Arkansas Arts Center launches $128 million capital campaign to renovate and revitalize the Little Rock museum; $118 million already raised.
Leaders and benefactors of the Arkansas Arts Center have announced a bold, new vision for the Little Rock museum and the launch of a $128 million capital campaign to renovate and expand the institution. Entitled “Reimaging the Arkansas Arts Center: Campaign for Our Cultural Future,” $118 million has already been committed to the project, according to campaign co-chairs Harriet and Warren Stephens.
“The new Arkansas Arts Center will stand as a noted architectural treasure in the heart of Arkansas, serving even more young people and adults and attracting visitors from throughout the city, state, region, and nation,” Warren Stephens says.
The Arkansas Arts Center’s roots date back to 1914. Its original building, the Museum of Fine Arts, was built by the Works Progress Administration in 1937 and has been added on to seven times since. The renovations to the existing buildings will include removal of some current areas to facilitate the creation of new spaces for gatherings and community events. A two-story glass atrium will connect the galleries, the Museum School and the Children’s Theatre. There will be a new visitor entrance hall and courtyard that will feature the refurbished Art Deco façade of the original 1937 building. A new, covered entrance, featuring a 5,000-square-foot “cultural living room” will be added to the semi-circle on the center’s north side. A new restaurant will be incorporated into the center’s south end and will protrude into the park, which will see the addition of shaded outdoor seating, walking paths, a 10,000-square-foot plaza and landscape features, including the addition of 250 new trees, including oaks and cypresses, to blend the architecture with the environment.
As part of the renovation, the galleries that house the AAC’s art collection will be updated to create a “world-class visitor experience,” says AAC Interim Executive Director Laine Harber. The Museum School’s facilities will be renovated to increase the education offerings and improve student experience. The Children’s Theatre will feature new lighting, sound and rigging systems, along with control rooms, audience seating, a black box theatre expansion, dressing rooms and a new costume shop.
The arts center’s redesign is being helmed by Jeanne Gang and her Chicago-based firm, Studio Gang. Her focus is to create gathering spaces that will be “flooded with natural light” and meld the center with MacArthur Park. Meanwhile, Kat Orff and SCAPE will be responsible for revitalizing the landscape surrounding the arts center.
“Our design reimagines the Arkansas Arts Center to unlock new connections between an extraordinary art collection, thriving Museum School and Children’s Theatre,” Gang says. “Along with much-needed renovations, new day-lit spaces linked through the core of the center will facilitate movement and create a series of vibrant, new public spaces for social interaction, education and appreciation for the arts.”
Campaign co-chair Harriet Stephens praised Gang for her design and its environmental aspects.
“That’s part of her genius – she combines the building with the environment, and for us, that was really important to make McArthur Park part of the Arkansas Arts Center,” she says.
Warren Stephens says the project will have a beneficial effect on the surrounding MacArthur Park Historic District and beyond.
“It’s going to impact the neighborhood very, very positively. And it’s going to impact Little Rock very positively and the state. We couldn’t be more excited about where we are and where the design is,” he says.
The City of Little Rock has already committed $31.25 million to the campaign, which will be generated through a hotel-tax revenue bond. The Windgate Foundation contributed a lead campaign gift of $35 million, and the Museum School will be named the Windgate Foundation Museum School, and the museum gallery will be named the Robyn and John Horn Museum School Gallery. The Stephenses made a “transformational lead gift” to support the campaign. The new AAC galleries will be named the Harriet and Warren Stephens Galleries in their honor.
Twenty-one individuals, families and foundations have contributed gifts of $21 million or more.
“A remarkable group has come together with a clear understanding of the importance of reimagining the Arkansas Arts Center for the 21st century,” Harriet Stephens said in a statement. “We will now reach out to the entire community and state for support to realize this once-in-a-lifetime project. Together, we can ensure that the Arkansas Arts Center is a thriving and influential cultural institution for present and future generations.”
With the current thought in teaching trending toward science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) classes, Warren Stephens says access to the arts remains important to securing a well-rounded education.
“It means so much, and it just expands your horizons,” he says. “I think people want to be exposed to art, and they want their children exposed to art.”
Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott, Jr., calls the project a “bold vision, a beacon of light for the city, region and state.” He says the center will “help us become a catalyst in the New South.”
June 30 will be the last day the center’s galleries will be open before the collection temporarily relocates during the renovation to the Riverdale Shopping Center at 2510 Cantrell Road in Little Rock, Harber says.
“We are so excited about the future of a reinvigorated Arkansas Arts Center – a center with expanded exhibitions and programs that will serve even more patrons of all ages than ever before,” Harber says. “We’ll need everyone’s partnership and support during the transition and opening, and we look forward to working with the entire community and state on this amazing project!”
The reimagined Arkansas Arts Center is expected to open in early 2022.