While President Clinton visited Arkansas late last month to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, he also dropped in at another school: Hot Springs High School, his alma mater.
Mr. Clinton addressed a gathering of alumni and state officials to help raise money to renovate the former Hot Springs High building. The idea is to rededicate the school as the William Jefferson Clinton Cultural Campus, which will house visual and performing artists' studios, exhibits, and a museum of Mr. Clinton's life, from his boyhood days to the White House, said David French, the chairman of the committee that is raising funds for the project.
The Sept. 27 event was the first fund-raiser for renovations to the 82-year-old building, which was closed in 1992. The current Hot Springs High School still exists, but in another building.
The committee is hoping to raise at least $8 million in private and state money. An opening date for the new center has not been set.
Mr. French said he came up with the idea of an arts studio and exhibit hall as a way to find a use for the building.
He later incorporated the concept of the presidential museum after he heard that the White House was interested in donating memorabilia and helping plan the exhibit.
In his speech to former classmates and alumni, Mr. Clinton extolled the importance of arts education, particularly for students coming from disadvantaged homes.
"We have so much evidence that children who may have been emotionally scarred in some way may find a healthy and positive and wholesome way to get out of it," he said, "if they're given the chance to be in a theater program, or to paint, or to do something else that gives some positive outlet for their energies and their feelings."
He said he and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton were disturbed at the decrease in classes such as music, performing arts, and visual arts being offered at schools across the country.
As he reminisced about his high school days, Mr. Clinton was joined by several prominent state residents, including former Gov. Sid McMath, also an alumnus of Hot Springs, and Rep. Jay Dickey, R-Ark. The president added that he looked forward to the music and documentary-film festivals the center's supporters plan to hold in the building.
--JOETTA L. SACK [email protected]