Arkansas Arts Center Touts $500K Tech Upgrades

Arkansas Arts Center Touts $500K Tech Upgrades
The design for the Arts Center makeover seeks to incorporate the building into MacArthur Park.

A $100 million renovation of its Little Rock building isn’t the only transformation the Arkansas Arts Center is undergoing; it’s also spending more than $500,000 to upgrade technology.

Specifically, the nonprofit museum is working to launch a redesigned website, transitioning to a leading collections database called TMS Collections and moving its fundraising, customer relationship management and sales functions to leading system Tessitura.

A renovated and expanded center is set to open in 2022. The center’s staff will begin the tech upgrades next year, internally, and complete them by the opening, Executive Director Victoria Ramirez told Arkansas Business.

“In some ways, the timing couldn’t be better,” she said. “When you’re opening a new building, it’s about more than just the construction. We want to make sure we have a great visitor experience, and this is really going to help with that.”

The tech upgrades will be funded by donations and two grants: $203,032 from the Institute of Museum & Library Service (awarded in August) and $166,875 from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The latter, awarded in June, was part of $40.3 million awarded to cultural institutions across the country under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Security (CARES) Act, to support collections and curatorial staff in a complete collection inventory and database conversion.

Ramirez said the museum will pay ongoing annual fees to maintain the new technologies. “They’re really not exorbitant or much more than what we’ve been paying previously. And, for us, it’s the cost of doing business,” she said.

The business case for this technological transformation, she said, is that the museum will be able to do things more efficiently and seamlessly over time with its current staff. The center will be hiring as it heads into 2022 opening, but not for positions working with these technologies. Instead, they’ll be hiring for jobs that directly interact with the public.

Forum One of Alexandria, Virginia, has been hired to redesign the website, which is set to launch early next year. Its clients include the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, the Peace Corps, the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Red Cross.

TMS Collections is used by the National Gallery in London, the Getty Center in Los Angeles and The Frick and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, among others.

Tessitura is used by more than 650 cultural institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

Angel Galloway, director of marketing and communications for the Arts Center, said the website will bring all of the museum’s tech upgrades together in one place.

“We’re excited to be moving toward a responsive website with an improved mobile experience for people and improved views of our collection and, of course, to educate the community about our building project,” she said. “It’s going to be easier for people to buy tickets. It’s going to be easier for them to make donations. It’ll be easier for them to find out about memberships and engage with our classes we’ll be offering.”

Ramirez said the center won’t be limited by a website designed eight to 10 years ago. She said the redesigned website will “allow us to do things we’ve always wanted to do,” such as featuring its supporters on a virtual donor wall.

Ramirez added, “More people will see our website than likely will walk through our doors. And so what a great way for Arkansas to be able to really emphasize what it cares for and quality of life and showcase what it cares for, not only for our Arkansans but for people beyond that.”

Chief Curator Brian Lang spoke on the collections upgrade. He said the museum is now using a database from 2000. Through the eMuseum platform that TMS Collections offers, the museum can complement photos of the art in its collection with audio files and video files, and virtual visitors can create accounts to bring up every piece in the collection that has to do with a topic they’re interested in.

“We will be able to highlight the collection in ways we never were previously,” Lang said. “As we’re all experiencing through COVID, we are moving to more digital interactive capabilities so we could do more virtual exhibitions drawn from the collection. … It positions the institution to really be a 21st-century institution.”