In early 2015, a mysterious telephone poll asking North Little Rock residents whether they’d support a 1-cent sales tax to help fund a public-private museum project created a something of a squall. Little Rock feared North Little Rock was trying to poach the Arkansas Arts Center in the same way the Arkansas Travelers had departed for the north shore a few years earlier.
About three weeks later, the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation acknowledged that it was responsible for the survey. Whether the foundation intended it or not, the dust-up led Little Rock officials to get serious about supporting the Arts Center.
Arts Center officials had been telling city officials for some time that it needed more money for maintenance, and the city officials had been less than responsive. At least, that’s way the foundation felt. And so began the Arts Center’s public speculation about its future.
The building housing the Arts Center, a definite treasure, is a bit of a mess. It’s old and confusing, and it fails to properly showcase the center’s fine collection, including a world-renowned collection of works on paper.
Ultimately, the Little Rock Board of Directors increased its contribution to the Arts Center for maintenance and raised the city’s hotel tax by 2 percentage points, and city voters overwhelmingly approved a bond issue, backed by those tax proceeds, to help pay for an expanded and improved Arts Center.
And last week, Harriet and Warren Stephens revealed that their quiet campaign had raised more than $86 million from wealthy donors. That, coupled with more than $31 million from the bond issue, brings the total to almost $118 million of a $128 million goal.
Now it’s up to the public to demonstrate its continued support for the Arkansas Arts Center by meeting that goal. As Harriet Stephens told Arkansas Business, the center is “an amazing place.” And with a little more help from Arkansans, it will become much more amazing.