There's more to the Delta than just rice and duck hunting.By Dwain Hebda
Pine Bluff is looking for ways to revive its downtown. Its most visible effort is to renovate the once thriving vaudeville-era Saenger Theatre, which was once called the “Showplace of the South.” In the meantime, take in an exhibit or a play at the Arts & Science Center for Southeast Arkansas (701 S. Main St.). ASC presents programming in the visual arts, performing arts and the sciences.
Nothing captures the spirit of the Delta quite like the blues, and nowhere can you find the art form better represented than in Helena. There you’ll find the longest running blues radio show on earth: “King Biscuit Time,” first broadcast in 1941.
Also located in Helena is the Delta Cultural Center which includes two museum locations—the restored 1912 Union Pacific Railroad Depot (95 Missouri St.), and the Visitors Center (141 Cherry St.) and the Cherry Street Pavilion, an outdoor performance stage that hosts the Arkansas Delta Family Gospel Festival, the King Biscuit Blues Festival and other community performances and events.
Located on the campus of Phillips Community College, the Grand Prairie Center (2807 Hwy. 165 S.) hosts multiple cultural and artistic events throughout the year. Art festivals, dance and piano recitals, theatrical productions and symphonic performances are all integral to the the programming here.
DeltaARTS (301 S. Rhodes St.) provides arts education and learning experiences for over 18,000 students, teachers and seniors throughout east Arkansas, north Mississippi and west Tennessee. DeltaARTS programs include a student matinee series at the West Memphis Civic Auditorium, that covers opera, theatre, modern and traditional dance, classical and blues music, and mime. It supports Crittenden Youth Theatre as well as gallery spaces hosting art exhibits by local and regional artists with themes relating to the people and heritage of the Delta.
Perhaps no other place in Arkansas embodies the category of foundational American fare than Jones Bar-B-Q in Marianna (219 W. Louisiana St.). The barbecue shack was inducted into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame, as well as received the James Beard Foundation’s “American Classics” award. Another seminal restaurant and member of the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame is Rhoda’s Famous Hot Tamales in Lake Village (714 Saint Mary St.).
Gail Miller never had a chance to be anything other than the artist she is today. One look at her upbringing will tell you that. “I grew up the oldest child of a bricklayer in South Georgia,” she said in her molasses-sweet drawl.
“So guess what my toys were? Mud, clay, brick, building materials—stuff like that. When I was about eight, I went to the youth center where I grew up and there was this guy making a bird’s nest on a potter’s wheel. And it always stuck in my brain.”
“I started making windchimes on my own without anyone helping me and they were the ugliest things you’ve ever seen. It just kind of got better from there.”
“We set up this pitiful looking little rack with these ugly-looking chimes and we made $200,” she said. “My husband was shocked.” From there she taught herself how to make other pieces and today has sold untold numbers of coffee mugs and dinnerware, as well designing her own glazes. In more than three decades, despite relocation, cancer and natural disasters, she’s still going.
Miller’s Mud, 862 Highway 65 South, Dumas, 870-382-5277