wife, Janessa.
    UA Little Rock Chancellor Andrew Rogerson with his wife, Janessa.