In an Arkansas Town, Music Is Key to a Comeback

What attractions are planned for the district?

The amphitheater and music hall will be venues for music concerts by both famous and lesser-known artists and also for touring Broadway shows. The cabaret restaurant will host performances by cabaret acts from around the world and also have comedy shows.

The effort to revitalize El Dorado pulled you out of retirement. Why?

I met the principals of the Murphy Arts District, which is a nonprofit organization, when they came to Cleveland to see the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I started visiting El Dorado every year for the MusicFest and fell in love with the town. I saw how the changes in the oil industry had led to a loss of jobs and left young people with no incentive to settle here, and I wanted to help.

Do you believe arts and entertainment is the best vehicle to achieve this vibrancy?

Absolutely. It’s a formula that’s worked with other towns around the United States — Marfa, in Texas, which is now a center for the visual arts, is an example.

Murphy Arts District is one element of the redevelopment. What’s next?

There’s a $32 million renovation of the Rialto Theater, a 1920s-era vaudeville theater with more than 850 seats. It should be done in the next three years and is being restored to its original state, neon lights and all.

The theater will have music concerts, showings of second-run movies and live HD broadcasts of productions such as performances of the Metropolitan Opera.

El Dorado aside, why do you think small cities in the United States make appealing travel destinations?

Because many retain their historical roots and have their original buildings, charming town squares and picturesque small parks. They’re often a throwback to another era that is increasingly hard to come by these days.