By The Arkansas Delta Informer Staff — Ashanti and Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s visionary October festival have been canceled for this weekend.
Scott on Tuesday, Oct. 4 abruptly halted the upcoming LITFest: Return to the Rock celebration, the City of Little Rock’s three-day festival that was to begin tomorrow and last through the weekend. Ashanti, Bijoux and BJ Soule were the headliners for the weekend public festival that was to include mostly free “live music, panel discussions, and immersive experiences for children and families,” organizers boasted.
Now, all the scheduled events have been canceled, including Ashanti much-ballyhooed appearance that was to take place on Saturday night at Little Rock’s downtown Robinson Center.
The surprise cancellation came as Scott’s office and event organizer Think Rubix have come under increasing criticism concerning transparency over details of LITFest. On Monday, Little Rock City Manager Bruce Moore terminated Think Rubix’s $45,000 contract for organizing and promoting LITFest on behalf of the city. The event was scheduled to take place on Oct. 6-8 at several city venues.
In March 2021, Mayor Scott first proposed a city-wide festival as part of his post-pandemic “Rebuild the Rock” agenda that also included a rebooted one percentage-point sales tax extension. However, Little Rock voters rejected his $530 million proposal to make permanent a 5/8th cent sales tax that was put in place over a decade ago with a 3/8th sales tax.
Still, Scott has continued to push other parts of his broad agenda that envisioned Little Rock as a new jewel of the South. As part of LITFest, Scott has urged the city’s namesake Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureaus to join other local interest groups to launch the annual event this year. That annual festival, Scott explained, would be partly modeled after the now-defunct Little Rock River Festival but even larger and more encompassing. It would further promote the city through an extended weekend event featuring live entertainment and music, food vendors, arts and crafts, business and investor forums, community panel discussions and other festivities, he said.
“My vision for LITFest was to celebrate the best of Little Rock through a diverse and inclusive festival featuring music, the arts, food and informative panels to unite the city with this unique event while supporting local, economic and cultural development of our city,” Scott said in a statement. “While LITFest is now canceled for this weekend, it is my desire to see it move forward in the future.”
Scott’s statement was released after further details had emerged over the past few weeks concerning the involvement of Mayor Scott’s former chief of staff, Charles Blake, in the LITFest contract. In late January, Scott named his longtime senior advisor Kendra Pruitt as the city’s first Black female chief of staff. She replaced Blake, the former Arkansas House Minority Leader who now works for Think Rubix.
At the time, Blake said he was resigning to pursue an opportunity in the private sector with Little Rock lobbying consultant and PR firm, Think Rubix, which Scott’s office had just hired to oversee the city’s plan for LITFest and identify other programming opportunities for Little Rock.
In late September, Little Rock attorney Matt Campbell filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) complaint against the city of Little Rock in Pulaski County Circuit Court. Campbell, who published the local Blue Hog Report blog, has said he did not receive public documents and email communications tied to the Think Rubix contract after several FOIA requests that he filed over the past month with city officials.
On his blog, Campbell has described in detail how Think Rubix and the mayor’s office have failed to comply with FOIA requests seeking details of Blake’s work on the LITFest contract. Past statements by the City of Little Rock and the mayor’s office have said that Blake as Scott’ chief of staff was not involved in the selection of Think Rubix for LITFest event management. Subsequent statements have also said Blake was not involved on the back end of the LITFest proposal once he began working for Think Rubix.
However, details have emerged in the past week that Blake did participate in the request for proposal submitted by Think Rubix as the lone bidder. Although Blake’s participation in the process is not illegal, Moore cited a 15-day termination notice provision that voided the Think Rubix deal “due to violations of said contract.” Moore stated that the city has also halted any and all payments to Think Rubix on the $45,000 contract to plan the fall festival that Scott envisioned to unite the city.
In his statement, Scott defended Think Rubix and the City of Little Rock with just over a month before Little Rock voters go to the polls on Nov. 8. Scott is seeking reelection as the city’s first Black mayor against Little Rock car dealer Steve Landers and small business owner Greg Henderson.
“Throughout this process, both Think Rubix and the City have acted legally and within the normal bounds of contracting and procurement,” said Scott. “Think Rubix is a reputable company with a strong background in event planning and management, and, despite heavy scrutiny, it had been implementing plans for LITFest on behalf of the City since the contract took effect June 9.
“However, this contract for LITFest, which was prepared by the City Attorney’s Office, was not optimized for the scale and scope of this music festival,” Scott continued. “I’m disappointed that divisive politics negatively affected the vision and impact of this inaugural festival. I fully support the artists, vendors, food trucks and organizations involved in showcasing the best of our city. Thank you for your commitment to attempting to produce an event that the residents of Little Rock could be proud of.”
Two weeks ago, Mayor Scott announced that Grammy-winning recording artist Ashanti would headline a wide-ranging lineup of LITFest programming, all of which aims to celebrate and empower Little Rock’s culture, business, arts and diversity, officials said.