Longtime KLRE-KUAR 'Arts Scene' Host Ann Nicholson Dies

Nov 9, 2020

Ann Nicholson, longtime host of KLRE-KUAR's Arts Scene, on April 14, 2016. She died Sunday.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Ann Nicholson, who for more than three decades hosted a program on KLRE and KUAR dedicated to the arts in Arkansas, has died. Her daughter, Dr. Dido Green, says Nicholson died in her sleep early Sunday. She was 88. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Nicholson produced well over a thousand episodes of Arts Scene, talking with local and visiting performers, artists and authors. She reported on cultural issues and discussed events happening around the state.

"I want our listeners to gain a new experience from each program,” she said in a profile for KUAR’s website. “I look for persons in the arts that I think will not only indulge my interests, but also those in the audience. I try to give them a little bit of extra personal background that they wouldn't get anywhere else."

Born in India, the daughter of a British Army Officer, and educated in India, Kashmir, Scotland, and England, Nicholson immigrated to Canada in 1958, and then to the United States in 1962. She discussed her background in a 2012 StoryCorps interview recorded with Ben Fry, the general manager of KLRE-KUAR.

She received a double BA degree in music education and music history from Southern Methodist University, Dallas, Texas. Nicholson continued her graduate education in musicology at the University of Kentucky.

She moved to Arkansas in 1978 when her husband Dr. David Nicholson was hired at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Ann Nicholson became public relations director for Ballet Arkansas, helping to produce a regional ballet festival. In 1984, she joined KLRE and conceived, wrote and narrated a 10-part series of 30-minute programs titled The Forgotten Oscar, based on the stories and poems of Oscar Wilde. The next year, she began producing and hosting Arts Scene until her retirement in 2019.

"I sort of eased into it. It wasn't something that I went looking for, but it's been great fun," she told Fry. "I was more or less given the total freedom to make of it what I could." 

Nicholson interviewed people from across the spectrum of the arts community, including actor James Earl Jones, Broadway performer Lawrence Hamilton, radio host Diane Rehm and Former First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton. She also featured countless writers, authors and scholars.

Garbo Hearne, owner of Hearne Fine Art Gallery and Pyramid Books, was among Nicholson’s closest friends. Many of the artists featured in Hearne’s gallery would be interviewed on the radio program.

“I think that she had a profound love of the arts and the many disciplines and she spread herself very thin,” Hearne said. “If you went to her home, the many books that she had, the music that she collected… she was truly an arts advocate.”

Nicholson also interviewed every conductor of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra since her program began. Geoffrey Robson met Nicholson in 2008, three days after he arrived in Arkansas to take a position with the symphony as associate conductor.

“She was just a wealth of knowledge about the arts community here, the history of it, and also beyond here, nationally and internationally,” Robson said. “She was someone who kept track of what was going on and she had great taste and she knew what was good, and a conversation with her could really keep your focus on remaining inspired and continuing to hone your own craft.”

Nicholson being British and Robson's father being from England gave them something in common, and he said they would often discuss their travels to the country. Nicholson typically spent a few months there each year.

“We’re going to miss her terribly, and I think that the art community here will live on forever with her and our memory as [an] incredibly important player in its evolution and a great spirit and just someone you knew you would always have an interesting, insightful, and charming conversation with, ” Robson said.

Nicholson was extremely dedicated to producing Arts Scene, learning different forms of editing the program as technologies evolved over the decades. In the beginning it was editing reel-to-reel tape, then using digital audio tapes, and finally editing with computers. Even as her health declined in later years and it became more difficult for her to get around, she would consistently make it to the radio stations to prepare the program.

"It's hard to fully capture Ann's contribution to the community and to KLRE/KUAR," said General Manager Nathan Vandiver. "Her program tracked local arts and cultural events, as national and international-level personalities, for over three decades. We at KLRE/KUAR will be forever grateful to Ann for these contributions as a colleague and a friend."

Arts Scene still airs on KUAR, now hosted by Daniel Breen. He grew up listening to her show and said, "I was very lucky to have worked with Ann, worked under her and was mentored by her. [I feel] very fortunate to have gotten more of an insight just into her experiences and her thought process than most people would have gotten by just listening to her show." 

Breen said the only time she gave him explicit advice was at her retirement party last year, saying "I shouldn’t forget or underestimate the power of words. We’re a civilization, a species of animal that inherently looks for meaning and symbols. And words are sort of the ultimate symbols, the ultimate way that we can get our point across and really create meaning, and I think Ann was just a master at that."

Nicholson was acknowledged for her radio work through many awards, including two national awards from American Women in Radio and Television and the 2003 Aha! Cultural Spirit Award from the city of Little Rock.

In addition to her radio program, she was a founding member of the Little Rock Arts and Humanities Promotion Commission and has served the boards of the Little Rock Musical Coterie, the Hot Springs Music Festival and UALR’s Friends of the Arts. On the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Guild, she re-designed the Stella Boyle Smith Young Artists Competition and served as a liaison for the Arkansas Youth Orchestra. Nicholson served as a moderator and host for authors at the Arkansas Literary Festival and participated in the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute’s 2009 Heritage Program.

A virtual memorial service is being planned.